Last night, after a long work day, Jenny and I made our way to one of my favourite restaurants in the city and met a few friends – new and old – to celebrate Jenny’s life as a guide dog and her well-deserved retirement. OK, let’s face it, it was for the humans… but Jenn did get to break a few rules, like accepting pets under the table and giving kisses to one of her favourite humans while he put a snazzy new bandana on her.
Over fried chicken, Dorito mac and cheese, and dog-themed beers, my friends and I laughed and joked and talked about this incredible dog and the career she has had. And as I am mentally processing her retirement and training with my next dog, it seems only fitting to pay tribute to her on a blog that has seen her grow up from a rookie guide dog into the wise old soul that she is.
Jenny’s Career, By the Numbers
Number of years as a guide dog: 9.365 (exact calculation since graduation on October 3, 2013)
Number of hours she’s slept under a desk: 16,000 and probably more (40 hours a week for 50 weeks over 8 years and a bit – more, if you don’t count the time she spent hanging out with me while I spent a year job hunting)
Number of jobs she’s accompanied me to: 6
Number of job interviews she’s barked in: 1 (see below for more on that)
Number of kilometers we’ve run together: I stopped counting ages ago – 1500? 2000? More?
Number of finish lines she’s been at: 8 – 3 as a runner, 5 as a “spectator” (read: napping until she notices I’m there and then wiggling her bootie off)
Number of flights she’s been on: 50? Probably more
Number of provinces she’s visited: 6, possibly 7 (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and maybe – as a rookie but I always forget what year I went – Nova Scotia)
Number of states she’s visited: 8 (Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New York)
Number of cats she’s lived with: 7 – not all at the same time, don’t worry!
Number of doggie friends she’s made: too many to count
Number of human friends she’s made: Everyone, ever – unless you are one specific individual who will remain nameless because they hold the strange distinction of being the only person on this planet that Jenny has not liked
But it’s not Just about the Numbers
Of course it isn’t. You don’t live with another being, day in, day out, for years, and not feel like you know them better than you know yourself. Jenn’s made it easy; she communicates extremely effectively – I once wrote that no one needs a Jenny dictionary. I’ve written a lot about Jenny on this blog – she inspired my first tattoo, made me a runner, and has otherwise taken the world by storm. She has done absolutely nothing half-way – when she’s on, she is on, and when she’s not, she is so very very off. I am convinced she took pandemic shut-downs personally, because after periods of isolation she brought her A game to guiding, as if to say “If you were giving me a break, I’ll show you I didn’t need one; I’ll be the best guide dog ever so you’ll take me more places!” She has known that she’s known that she’s known that she’s right, and has still had the confidence to allow me to make colossal mistakes and then just sit down, head cocked to the side, nudging me with her nose as if to say “When you’re done not listening to me, we have places to go.” Her quick thinking has saved me from getting hit by inattentive or illegal drivers at least two dozen times during her working life, and probably more that I don’t know about. She’s traveled to New York City, one of the busiest, bustlingest cities in the world; crammed herself in the back of a Nissan Altima for a whirlwind awesome road trip; traveled alone with me for nearly a month, visiting new cities every few days… and a bunch more adventures in between. She’s raced with me to finish lines, trained me to finish lines, and met me at finish lines when she decided that she was so over this running thing. Jenny’s not-so-tiny body has squeezed under seats on airplanes, in trains and cars and buses, at concerts and hockey games and plays and operas. She’s guided through crowds so big and loud I couldn’t hear myself think, and shown initiative when I felt so lost and confused that she just knew that if she found something – anything – familiar, we’d put our heads together and we would be OK. Her emergency surgery and miraculous recovery confirmed for me that I am a much better traveler with a harness in my left hand than a cane in my right.
I heard for years that, when your dog is ready to retire, they will tell you. I believed that saying, in a way, but not really. But much like making a soul-deep connection you never knew you needed, you’ll never really know until it happens, and then you know. I knew there would be a time when Jenny’s age would make it likely that she’d slow down, but I never thought we’d be in a time where it was obvious – she was done. And, in her subtle yet in-your-face style, Jenny has shown that she is ready to hang up the harness, whether I am ready or not.
I could go on here for pages and pages about my thoughts and feelings during this time of transition from one dog to another. Maybe one day I will. But for now, this space is for Jenny, to honour her and her amazing brain and personality – and by extension her amazing career as a guide dog – and how she’s done everything she’s ever done with her whole heart. Those of you who’ve met Jenny during her long and amazing career, please chime in here; I’d love to remember with you.
And because I am extremely emotional right now, and need a good laugh, please find:
The Top 5 Naughtiest – And Most Hilarious – things Jenny has Ever done In harness
5. Barking – once – at a dog mannequin in Old Navy – it was just standing there staring at her!
4. Carrying a loaded hot dog bun through an Edmonton pedway. She carried it most of the way through the pedway, let me have a 5-minute conversation with building security, and then showed me she had it while wagging her tail as if to show how good and restrained she’d been. The bun – perfectly intact – went into the garbage.
3. Barking – once – at the company CFO during a job interview. While I was busy trying to gather my composure, convinced that this would be the end of my chances with this company, the man who would later become my boss – without missing a beat – said, “Oh, that’s OK, we all act that way around him.” I worked for that company for a year and a half.
2. Walking down the hall to another office and eating the office dog’s food – while he just sat there and watched her do it. I’d been telling her for months that she had the right to scold him for being naughty, and she had done nothing; I guess this was her way of showing him who’s boss!
1. Running on to a goalball court… in the middle of a game. In her defence, who uses a squeaky toy during a game when they know there will be guide dogs present? There is video evidence of this, but I cannot seem to find it anywhere; please take my word that this is by far the most hilarious and naughtiest thing that Jenny as ever done in her life!
So, What’s Next?
I am blessed to have had more than 9 years with Jenny’s harness in my left hand. She’s more than earned this retirement. Her remaining years will be here at home, with the humans she loves, the cats she thinks she can boss around but mostly ignores, with her days full of love and attention from anyone who wants to give it, and maybe a second career as a therapy dog. I’m a better traveler – and a better human – having had her by my side during so many transitions and experiences in life. Jenny girl, you deserve the best life has to offer you; thank you for giving me the best years of your life, and mine.