Archive for February 8th, 2011

Second dog syndrome

Hanni's enjoying her retirement. And she's earned it. Here's she's running around Allerton Park in Monticello, Ill.

Second dog syndrome. That’s what they call it at the Seeing Eye. Graduates return after retiring their first dog, and the second dog is never as good. The new dog goes after other dogs. The first one never did that. The first dog always went right to the door you were looking for, never peed on route, didn’t get distracted by sirens, always sat still while you did laps at the pool. No matter how hard the second dog tries, he just can’t live up.

I didn’t suffer from this syndrome when I retired Dora, my first dog. Can’t I ever, ever do anything normal?! Now, with my third dog, I’ve got Second Dog Syndrome. And I’ve got it bad.

Loyal blog readers know how difficult the decision to retire Hanni was. In her tenth year she was still guiding well and showing good judgment at intersections. The only problem? She was slowing down. From my blog post Saying goodbye to an old friend:

My Seeing Eye dog will be 11 years old in February. Walks to the Loop used to invigorate Hanni. Now they wear her out. She takes long naps after our excursions, and she doesn’t wake up from those naps as easily as she used to. 

It’s time for Hanni to retire.

While training in New Jersey with Harper it was a joy to sail down city streets. I hadn’t clipped along that quickly in ages. Harper was fast. Efficient. Fun. Hanni really was slow. I’d been right to retire her.

But then we got home, and temperatures in Chicago plummeted. Wet sidewalks turned to ice. “Steady, Harper.” Steady. Slow down, Harper. Careful, Harper.” With this sort of weather, I can’t go anywhere fast. I could have kept working with Hanni longer.

Last week 20 inches of snow fell on Chicago. City trucks plowed all that snow off the streets and onto the sidewalks, making many corners impassable for pedestrians. My walks with Harper are now limited to short trips to his new emptying spot – a mound of snow near a dumpster. After each trip, Harper and I make time to dance in the living room to old lost & found CDs. Harper chews on Nylabones, fetches a squeak toy. And then, with nothing else to do, he sleeps. He has a bell on his collar. I can hear when he wakes up, and I can tell when he looks up at me, wondering why we aren’t going outside for a long walk. Poor Harper. All this snow and ice is preventing him from doing what he’s so good at: getting around city traffic quickly and efficiently.

The Seeing Eye has a full-time counselor on staff. Michele Drolet is blind and uses a Seeing Eye dog herself. I was feeling particularly blue this morning, so I gave her a call.

Everything I am feeling is perfectly normal, she said. I did the right thing retiring Hanni when I did. Harper won’t forget his lefts and his rights. She’s been getting calls from lots of graduates suffering in the snow. It will be spring soon. When it comes to me and counselors, though, the practical advice helps the most. “Get a pair of those ice cleat things.” She said she’d borrowed a pair of Yaktracks from a friend the day before. “They really work.” From the Yaktracks web site:

Named after the sure-footed Tibetan Yak, Yaktrax ice cleats stretch over everything from winter boots to your jogging shoes. Once in place, Yaktrax use a grid of skidlock steel coils that give you the traction of the famed mountain sheep on hard-pack snow and glare ice. 

The copy says these Yaktracks were designed for people who walk across icy parking lots, sidewalks or simply want to walk their dog in the snow and ice. I’m going to give them a try.

The idea that these things might work has brightened my mood. Not sure why this all got to me today, maybe because it’s hanni’s birthday? She’s 11 years old today, and I’m tickled to hear what a grand old time she’s having in her retirement with Steven and Nancy. They spoil her, take her for walks, let her run and play in the snow. I do miss Hanni, but if anyone deserves a grand retirement, it’s her. Happy birthday, my dear old friend!

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February 2011
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