The Beginning of the End of Our Journey together

Anyone who has been in a working human animal partnership for any length of time will tell you once you’ve bonded with that animal, it’s mighty hard to say goodbye.

When I trained with my beloved Bailey, exactly six years ago, I vividly remember reading the section on retirement in the Guide Dogs’ handler’s book and weeping like a baby. After six months of us working, it seemed our partnership may come to an abrupt end but it didn’t thankfully but then I wept like a baby too. Only a short time but my love for the furry blond thing was well established.

At my last after care visit, my instructor thought Bailey was a year older and we’d be talking about retirement the next time she would be visiting to which I vehemently disagreed and corrected her on his age. But sadly, the day of talking about retirement came today.

A few months ago I wrote about how his confidence levels had dropped in one of his favourite places, Manchester. I think even then, I highly suspected this was a sign. But like everyone suggested, I put it down to a very off day. But I have been keeping an eye on him and working him just locally in nice quiet areas so he’s not stressed or put under pressure unnecessarily to see if that helped. Some days, he works perfectly but even on those days he lacks the Bailey stride of motivation and zeal. I kept thinking, he’s got a tummy ache, he’s got a headache but what I think I knew in my heart was Bailey was telling me, “Mummy, I’m just tired”.

Even to places like the route to the park, where, he’ll bounce all the way, dancing along in harness and getting excited, he’d just plod along like it was the most boring route he’s ever done. On his free runs, my sister commented how little he was running compared to usual and not as fast as he did. But again, you think, oh, well, we did that big walk yesterday but again, he is just slowing down.

I took him for his six month check up in January at the vets and she suggested then I put him on some joint supplements. Guide dogs provided these and we’ve been administering the top does to which you drop down after 6 weeks. This is the end of those six weeks and he’s due to have the dosage dropped tomorrow to 2.5 for a week, until we get to 1.5.

These seem to have stopped the creaking but little things like he doesn’t jump out of his bed any more when someone knocks and doesn’t jump like a crazy dog when he’s having a treat. My lovely, baby boy is just getting older and it’s now showing in his work too.

I called my GDMI today when in a very familiar supermarket he just seemed out of sorts. When some trolleys were on one side and the fridges on another, he looked to me for help which he never usually does. All the way around, he just seemed slow and like it was so much effort. I called my GDMI. As much as it pained me to do so, I had to talk to her about this and check I wasn’t being over sensitive. She called me back and I told her the situation to which she asked a few questions about his health, his behaviour at home, his general guiding, etc to which I told her all the answers, she said, that she knew it wasn’t the answer I’d want to hear but we were looking at definite reassessment with the look to retire my Bailey Bop.

She advised I go to my vet and talk to them about anti inflamtories to see if that settles him down. She thinks the creaking we’re treating him for with the supplements which is lack of sinovial fluid in the joints, might only be part of the problem. Often, this can lead to arthritis and she thinks he’s possibly getting a little onset. But above all else, he is just telling us he’s ready to hang up his harness and retire as a good old pet dog.

We’re hoping if we can get the anti inflamatories and they work, he’ll at least work happily for the time that my reassessment and matching process and the wait on the list happens so the less time I am without a guide dog.

So the situation is that she’ll start the ball rolling for reassessment, which will mean a medical assessment, mobility assessment and another guide dog assessment so they can find the most suited dog to my needs. Bailey’s not hanging his harness up just yet but even knowing that we’ll be looking for a new dog sooner rather than later makes me sad.

Bailey’s been a solid part of my life for six years now and if my parents do, as we strongly hope get to keep him, he will still be a part of my life as their pet dog but our partnership will be at its end. I can’t complain at all. This puppy has taken me around the country and been with me on some incredible adventures. We’ve had our good and bad times and most of those were definitely good. I just hope I can give him a good end to a career he’s truly flourished at. I’m sad but happy that I can ensure he has the best end to his working life and help him settle into the one of relaxation he ultimately deserves.

Thank you Bailey and here’s to the last months we have left together working as a team. You’ll always be special to me baby boy, you were my first guide dog. My first experience of such heightened mobility. I can never truly thank you for what you have given me! You are, silly or not, my best friend! Love you puppy!

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