My guide dog Freddie: 10th June 2000 to 15th august 2012. RIP.

I can’t explain how utterly upsetting it is to write this. Today, while I rubbed Freddie’s ear, we put him to sleep. I don’t think it’s really hit me yet. I wanted to write sooner rather than later because it’s very important to me that I say thank you. Thank you to everyone who commented on this post. Thank you to Freddie’s puppy walker. Thanks to Irish guide dogs for giving me a guide dog that is simply one of a kind. Thank you most of all to the family who took him during his retirement. I know it only lasted two years but wow he had an amazing two years. I seriously can’t express enough how grateful I am for the way they treated Freddie. It was actually my father who really confirmed it last week when he got to see Freddie for the first time in his new home. He said that the best decision I could have made was sending him to that particular family. It is simply amazing how much they cared for him. I could never have asked for anything more. The more I visited Freddie the more I noticed their attachment grow.

For me, and I know for everyone with a guide dog, one of the hardest things is that day when you hand over the dog. It’s not like turning off a light switch. You have taken care of the dog and equally, the dog has taken care of you. That bond isn’t one that’s easily broken. That was actually very evident tonight. Even though Freddie could hardly move, he still found the energy to look up at me for assurance when the vet was shaving his paw. When Mark told me, in a funny way I knew that I was meant to be there. Not being there for the end would have been simply wrong.

That’s really the only reason I wanted to write. I just wanted to thank everyone. I am finding it a great comfort to recognise that Freddie has been incredibly lucky. Just think about it. He had a brilliant puppy walker, Ok, he had to put up with me but still, he travelled a lot and experienced a lot more than any other dog I have encountered. Then to top it all off, he lived with a fantastic family in a lovely area. I couldn’t ask for any more. When it was his turn to move on, he did it just like he did everything else in life. With speed. Within a very short space of time he rapidly declined. I think that’s much better than a prolonged illness. It meant that up to two weeks ago, he still had his normal character.

Origional blog post written on the day of his retirement.

This shows Freddie walking through a shallow stream. As he’s walking, he’s licking his nose.  Very attractive!
No blog post could do this topic Justice. Not even a novel could really come close to explaining all the ways that the past seven years have changed everything.

I’m also no different to the thousands of people who have gone through this process. Thousands of people who could probably express the significance of this much better than I ever could or will.

This post is a thank you. It’s a feeble attempt at gratitude and recognition for over seven years of constant service, companionship, trust and loyalty. It’s an impossible task. How can you begin to show this level of gratitude to a creature that doesn’t understand? I’m not writing this for you, the reader, I’m probably writing it more for me. This day marks a change that I knew was coming for a long time. It’s actually a welcome change. He’s done his job. He’s probably done more work than most guide dogs ever will. We’ve lived in Dublin, Drogheda, Dundalk, Limerick and Balbriggan. At one stage, we were changing apartments every six months. When Irish guide dogs for the blind said it wasn’t good for the dog, I was worried but he impressed me by taking it all in his stride. That has been the one defining characteristic of Freddie since I got him. Things that I and others thought he’d never do were things that he excelled at. He’s commuted to Dublin from Monday to Friday for many of these seven years. Again, working through rush hour commuter times he’s amazed people at his relaxed nature while navigating through dense crowds that would pose a challenge even for sighted people. The dog has the most incredible memory. Long time readers of this blog may remember a time four years ago where he guided me from college green through Trinity college to pearse station. I had never been that way before, but while I was out of the country, Emma took him for a walk through Trinity once. He is the kind of dog that remembers a route after doing it once. He was also the kind of dog that allowed rules to be broken but would make sure I stuck to them rigidly if I got a bit too reckless. Emma laughed when she began to get to know him as she noticed that if it seemed that I wanted to cross a road without stopping for an adequate period of time Freddie would curve his body around me so that I wouldn’t walk any further.

Freddie has a very unique personality. While working, his personality changes even more. While at home, he’s sneaky. He’ll decide that he wants to spy on you and the door of the room your in will open just a fraction so he can stick his nose through for a quick look. He wants to be part of everything. It doesn’t matter if I’m working on a computer, watching the television or playing music. He always wants to be right beside the action. If he gets board though he’s quite content to make himself known. If that fails, he’ll skulk back off to bed waiting for the next interesting thing to happen. Funnily, if you tell him to do something he doesn’t want to do, you’re likely to get sneezed at or a loud sigh. Every action starts with a standard sequence. He gets up, stretches, shakes, and sneezes and then he’s ready to go. While working, he’s equally unique. He pulls left all the time no matter where he’s going. If he’s board, he’ll take a look around as he’s walking but he always keeps one eye on where he’s going. He’s always been very happy to work and in fact, I know no other guide dog that actually walks into his own harness. He knows his way around Cork, Galway, Dublin, Drogheda, and Limerick, Dublin airport, Dundalk, Carlow, Kildare and even parts of London. His confidence never seems to dip. He always seems to have a very clear idea of where he’s going. Even when it’s somewhere he’s never been before he thinks he knows best. Actually, in his defence, he usually does know best and it’s a regular comment from friends that I should just shut up and let him do the thinking because when I second guess him I’m usually wrong.

A picture of Freddie guiding me down a quiet road with a grass verge and large trees on each side.
His retirement from work is something that has been on the cards for a long time. I’ve never really felt sad or sorry about this. I am delighted that he’s had such an active and varied life up until now and because he’s worked so much, I can think of no better reward for him now than enjoying his retirement in a home that is going to treat him like the amazing animal he is. Of course, I’ll miss him. Both as a companion and as a mobility aid but I can honestly say, this is overshadowed by the relief that he is going to enjoy himself.

It’s true what they say. A guide dog is always more than a mobility aid. I think it will be strange for people who are not blind to read that for me, he was actually best at being a conversation starter. In college, I had a great circle of friends. I enjoyed myself a lot! For the first two years though that circle of friends stayed quite static. When I got Freddie, people that I’d never even heard of approached me. When you are blind, or indeed, if you have any kind of disability at all, it can be difficult for people to approach you. Having a dog really breaks down that barrier. Within weeks, my social life had changed. I suppose, I was a little bit more independent and confident and that really helped me take more risks and having the dog with me was something very different. Even people who didn’t like dogs warmed to Freddie. The place that I work in at the moment is a perfect example. The person who complained about having a dog in the office actually petted Freddie within six months of me starting. She was terrified! She had nothing but bad experiences with dogs and she couldn’t stand the thoughts of working in the same room as a dog. I myself was not a dog person. In fact, when I got Freddie first, I was afraid of rubbing his head because it was too near to his mouth for my liking. But he seems to have a way of completely eliminating those fears and inhibitions.

I want to try to cover all the benefits he’s provided but I can’t. It would take too long.

If you have a dog half as good as Freddie has been for me, you’re incredibly lucky. People have said, and I believe them, I will never get a dog that is as suited as Freddie is to me ever again. Freddie is outstanding.

The past seven years have been the most rewarding of my life. I finished college without having to repeat even one exam. I worked in companies that were the worst and the best in the world. I made friends, travelled the country and the world and took pleasure in travelling to areas in the country that would have ordinarily been inaccessible while using the Cain.

As I write this, Freddie is sitting under my seat on the train. We’re on the way back from a weekend in Galway. He had a fantastic time and it was really nice to spend the last weekend with him doing what he loved doing most. Guiding me around areas that he’d never seen before. Showing me he was right and I was wrong. In his little head, he took great satisfaction when proving me wrong.

Now, jumping eight hours ahead, I’m sitting at home. Its 9PM. Freddie was left at his new home and at 5:45PM today, we drove away with one less member of our family in the car. The home he’s gone to is fantastic. They have two young kids and a four year old dog. There in the countryside and they have plenty of land around them. It’s the kind of place I always hoped he’d retire to. No city streets, no busy roads and no built up areas. He’s got independents, people to keep him company, a dog to play with and no more work. I know he’s going to be very happy there.

The wife of my friend commented that I was very brave in the way I was handling it all. People have said that I’ll really miss him when he’s gone. I really wanted to make sure I was happy when I was leaving him there. Dogs are very perceptive of the mood of those around them. I wouldn’t want him to be down because I was feeling sorry for myself. I kept my head up, convinced the family they were going to do a great job, ran them through the likes and dislikes of the dog and tried to act as normal as I could.

My false face lasted until I got home but putting his collar and harness away was when it hit me. He’s gone. The dog that devoted seven and a half years of his life to my mobility is no longer with me. Gone are the days of him sneaking up on me while I’m sitting on a chair to give me his head for a rub. Gone are the days of him dropping his toy on my knee so I can play with him, gone are the days of him racing to the car before I get there so I could let him in. Gone are the days where he’d sneak into my computer room and quietly lie beside my chair without me noticing. Gone are the days of simply relaxing while walking around and through crowds at rush hour times. Gone is the silly dog that liked taking the long way around an obstacle just to show that he was working well. Gone is the Freddie that took corners so fast it could make your head spin. Gone is the Freddie that loved to keep up with my speed. Gone is the Freddie that could wait for me to do a job for hours on end but would just as happily work for the entire day walking around the most difficult of environments. Gone is the Freddie Era.

There’s nothing more I can say really.

I hope you’ve met Freddie. If you have, you’ll know everything I can’t explain. If you’ve never met him, you’ve missed out. He was one of a kind.

Thanks. I can only hope you now get the life you deserve.

A picture of our family. Emma, Freddie and me.