Bowing Out

The time has come. Mr. Dog is about to retire. Slightly early. Not because of illness no, our steep streets and idiosyncratic town plan have taken their toll. It’s stress, with last winter’s deep freeze providing in all senses, the icing on the cake.

So, here’s to years of happy retirement and the canine good health in which to enjoy it. He’s worked hard in difficult circumstances; for us, any shopping trip involves at least a mile round trip, the return all up hill. And, by hill, I mean steep in the Scottish sense; heart pounding, peching, a full cardiovascular workout.

At least, he’s getting his retirement. His predecessor didn’t have that, dying suddenly when all thought he was recuperating well from a serious operation. Since, I assume, stress is every bit as unpleasant for dogs as it is for humans, I much prefer Mr. Dog enjoying retirement early rather than expecting him to wrestle on through another winter.

I’ve heard various reasons explaining why others don’t have a Guide Dog.

“I’m no that blin.” Oh aye? And what, exactly, are you using as the criterion?

“Jist because Ah’m blin disnae mean Ah like dugs.” In which case, better blundering around as you are.

“Ah’d aye be hooverin the hoose, wi aa thae hairs”. Find a Home Help. That’s what I’ve done. She’s excellent and I don’t know how I managed without her.

“Ah dinna hae a dug. Ah couldnae cope when it went or if Ah had tae gie it up.” The saddest reason of the lot, and the silliest. Using this logic, no-one would marry, for fear of divorce or death.

Guide Dogs are rarer than the public assumes; around 500 in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Of course, as the above reasons show, there’s not necessarily a correlation between being blind and wanting a canine assistant. However, I’m sure many folk just don’t know what they’re missing. Slowly bumbling about when they could be wheeching along at their old, sighted pace. A real K9 leading the way.

And here’s the rub. K9 appears indestructible, but a real dog, a hairy one, ages. Just like its owner. Eventually, it’s only fair, as with any other faithful retainer, to offer retirement to your assistant. So, Mr. Dog is returning to his Puppy Walker in the north. To enjoy long, stress free years, charging through woods, with, perhaps, an occasional cavort up a snow covered Cairngorm. Exhausting yes, but there’s a big difference between exercise for the fun of it and the responsibility of negotiating himself and his mistress around badly parked cars, trenches dug by workmen oblivious to all around them, and gossipers with bahoochies so bulky, they block an already crowded street.

Mind you, it’s not all been hard work. Like that beer, as a Guide Dog, he reaches places never visited by ordinary canines. His douce behaviour during lectures has been praised by such diverse icons of Scottish culture as Mike Russell, MSP and the stars of “Taggart”. He has been clapped by the Scottish poet, Alastair Reid and the Scottish thriller writer, Catriona Macpherson. Of course, it’s an advantage, having Wigtown, Scotland’s Book Town, with its annual Book festival, just down the road! Through me, he’s spoken to the ladies of local Guilds and Rurals and most of the weans of the Machars of Wigtownshire, either at their primary schools or in their off duty moments when attending Boys’ Brigade, Brownies or Cubs.

He has attended funerals, including a truly traditional Scottish one, leading the procession of mourners through Whithorn, Scotland’s oldest Royal Burgh. And then, there have been weddings, and wedding parties. Only a few weeks ago, there he was, resplendent in floppy bow tie helping a wee lad overcome his deep phobia of big dogs; allowing the lad to tickle his tum throughout the reception.

He has taken me around sites encompassing the range of British history. Local standing stones; a rainy scramble along an extremely windswept part of Hadrian’s Wall; the first Guide Dog to be shown around Dumfries House, where I’m sure he admired the furniture, especially the breakfast table with its enclosure for keeping food safe from the family hounds. A myriad of stately homes, grand gardens, museums and the occasional shopping centre. Not forgetting, regular attendance at our local Cinema, where he has an allocated seat under which to sleep.

However, with the lad about to pick up his pension, how will I cope? Even although winter approaches, I’ve no intentions of staying indoors. If I did, I’d quickly become a very large person; joining the ranks of the big bahoochies. So, while Mr. Dog is settling into the routine of his retirement, I hope to be training with his successor, Number Three dog. The challenge of getting to know a new canine personality, and all that entails. A challenge certainly, but, I hope, an enjoyable and rewarding one.

© Charlotte Bennie 2010