Sir Thomas greets each morning with a romp and rip through the yard, his tail high and happy. Dinner continues to be met with a lot of wagging. As does breakfast. As does snack time. As does the opening of the plastic container with leftover ham in it.
Recently, however, by day’s end, the spring in Tommy’s step has sprung. Late afternoon, he’ll saunter up beside me and I notice that I have to slow my pace to his. It might just be that my mighty boy is telling me he’s getting tired.
Perhaps that’s what the ‘tire’ in retirement means. The word conjures up images of golf clubs, very white sneakers and dinner reservations by 5:00 pm. The actual definition is retreat, withdraw, leave service. So, when should a service dog leave service?
Google the question and hundreds of varying recommendations appear on screen, none of which derive from any standard Canine Resources Manual. A part of me wishes that a mandate—or, rather, dogdate—existed. Surely there’s a formula to factor when our four-legged partners are due their gold watch and bottle of aftershave.
I think I already know Tommy’s dogdate. It’s not something I looked up. I found the answer by looking at Sir Thomas. His head seems just a little heavier while in the checkout line, the floor a bit slipperier.
It’s time for him to get out of bed when he wants to, not when I need him to. No more tolerating toddlers with sticky hands, strangers who stick their hands on him and family members at home who’ve been following the hands-off rule while he was working. Best of all, his Retirement Home is right here at home.
How fortunate am I that he remains one of the pack. How extremely fortunate I am that, like me, he adores my husband. Our transition can be more gradual than sudden, just as all our shifts always have, starting with when he first came home. We all shimmied to one side or the other a bit as we got to know each other, worked out the quirks. The shifts continued for about a year as we encountered our first time to a concert, the first airplane ride and airport experience, the first friend’s home with a cat, the first doctor who wouldn’t stop petting him. And even after those settled into a regular rhythm, there were the ever-changing symptoms of a degenerative disease that required continuous shifts in training.
And while logic and synchronicity have played out more smoothly than I could have asked the universe to provide, I have been intermittently sobbing for the past fourteen months. To retreat, withdraw, don super white sneakers is a life-changer choice that I and any handler must face for ourselves and for our partners. For fourteen months, a pup has been growing and training and preparing to be my next service dog. For those fourteen months, I’ve been delighted and in puppy love. I’ve been dedicated and forever in Sir love, too. As Brycen learns the nuances of balance, Tommy steps in practiced sync. For one to take over means the other is taking his vest off.
Through the tears, I see them both, listen even though the drops drip into my ears. Tommy told me he’s tired. Brycen has told his trainer he’s ready for his human. In June, I’ll bring the new guy home. Meanwhile, I need to let Tommy know that I heard him, that it’ll be okay, that I’ll be okay. Yes, it’s okay for you to retire. And Brycen, I’m ready for our journey, too. How fortunate am I? You two dogs don’t split my love, you multiply it.