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I’ve been asked many questions since I began raising guide dog puppies including “What Happens To A Retired Guide Dog?” and “What about Guide Dog Rejects?” What’s the difference between “retired” and “rejected”? A retired Guide Dog would be one who has served as a Guide Dog while a rejected (career change) guide dog is one who never made it as a guide dog.
Now you might be wondering: Why are we answering these questions today? For openers, today is Derby’s first birthday! So everyone needs to wish him a happy birthday. However, on a sadder note we were just informed that Derby didn’t pass his last evaluation and as some of you have put it he is now a “Guide Dog Reject” I hate the sound of that and we like to consider him a “Career Change Dog” moving on to a different phase of his life.
Retired Guide Dog
I don’t have any experience retiring a guide dog, but I do know what I’ve seen, heard, and read through Guide Dogs of America. A guide dog begins working at approximately 2 1/2 years and will on average work for six to eight years. The guide dog user will decide when it is time to retire their guide dog and has the choice to either keep the dog as a pet, give it to a family member, or return it to Guide Dogs of America. It can be difficult on the retired guide dog to be kept as a pet because the dog will sometimes become jealous or depressed over the new guide dog partner. You have to remember that the Guide Dog team has been almost inseparable for 6 to 8 years. How would you feel if you saw someone else assume your normal role in the guide dog team?
Retired Guide Dogs that are returned to Guide Dogs of America are put into the adoption program The original puppy raisers are called first and asked if they wish to adopt the dog. I have not been in the puppy raising program long enough to experience this, but I have seen some of our puppy raisers receive their retired guide dogs back after ~10 years. If the puppy raiser does not take the guide dog back then the dog is given to a pre-screened individual from the GDA adoption waiting list. The GDA website says there is currently a 4-6 year wait to adopt a career change or retired guide dog. I’ve also heard that Guide Dogs of America are not accepting new applicants in the adoption program (this may have changed).
Guide Dog Reject
I hate that phrase, but for some reason “Guide Dog Reject” seems to be the one that most people are accustomed to.
Guide Dog Reject = Career Change Dog
There are many reasons a puppy can get career changed the Guide Dog program is very stringent. Stetson was career changed because he was too soft. Derby was career changed because he had too much nervous energy. Check out this list of other reasons why a guide dog puppy can be rejected from the program.
Here’s a little excerpt from the Guide Dogs of America website on their adoption program:
ADOPTION PROGRAM: To be a successful guide dog, many factors including health and willingness to work come into play. If a dog in our program does not meet all the proper criteria necessary to be a guide dog, they must be removed from the program.
All dogs that are removed from the program for any reason we call Career Change dogs. If a dog in our program becomes a Career Change dog, the volunteer puppy raiser is given the option to keep the animal or to give them up for adoption. Also, when a guide dog is retired, the guide dog user has the option to keep the dog or give it back to Guide Dogs of America for adoption. If the retired guide dog is returned to Guide Dogs of America, we give the dog’s original volunteer puppy raiser the first option to adopt the retired guide dog. If the puppy raiser prefers not to adopt that retired guide dog, once again the dog is put up for adoption.
Currently we have such a long list of people waiting to adopt a dog (over a 6 year wait at this time) that we are no longer taking new applications to adopt a dog. You can always inquire about it in a years time.
Career Change Dogs
Now that we’ve talked about career change dogs…what sort of careers are suitable for these career change and retired guide dogs? As far as I know the majority become pets. Here are a list of several career change options I’ve heard of for our puppies:
- Loving Family Pet
- Therapy Dog
- Search and Rescue Dog
- Assistance Dog
Derby was tested for Search and Rescue, but unfortunately they said he lacks the focus needed for that program. Our goal with Stetson is to get him certified as a Therapy Dog and get him involved in one of the children’s reading programs. I think he’d enjoy kids reading him books.
After much thought and deliberation I decided the best thing for Derby is to put him in the GDA adoption program. It makes me sad because he is a great dog and I’ll miss him: sitting at my feet during the working day, coming up to me on the couch for a good butt rub while I watch TV, watching him play with Stetson and Linus, waiting patiently for his food, rubbing his chest during belly up, cuddling up next to him on the floor, playing a good game of fetch, watching him steal a toy from Stetson and hurdle Linus on the way to safety, car rides on the passenger side floor boards, playing with his other doggie friends, classes with Ramona, group meetings with the other GDA puppy raisers and puppies, and hundreds of other little things that make me smile everyday.
Although I have Derby for a few more days/weeks…I already miss him…