Yesterday was my third time seeing Freddie since retiring him in June last year. I’m very fortunate that the family he is with don’t mind meeting up with me from time to time. Of course, I wouldn’t want to be a burden either and it’s always something I’m very conscious of. I actually don’t know how people retire guide dogs and never see them again. That’s more of a question than a statement. Their obviously better able to handle the transition than I was.
Now that I have Ike and I’m able to independently, freely, easily and confidently get around the country once again I have to admit that not having Freddie around is much easier than it was while waiting for Ike. Of course it’s obvious that Freddie meant a lot to me for a lot of different reasons but truthfully, retiring him was a massive blow to my ability to do simple things like walk from where I work to O’Connell Street. That’s only a ten minute walk but there are a minimum of three difficult crossings on the way there. Of course I made sure that I did it with the cane. I wouldn’t let it stop me but because it was a lot harder I lost all motivation to go over there unless I absolutely had to. That’s just one example. I’m quite sure that anyone with a guide dog understands where I’m coming from.
Yesterday we met up with the family that has Freddie in Newbridge house in north county Dublin. It’s a huge place that caters for families so it was perfect for the day that was in it. The weather was fantastic. The sun was out for most of the day as well so there were a lot of people out enjoying themselves. There are loads of green areas around there and a very relaxing path that brings you around the grounds.
When we got there I left Ike in the car for a moment and I said a quick hello to Freddie. As usual on these visits he had a moment of uncertainty but then it all came back to him and he became his usual bouncy self. I forgot how he felt compared to Ike. He’s much more firm and strong! His hair is also a lot shorter, there’s not as much hair on his tail and his ears are a lot shorter as well. I’ve been told a lot that he’s getting very gray around his face but you wouldn’t think he’s getting on in years by the way he was acting yesterday. After giving him loads of rubs I went back over to the car and let Ike out. Of course, to be safe I kept Ike on a lead until he was introduced to everyone but there was probably no need. He said hello to Freddie and Banjo, the family’s younger dog and was happy to just stand sniffing around for a few minutes. Freddie was let off the lead first because he wanted to go for a sniff. That is something I’m really missing with Ike. Freddie was let off; he went over to whatever it was that was interesting him, had a sniff then came back. There was no silliness about it, he just did what he had to do then came back and he was perfectly happy with it. No prompting or praise was required either. Now, I’m reasonably confident that Ike will settle into that kind of thing as well but still, it’s encouraging to see Freddie still has that awareness to come back when he’s done without any hassle. I let Ike off next and he did his usual puppy routine. He ran around the place like a dog that hasn’t seen the light of day for an entire month, barked once or twice at nothing at all then settled down. I actually like that about Ike though. He just goes crazy and blows off lodes of steam. I use to worry about Freddie. He was always so calm and reserved. I thought he should probably want to go mad every so often. I know I certainly do. Ike makes me laugh. In the mornings if he seems a bit stressed for any particular reason I let him out in the front garden. He runs around a small tree over and over again, stops for a second, barks at nothing then runs around it in the other direction. After he’s done that he plays with me by walking towards me then running away again so I can’t catch him but when he’s had enough he’s happy enough to start the day as normal again. It’s just his quirky personality. He has to be allowed do it a few times a week because he’s such a sensitive dog he needs to just let it all out a bit more regularly than Freddie needed to. That said, Freddie was very sensitive as well. In fact, I didn’t think there could be a more sensitive dog than Freddie until I got Ike.
Anyway, back to yesterday. Both dogs were happy enough to explore separately for a while. When we were all together and everything was sorted out, we walked over to a large green area where I could encourage the dogs to interact more. Banjo, the families only dog before Freddie arrived on the scene was quite happy to go hunting around the bush areas so Freddie and Ike had a lot of time to get to know each other. It was fantastic getting descriptions of what they were up to from Emma. Both dogs also hung around my side a lot so I could be aware of what they were doing. That wasn’t intentional on my part. I was equally as happy when they went off doing whatever it was they wanted to do. It was very funny at times. I use a whistle to call Ike back just as I did with Freddie. Ike’s recall is fantastic but it’s not as quick as Freddie’s. Ike just couldn’t be bothered running as fast. He prefers trotting around. Seriously, that dog is so lazy you need a rocket in the mornings to extract him from his bed. When I called Ike back Freddie rocketed toward me and Ike trailed behind plodding along. I obviously hadn’t intentionally called Freddie back. He just associated the whistle with coming back still. “Ike, you should be ashamed that a ten year old dog is still stronger, more agile and faster than you! Ha-ha”. Actually, let’s recap. Ike should be ashamed that a ten year old dog with arthritis in his hips and his front paws is stronger, more agile and faster than he is considering Ike is not even two yet! I’m quite pleased with that actually. A few times Ike tried to become the more dominant dog over Freddie but Freddie was still well able to put him in his place. I think the family who have Freddie were a bit worried but I’ve been around Freddie when he did that a few times and I’m not at all worried. If either of them were in any danger I would have stepped in straight away. Emma gave me a running commentary once or twice as well which was very entertaining. At one stage Freddie had his mouth around Ike’s neck. It’s harmless enough. He wasn’t bighting. Ike used his paws to push Freddie off and Freddie came back to me for attention. Mainly because although Freddie is stronger than Ike, he’s still a huge wuss. Ike is a much harder dog. Ike has been stood on while out, he’s got under my feet more times than I can count at this stage but it never bothers him. He simply doesn’t care. That’s very useful actually and it’s just one of the many reasons why Ike makes a fantastic guide dog.
For the entire day they got on great. It was nice to see Freddie so full of energy. It was also lovely to see Freddie interacting with his new family so seamlessly. Even Banjo the other dog seems to get on great with Freddie. They chase each other around a lot but they’re both very easy going. I think it’s actually banjo that has Freddie so fit. I doubt he’d be as willing to get up and move if he was just being walked every day.
Freddie is feeling great! He’s put on a lot of weight which is a little concerning considering this will very likely intensify the arthritis in his hips if it isn’t handled but it was kind of expected and it’s no reflection on his new family. Freddie was doing twelve hour days and a hell of a lot of walking when he was with me. It stands to reason that now that he’s taking it easy he’d put on some weight. I’m just hoping that his weight relaxes soon because I’d like to see him continue with this new found energy for a long time yet. Aside from his weight though he’s doing really well. His coat feels fantastic and I don’t think his tail stopped wagging yesterday. I miss the level of interaction he gives compared to Ike. He lets you know what’s bothering him and what he’s enjoying by his very straight forward body language. I find Ike a lot harder to read. He’s getting easier. Not because I’m getting use to him but he’s starting to show the same kind of body language that I understand such as simply wagging his tail or putting his ears up.
It was lovely to see Freddie again yesterday. It was also brilliant to introduce the two dogs, remember why Freddie was such a good dog and recognise why Ike is going to be equally as perfect for me. The two dogs are very different. They have their own quirks and sensitivities but their also very alike in a lot of ways. People tell me a lot that the two of them look very similar. They also respond very well to commands and hand gestures. They both like to keep me within a certain range, they’re both very loyal, they both love playing in a very specific way and their both tortured because they have to put up with me.