Sunday, November 14, 2010

Retiring Carson

For those who might not have heard, my Seeing Eye dog, Carson, went into retirement on October 31. After 8 plus years of faithful service, Carson's working style had begun to suffer. When I ended up in the hospital for around a month back in May, it accelerated this decline.

One thing I truly value about the Seeing Eye, Inc., Carson's alma mater, is their stance on retirement. The Seeing Eye allows dog handlers to make the decision when to retire, how to retire and to whom the dog will go when he/she retires. This gave me the freedom to pick Carson's adoptive family. Could I have kept him as a pet? Yes, I have that option. Why is this not the best option for me? Simply because I'm not home enough to take care of a pet. So, we did the next best thing.

Back in September of 2002, right after I returned home with Carson from Morristown, NJ, I went to happy hour with my good friends, Jim and Alice. Jim and I have been buds ever since we were in middle school together, and right around the time Carson was coming into my life, I was getting to know his then girlfriend, Alice. Alice and I soon became good friends, too, and over drinks she asked, "How long will Carson work?" The easy answer is seven to nine years, simply because it's the average working life of a Seeing Eye dog. Alice did the math and said, "So, I'm calling dibs right now. When it's time for him to retire, we want him." I agreed, but with the knowledge that, over time, people change and promises aren't always kept. Not so with Jim and Alice.

For years, we've always joked about Carson's "Shady Pines" home when he retires. I've always given Jim and Alice the out that, if they don't want to take on a dog in his later years, there are no hard feelings. Again, not so. They have loved Carson from the moment he came into my life and have kept their promise.

On Oct. 31, I took off Carson' harness for the last time. It was in Jim and Alice's living room and Carson couldn't have been more excited. His new doggy buddy, Gutter, and Jim and Alice's two year old immediately were playing with him and he was in hog heaven.

It's impossible to explain to a dog that this is permanent. That harness isn't going back on. That leash and collar aren't going back on. When I walk out this door, this is your life; new owners, new environment, new adventures, but I'm no longer the consistent master he's known for the last eight years. He simply thought this was vacationy playtime.

As Marvelyne and I cried, I hugged him one last time and we walked out the door, leaving Carson to his new retired life. I'd like to answer some consistent questions:

Will I get to visit him? Yes. Every time we're in St. Louis, we see Jim and Alice. Many of those friendships are nurtured in their back yard. Carson now lives there and the next time we're in The Lou, I'm sure we'll be able to see him.

Will that be hard for him to adjust? I'm sure there's some adjustment, but Carson's got such a happy go lucky personality, I don't think it'll be too rough on him.

So, now that he's not working, what does he do? The same thing all pet dogs do; eats, plays, sleeps and gets lovin'.

Will you get another dog? Yes, I'm set to return to the Seeing Eye on November 27. I'll be in training for three weeks in New Jersey and then home with my new Seeing Eye dog.

Do you know what kind of dog you'll get? No. I've requested a lab or a lab mix, preferably a male, but the Seeing Eye reserves the right to place the dog handler with the best dog for him/her.

How am I doing? Really, I'm good. I miss Carson every day; just the little things show me his absence. When it's around 6:30, I'll start thinking it's time to feed Carson his dinner...only to realize Carson's dinner time is no longer set by me. I'll pick up something off the floor so Carson doesn't chew on it, only to realize he's not here to do any chewing. I purposefully took a month off between dogs to fully understand and realize these absences. I think it's been good for me.

And now? A quick vacation before going back to NJ. My stepson's 21st birthday. Thanksgiving. Then? I get on an airliner and head north for our next adventure! More to come...

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