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

Is Koala ‘Quiet Quitting’?

Koala, a black Lab, studies her iPad
Sometimes, a girl just needs a day off

Koala is ready to retire. She’s not enthusiastic about going to work lately, especially when travel is involved. I definitely empathize.

She might be part of the “quiet quitting” phenomenon — what managers have dubbed the increasing number of people who are showing up and doing their jobs, but no longer taking on extra work, making themselves available 24×7, and consistently going over and above what they’re being paid to do. It’s an offensive term, especially since many organizations are short-staffed and/or haven’t given many raises or promotions in the  past couple of years. Irritating or not, it’s definitely a thing.

But I don’t think that’s what Koala is doing.

She is, to be fair, doing her job but not eagerly offering new services or thinking up shortcuts, as she used to. So it looks a little like a mini quiet quit.

But her job has gotten a lot more challenging and stressful. She’s spending far more hours at the office than ever before; working more late nights when she’d rather be at Rally class; and hanging out under far more of the nicest restaurant tables in St. Pete until past her bedtime.

I don’t think she’s quiet quitting so much as pushing for a better work-life balance. And she’s not worried only for herself; she knows that Deni is also stressed and exhausted from the frenetic pace of their work life.

Some might say that she’s “mirroring” Deni or taking on some of her stress. But I don’t think that’s it exactly, either.

I think that Koala, a sensible and extremely intelligent dog, is doing what dogs do, far better than most humans: She’s living in the moment. And when she doesn’t like what the moment holds, she pushes for changes the only way she can. If she needs to slow down, she slows down … and (she hopes) pulls Deni into the slow lane alongside her.


Early Retirement

Alberta_closeupThe one constant in life with dogs is change — and that can be tough sometimes.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Alberta is retiring. Alberta and Deni are a match made in heaven if ever there was one. They adore each other, and Alberta is a cuddly, affectionate Mommy’s girl. For all her goofiness and antics, though, Alberta is an outstanding guide dog, a creative problem-solver, and the life of any party (or classroom … or faculty meeting …). In harness, she’s a consummate professional; off-duty, she’s an eternal puppy. Her love of fun will serve her well in her early retirement.

Alberta has a rare type of tumor in her eye. She will have surgery to remove the tumor (and the eye) this week, and she will retire from work as a guide dog. She will move to Montana later this summer to live with her cousin Mack and Mack’s parents.

Bayboro_Blonde-smAnd, knowing Alberta, she’ll figure out a “retirement job” soon enough. Maybe she’ll build on her experience as the model and spokesdog for 3 Daughters Brewing’s Bayboro Blonde Ale. Or further her media superstar career, launched by an article in the Tampa Bay Times, frequent blog appearances, and a USA Today story.

I’m sure she’ll continue to delight and amaze everyone she meets. I’ve learned a lot from her about doggy humor, intelligence, and empathy. She taught me how dogs can pass the marshmallow test, which turns out to be pretty similar to the way young children do it (they distract themselves). She taught Deni, the Dog Training Club of St. Petersburg, and dozens (hundreds?) of dogs and handlers that Rally and other dog sports are a great way for guide dogs and their humans to let off some steam. She’s helped Deni navigate torrential downpours, bizarre obstacles, and hostile vehicle and foot traffic, especially in crowded airports; in fact, she’s so good at it that Deni has no idea how many (thousands of) people Alberta has gently but effectively nosed out of their path over their too-short three years together.

While she’s leaving her job, she’s not leaving this blog; I hope to continue to follow her adventures from afar (and sometimes in person). And I’ll continue to tell Alberta stories whenever they’re relevant to revealing the amazing cognitive abilities of our canine friends.

Deni has a tough few weeks or months ahead: getting used to life without Alberta, waiting for a new guide, then adjusting to the new dog. Despite her delicate, petite physical appearance, Alberta leaves some pretty big paws to fill.