Retirement Day

9-week-old golden puppy Orly rests on black lab Koala's back
Orly and Koala became instant friends

Today is Koala’s retirement day.

She won’t get a gold watch, but I do hope she’ll get lots of treats, multiple walks each day where she can sniff whatever she wants, frequent opportunities to run along beaches, and plenty of activities to keep her mind sharp.

Deni will arrive at Guiding Eyes today to meet her new guide; they will spend just over a week learning to work together before heading home to Florida.

After guiding Deni to her alma mater (Guiding Eyes), Koala will head “home” in a sense; she’s spending her retirement with her puppy raiser!

Many retired guide and service dogs return to their puppy homes for their golden years, and many guide dog schools offer puppy raisers the opportunity to adopt “their” puppies when the dogs are no longer able to work. It’s a nice solution for everyone.

I keep telling myself that, and explain it cheerfully to everyone who asks. But … it’s also tough. I won’t see her again. Deni is giving up her friend and companion of nearly 7 years. Koala was — is — a beloved member of our “family.” Losing her so soon after losing Cali … well, it’s hard.

Some retired dogs do stay with their partners’ families, but that has its own challenges. Alberta, who retired nearly seven years ago, lives with Deni’s nephew and family. Every time Deni visits, Alberta again faces the disappointment of not being allowed to do “her” job; of saying good-bye again. And Koala spent those visits fuming about the other dog who thought Deni was “hers.” Deni didn’t want to put Koala (and the new dog) through all of that.

Koala is an unusually bright and creative dog. She communicates better than  most living creatures, understanding full sentences in addition to an uncanny fluency in human body language. She’s a brilliant problem-solver and enjoys figuring out any challenge, whether it’s locating restrooms and Skyclubs in a new airport, finding the nearest trash can or creating efficient ways to return her empty dinner bowl to the nearest human (in exchange for dessert, of course).

She’s also got the best dog social skills of any dog I’ve known. She can size up any dog — young, old; large, small — and immediately intuit the right way to greet and interact with them. She’ll no doubt quickly make new dog friends in her retirement neighborhood, but Orly and I miss Koala already …

Fully grown, golden Orly rests her head on black Lab Koala's back

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