Retiring a guide dog is never an easy decision. It’s a choice that GDB clients approach in a number of ways, and there is no one way to go about it. Sometimes the retirement can be deliberate and methodical; other times, it can be sudden and unexpected. In any case, retiring a dog that has been a constant companion and guide is incredibly personal, and a decision filled with emotion.
GDB alumna Becky Andrews, a licensed clinical mental health counselor in Utah, is familiar with the process. She has had three guide dogs from GDB: Pantera, who worked for nine years; Cricket, who worked for seven years, and her current guide, Georgie, who has worked with Becky since 2014. Georgie’s retirement is on the horizon, and Becky is savoring the days while Georgie is still her guide, and anticipating the transition that will come for both of them in the near future.
“I have been reflecting on how each retirement has been such a different journey,” she said. “Each guide has done it in their way and what's best for them. Recently, Georgie let me know that after seven and a half years of serving as my beautiful guide dog, she is getting close to retirement. She started slowing down on longer walks, and she gets a little more nervous about noises that didn’t faze her before. She’s doing well and is still happy to go and navigate short routes. She’s gone from working full time to part time.”
Becky and Georgie's days are still full of adventure. Always an active pair, Becky and Georgie have been spending time doing a fair amount of hiking. "I keep telling her hiking is a great retirement activity," Becky said. "It's such a joy to see Georgie Girl so happy transitioning into retirement. I have so many feelings of gratitude. We are an amazing team. She taught me we could adventure together!"
Georgie also continues to accompany Becky to her office most days. "In my office, generally Georgie's harness is off," Becky said. "This gives her the opportunity to connect with my clients when they would like that. She demonstrates so beautifully how sometimes you just sit by someone and hold space."
Part of Georgie's retirement process is for Becky to leave Georgie in the care of others for longer periods of time. "It’s hard," Becky admits. "We are used to being together almost all the time - except for maybe some bike rides, or when I'm out for a run." Recently, for the first time in their partnership, Becky traveled out of state without Georgie by her side. "She so wanted to go with me that morning," Becky said. "I had to tell her that really she would be best at home with my husband Steve rather than taking a flight and doing lots of walking. I shed a tear and gave her some kibble as I left. Even though we are experiencing some 'lasts' as a guide dog team, I know there are many sweet memories to come. After she retires, she will remain a part of our family. I’m grateful - and treasure - our time together. She’s an amazing dog."
As Becky's time with Georgie as her guide is winding down, she has initiated the process for being paired with her next guide dog. Part of that process involves an interview by GDB staff so that we can get an idea of what the perfect dog match will be for our clients. Reflecting on her interview, Becky said, "I told them that I want a dog that loves to hike like Georgie. I want a dog that loves adventure like Georgie. I want a dog that loves to hop on a plane like Georgie. I want a dog that feels such empathy as she sits in a therapy office and gets up so gently to be near my client like Georgie. I want a dog that is so playful like Georgie. I want a dog that patiently waits for me to come back from a run or ride like Georgie. Funny thing - I remember sharing a similar wish list when I applied during Cricket's retirement: I wanted a dog like Cricket! It’s remarkable and I have no doubt, that like Georgie, my next guide will be able to do all that and more, and be an incredible part of our family."
For Becky, being paired with her first guide dog, Pantera, more than 24 years ago, was life changing and she has never looked back. "I love navigating life with a guide dog: have harness will go!" she said. "I love picking up the harness and working as a team to get to our destination. My life was blessed in such a big way by this incredible organization, these three beautiful guides, their incredible puppy raisers, and all the staff and volunteers who made our partnerships possible. My guide dogs represent so much freedom, and so much joy. I’m so grateful and wish guide dog years didn’t fly by quite so fast. Thank you Georgie. Thank you Guide Dogs for the Blind."
Best of luck Becky and Georgie on the next phase of your journey. We can't wait to see what the future has in store!