23. Goodbye “L”

It has been a while since my last update. Many of you followed my training experience going to Leader Dogs for the Blind in Michigan to get a new guide dog. There was so much interest in how the process went. I have received many kind comments from people after returning home. Many of you found the story of my journey interesting, and a lot of you have noticed how much more work is involved than you realized. I want to thank each of you for your support as we learned our way in those early days, and for your continuing kind words of greeting, support, and encouragement.

Also, I want to thank you for being learners. I know so many people with guide dogs who live in places where people don’t understand what these dogs do, how they work, and how to behave around dog / handler teams. What is worse, they don’t want to understand. But so many of my friends and neighbours “get it” and are interested in learning more and in sharing their knowledge with others. I feel blessed to have such supportive people in my life. Thank you!

Given all this, I owe everyone a final update.

After getting home with “L,” we continued our learning journey. Learning where “home” is, learning the mail box, learning the stairs and the ferry ramp and the pub; the dog park was an easy place to learn! We focussed on island locations first. Once that was well in hand, it was time to take some trips to town.

In town, I started seeing some troubling signs. “L” didn’t seem to like working in the busier environment of a city; she was careful, but very slow and tentative. I have given her lots of time and encouragement with this next step in our journey, but it has become clear that she doesn’t like it. I won’t go into all the signs and signals, but “L” has told me as clearly as she can in her own way that she doesn’t want to do the guide work that I need her to do. We have both worked hard, but sometimes work isn’t enough.

She is such a wonderful, gentle, loving dog. She is smart as a whip. She loves her life on our island. Unfortunately, her job is to help me live “my” life, and my life includes the city and some travel to busier places. She would not live a happy life if I forced her to do these things, and I would not be safe in my travels. So, I have made the excruciating decision to return “L” to the school in Michigan.

This is another part of having a guide dog that most people never think about. You give your heart to the dog very quickly. You love them and they love you in return. They try hard to please you in every way, but sometimes the match doesn’t work. It means tears flow and you second-guess yourself over and over. But in the end, I must place my safety and the dog’s happiness above my own emotions. A huge thank you to Jim who is my main supporter through all of this!

I spoke to the school about my concerns, and they have been super-supportive. They gave me some things to try and some options, but they truly trusted and respected my decision based on my long experience with dogs and their knowledge that dog / handler matches sometimes work at the beginning but then fail once the team gets into their home environment. “L” could very well have a long, successful working career ahead of her with someone else in a different environment. I have to give her that chance!

You will still see me working “L” around the island for a short while. The school is sending a trainer out from Michigan to pick her up at the beginning of June. Please, keep asking me about guide dog stuff and about how things are going with “L.” We will continue to learn and grow together in these last few days. The more I can learn about her and how she works gives me the ability to send her back to the school with a full report of what she likes or doesn’t like and how she handles different situations. This information will help the school to find the best future for my little girl, and for her to find her forever match or pet home. But don’t be surprised or embarrassed if I cry a little when you ask!

Then, the journey begins again. My name will go back into the mix for a new dog, and I will begin the waiting game again. There will be grieving, tears, and second-guessing myself along the way. But ultimately, I will go back to Leader Dogs because they are a terrific, supportive, professional organization. I will have the same butterflies of excitement the night before new dog assignment, and the next morning I will fall in love all over again!!

Go To chapter 24: Epilogue

A Trip to Leader Dogs for the Blind

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