I remember when Coco started showing signs of age. It came earlier than most poodles her size because she was diabetic. First she started developing her cataracts and within a year was blind. By the next year she had slowed down to the degree she worked mostly in her stroller but still loved being out and still greeted every person with a soft kiss.
Over the next years I checked her every day to make sure she was not only still safe to be out in the public, but enjoying it. Yes she still loved being held and cuddled. Yes she still loved being talked to and when she could no longer hear, she absolutely knew when people were engaged with her.
Yes she even learned a new language and could perform all the necessary elements of obedience by Touch Commands.
Yes she still gave that little happy tail wag when her vest was put on and she still loved riding in the car.
And she sat up in her stroller, bright as could be, as hordes of children passed by to say hello.
I always knew she would retire when those signs of joy dissipated.
But they never did. Coco worked until three weeks before her passing and her love for life and people and new experiences stayed strong until the end.
I am now watching little Kirby for those signs. He has slowed down dramatically this past year. He tires easily and enjoys resting in his stroller or someone’s arms.
During some visits, with those people he is most comfortable around, he puts his head down and takes a little nap. I tell everyone that is his truest sign of trust and love.
His joy for life is the greatest lesson to the children we work with in particular. They learn to respect Kirby and understand that when living beings get older they are not disposable. They learn to be kind and gentle and appreciate what he can do, not what he can no longer do.
Some days he is very bright and active and wants to play with his toys and run around the house and take walks.
Some days he wants to find a sunny spot by the window and sleep.
The best way to know when it is time for your therapy dog to retire is to truly know your dog throughout his life. When Kirby no longer enjoys car rides and his stroller and his bones and his toys and being held and snuggled really close and looking deep into someone’s eyes — when Kirby no longer listens and can fulfill my directions — sit, down, back up, close by, snuggle, move close — when Kirby no longer gives his little hop when his bandana is put on — when Kirby no longer uses his nose to sense where he is and smiles when he figures it out — if Kirby ever snaps at being approached or shows displacement signs reflecting stress and discomfort — then it will be time to retire this amazing little hard-working dog.
Delta Pet Partners requires re-testing of all therapy teams every two years thus the safety and stability of all working teams is insured.
If you belong to a therapy program that never retests, it is the owner and facility’s responsibility to understand when that animal, or human end of the leash, may be inappropriate for working. Frequent assessments are recommended as the team ages.
Kirby passed his last renewal test with flying colors and we are looking forward to his next retest to show what an old dog can do!