The Three Goodbyes of a Service Dog

Experience the three different goodbyes experienced with service animals and a lesson on remaining positive.

| May 2016

  • “From the Mouths of Dogs” Lesson #4: Be positive.
    Photo by Fotolia/cylonphoto
  • In “From the Mouths of Dogs,” B.J. Hollars reveals much about our pets but even more about the humans who share their lives, providing a much-needed reminder that the world would be a better place if we took a few cues from man’s best friends.
    Cover courtesy the University of Nebraska Press

What is it that dogs have done to earn the title of “man’s best friend”? And more broadly, how have all of our furry, feathered, and four-legged brethren managed to enrich our lives? Why do we love them? What can we learn from them? And why is it so difficult to say goodbye? Join B.J. Hollars in From the Mouths of Dogs (University of Nebraska Press, 2015) as he attempts to find out — beginning with an ancient dog cemetery in Ashkelon, Israel, and moving to the present day. In this excerpt we explore the 3 emotional goodbyes of guide-dogs and a lesson on staying positive.

Though most pet owners know all too well the heartache of saying goodbye to a beloved animal, far fewer grasp the grief a human feels when saying goodbye to a guide animal. After all, how can a person ever repay a creature that has dedicated her entire life to service? Despite Kathie’s training as a psychologist, she offers little advice to help assuage the pain felt by those who lose their guide dogs, or, for that matter, assistance animals of any species.

While guide dogs remain the most popular species of assistance animal, various other species have recently joined their ranks, from miniature horses to monkeys on down. As writer Rebecca Skloot makes clear in a 2008 New York Times article, each species possesses its own unique skill set, offering people with disabilities a wider selection of animal partners. Miniature horses, for instance, are “mild-mannered, trainable, and less threatening than large dogs,” Skloot contends, not to mention their 360-degree range of vision and their thirty-year lifespan. For many people with disabilities, the miniature horse’s longevity is the species’ greatest benefit, particularly when compared to the abbreviated life of a guide dog. The extended working relationship shared between people and miniature horses not only ensures fewer substitutions on the team but, perhaps of equal importance, spares the human from having to say goodbye any more than necessary.

“Every goodbye is hard,” Kathie admits, a slight waver developing in her throat as she recalls the eight dogs that came before Luna. “And it’s especially hard because there are three parts to the goodbye.”

In my observations as a pet owner, the final goodbye to a pet has always seemed a two-step process: determining the pet’s low quality of life and then taking responsible means to end the suffering. Throughout my adult life, I’ve been fortunate to never have to take either step alone. Nevertheless, I’ve watched my parents tread this trail on multiple occasions. For them, the decision to drive the animal to the vet was never easy, though they recognized the necessity of their task. But as Kathie explains to me, saying goodbye to a guide dog is different and requires one additional step.

Three Different Goodbyes

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