Wylie is heading off to learn his new career this week. Deni’s difficult decision to let him go and to seek a professionally trained guide dog, whom we hope will be a better fit for both her personality and her needs, is described in Loving and Letting Go, an earlier post on the Thinking Dog Blog. But Wylie was part of my pack, family, life too — and saying good-bye brings up some tough issues.
I think of dogs as family members. Taking a dog into your life, I believe, is a lifetime commitment — you take it upon yourself to care for the dog for the rest of his life (or the rest of yours). Yet I believe that letting Wylie move on to a new life is the best choice for him as well as for the rest of his pack/family. I’ve been struggling to reconcile these conflicting views.
Wylie wasn’t a pet; he was a guide dog. But he wasn’t a good fit for the job Deni had assigned to him. We’re both confident that his new job, working with a veteran, will be a better match for Wylie’s personality and needs. He’ll revel in the intense companionship and enjoy his new responsibilities. He might be matched with a young, athletic guy who can give him the exercise he craves, too.
None of that makes it easy to say good-bye. What makes it hard, I think, is that for all that I try to study human-dog communication and improve my ability to communicate with dogs, I am still human — with that human tendency to be overly reliant on words. For all his intelligence and perceptiveness, Wylie is a dog who doesn’t use language the way we do. That gap is sometimes tough to bridge.
So we can’t prepare Wylie for what is happening, can’t help him understand that we love him and want him to be happy, can’t call him on the phone to find out how his training is going. He’ll be confused and sad when Deni leaves him with Jennifer, his new trainer. There’s no way to explain to him that, after some training, he’ll get to go live with a guy who will be his best friend and constant companion. While he senses that something is up, Deni says, he doesn’t understand what.
I also know that dogs are more “now” focused than most people are, which means that Wylie will quickly adapt to his new routines. He makes new friends easily. I am sure that he’ll be the star of the training class before long. Even knowing all of that, and feeling sure that it’s the best choice for him, it still feels strange and sad to say good-bye.