What Happens When a Service Dog Retires?

Yellow Lab Ryan and Black lab Koala relax in a play tunnel
Ryan, left, and Koala, enjoyed a short vacation in Florida just before Ryan’s 2020 retirement.

When a service or guide dog is no longer able or willing to work, what happens?

Many of them stay with their families, living a life of leisure, enjoying many belly rubs, and watching some young whippersnapper do “their” job. Poorly, of course.

But not all people who partner with service or guide dogs can keep their retired partners. There are many reasons for this: Some are elderly folks or people who live on a very tight budget, and they simply cannot care for a second dog. Some are busy professionals who travel frequently and feel that they owe their retired dog a better life than frequent stays at a kennel and long, lonely days while they — and the new dog — head to work. Sometimes a guide or service dog retires because their partner dies or becomes seriously ill.

Whatever the reason, the guide or service dog’s partner or family often looks for a retirement home for the dog. Often extended family eagerly step up: Deni’s first guide, Oriel, spent a couple of years with family in Indiana before moving to Florida to live with us. Alberta, who retired young due to an eye tumor, lives with Deni’s nephew & family, including her new charge — a human puppy!

If family placement is not an option, many guide dog partners ask dog-savvy friends and acquaintances; I was a finalist in the retirement-home search for a Guiding Eyes dog recently, but the dog opted to stay closer to her partner rather than move to Montana (her loss …).

When neither of those options works out, guide and service dog schools generally place the dog with someone on their extensive waiting lists. These are usually volunteers, donors, puppy raisers (perhaps even that dog’s puppy raisers!), or others with ties to the school.

The dogs never end up panhandling for cookies or living under a bridge somewhere.

Alberta Is Heading West

Post opToday’s post will be short — an update on Alberta.

Alberta had her surgery last week. Her right eye was removed. She also had all kinds of medical tests and — Great News! The tumor was benign, and she is completely healthy (no cancer)!

I still encourage you all to register your dogs with the Morris Animal Foundation for future canine cancer (and other) studies!

Alberta is recovering with friends near the Guiding Eyes for the Blind campus in Yorktown Heights, New York. Her host dogs (and humans) are being very gentle and sweet to her as she adjusts. They’re also working on a way to fashion an eyepatch — or, more likely, an entire wardrobe of eyepatches —for her to wear.

When she’s fully recovered, and her cousins are settled in their new home in Lolo, Montana, Alberta will join them. She loves Montana, will have a busy and interesting life, and, best of all, will still be part of our family.

Ever the celebrity, Alberta is one of very few career dogs to merit a retirement party and front-page news story. It’s a follow up to the feature story that introduced her to local readers three years ago.