Quoddy in Retirement

June, 2002

Quoddy, on her last day on this earth

I brought Beverly home to Maine after training with her for three weeks at The Seeing Eye. My instructor had told me to bring each pet dog outside, one at a time, to meet my new dog. I was supposed to do this before taking the new dog in the house. Accordingly we first brought out Quoddy. She kind of pinned her ears back and turned her head away as Beverly tried to greet her. Silver Girl, our Alaskan Malamute, showed signs of wanting to play with Beverly while Iris, our mixed breed dog who looked like a fox ignored her. Once we were all in the house Quoddy simply went to her usual place in front of the glass door and settled down. I led Beverly all around the house on leash so that she could see her new home. I then kept her beside me as we ate lunch. After lunch Jim took Quoddy back to work with him so that Beverly and I could relax together and Beverly could begin to become accustomed to her new surroundings


Over the next few weeks life settled into its usual routine. Others who have kept a retired guide frequently speak of the retired dog wanting to get back in the harness. I’ve heard people tell of retired dogs who dash to their person whenever he or she picks up the harness. Quoddy, however, showed no sign of wanting to work again although she did indicate that she had a strong preference for coming with us whenever we left home. For the most part we were able to indulge her in this desire. Jim and I both worked as blind rehab specialists on an itinerant basis so we were on the road much of the time. Jim was able to take her with him when he traveled and could even take her into the office for a couple of years after her retirement.


Co-workers and, especially, the children with whom Jim worked loved this. The children were thrilled to have the opportunity to pet Quoddy as they had never been able to do when she was working. Quoddy, for her part, seemed perfectly content to lie in Jim’s office for hours at a time or wait patiently in the car while he worked with his students. We often joked that our car was actually a Subaru dog house.


During the last few months of Quoddy’s working life she often seemed slow and sluggish. We made a habit of climbing Cadillac Mountain at least once each summer. I honestly didn’t know if the old girl was going to make it the last year she guided me up that mountain trail. Interestingly, after her retirement, Quoddy easily made the climb for three more years. This really brought home to me that Quoddy took her work quite seriously. Once relieved of the responsibility of guiding me she seemed to have more energy to just enjoy life.


Inevitably there were times when neither of us could take Quoddy with us. When we built our barn we placed it close enough to the house that we could connect the two at some future time. The time had come. When all was said and done Quoddy could go through a doggie door into the breezeway, through the door to the barn which we kept open, and then out another doggie door into a small pen we built for her. It would have been far easier to just put a doggie door in the door which led into the large pen where Silver Girl and Iris stayed but Quoddy would have none of it. She wanted her own special pen and the privilege of being allowed to stay in the house when she wanted to. She had been queen dog and by golly she was going to remain queen dog.


Interestingly, Beverly seemed perfectly content with this arrangement. The Seeing Eye told me that dogs respect their elders. Nonetheless I doubted if Beverly, with her high level of energy, would be willing to be princess dog to Quoddy’s queen dog. She was faster and much stronger than Quoddy but seemed to defer to her. True, Quoddy put Beverly in her place once a day for a while whether she needed it or not. This took the form of Quoddy pinning her ears back and doing that bark/growl thing that dogs do right in Beverly’s face. Bev’s response seemed to be something like, “Okay, you were here first.” And then they’d both sort of shake and be friends again.


Inevitably Quoddy’s physical condition began to deteriorate after three or so years of retirement. For probably the last two years of her life she had trouble jumping into her Subaru dog house. We just began picking her up to put her in the car. It was in the last two years of Quoddy’s life that her behavior and personality really began to change. She was such a gentle soul that some of the changes were quite shocking. If she felt that we were way overdue in offering her a milk bone she’d march right up to the can in which we kept these treats and whop it with her paw. And heaven forbid we allow the water bowl to run dry. Believe me, a steel water bowl being batted across a tile floor will get your attention.


Quoddy also became demonstrably affectionate in her old age. She would walk up to me where I sat on the couch and poke me with her nose asking to be petted. If I didn’t produce the desired response she’d gently lay one paw on my knee. If I still didn’t get the message she’d kind of whack me on the knee with her paw. Once I began petting her she’d stand or sit quietly for as long as I’d do it.


We began to notice that when we arrived home from some jaunt or other Quoddy wouldn’t stand up ready to be lifted out of the car. She’d just lie there, seemingly content, so we let her stay as long as she seemed comfortable. With the back of the car open she had a straight line of sight up our long driveway to the road. She’d lie there with her front paws crossed looking very regal and survey her kingdom for an hour or two. We usually took her a bowl of water and a treat. Eventually she would jump down from the car, sniff around for a while, and then ask to be let back in the house.


At least one day of the weekends Jim and I would work around on our ten acres. This work often involved the gathering and cutting of firewood. For several years Quoddy and Beverly both would come out in the woods with us and “help” us by bringing us sticks and small logs. As Quoddy’s strength and endurance waned she could no longer participate in our wood gathering activities. It seemed quite logical and reasonable to put Quoddy in her Subaru doghouse and back it up as close as possible to the area in which we were working. With the tailgate opened the old girl could be with us and be comfortable at the same time.


No story about the Quoddy dog would be complete without a description of her rock collecting behavior. Someone forgot to tell her that shepherds aren’t supposed to like the water. She loved it. As we lived on the coast of Maine for most of Quoddy’s life she had plenty of opportunity to play in the water. The silly girl was known to jump in the ocean as early as April. The ocean water temperature at that time of year was usually in the chilly 50’s.


Quoddy began her rock collecting behavior when she was about three years old. She waded out into a pond and promptly put her head under the water. Her tail was sticking strait up out of the water like a duck diving for food. She stayed under in this manner for an uncomfortably long time. Just as I was thinking I should jump in and see what was wrong she came up. She had a large rock in her mouth. She turned around, splashed to shore, and deposited the rock on the beach. To my amazement she went right back out, dove her head under, and came up with another rock. She brought this rock back to the place where she had deposited the first rock and dropped it. She would continue this behavior until she had a nice personal stash of rocks. Eventually we decided that her rock collecting was a manifestation of her herding instinct. Lacking a proper sheep to herd she was herding rocks.


We knew Quoddy was in partial renal failure about 8 months before her death. I took her to the vet who did blood tests, diagnosed partial renal failure, and suggested dietary changes.


The winter was one long dietary experiment. First we had Quoddy on a prescription dog food for dogs in renal failure. Then I cooked for her for six weeks. Then we put her on a prescription diet which was very bland. Even on the bland food I had to mix it with rice.


In early May of the following year Quoddy, again, showed the symptoms of renal failure. we took her to the vet on an emergency basis on a Sunday. The vet said he suspected she was in total renal failure and did blood tests. The results of the test weren’t that bad though and we decided to treat her. This meant leaving Quoddy at the vet’s office for three days. I went to see her every day during her treatment. Finally we brought her home on Wednesday. Before we left his office, the vet told us that we had bought her some quality time and to take her home and spoil her.


We took his advice. I cooked for the old girl for the next three weeks and we tried to take her to some of her favorite places. She was back to having definite opinions about when it was time to eat and when she wanted to be petted. It was like a honeymoon. We knew that her health would not last but we tried to make the most of the gift of those three extra weeks.


On the Friday before Memorial day Quoddy stopped eating again and showed other signs of renal failure. She never threw up but she did have the loose stools. We knew exactly what it meant and we knew what we had to do. I don’t think Quoddy was ever in pain but I could tell that she was uncomfortable. she stayed in our bedroom rather than coming out into the living room and she turned down all offers of food.


On Saturday morning, when she again refused to eat I knew that it was time to give her the final and most precious gift. I called the vet and made an appointment for 11:30 that morning. Then we took Quoddy to a beach on Frenchman’s Bay for one last time. That beach is close to where we lived for two years and she loved it there. Then we took her to the vet’s office. While the vet prepared and gave her the injection I held her and told her what a good girl she was.
She quietly laid her chin on her paws and went to sleep for the last time. She died with the same dignity with which she had lived her long and good life.


We had Quoddy cremated. When we received the urn containing her ashes I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Accordingly we loaded our kayaks on the car and drove down to that beach on Frenchman’s Bay. We paddled out into the bay and let Quoddy go to her final resting place. I still think of her and smile as I imagine her herding her rocks in the place she loved so much. What a great dog. And what incredibly wonderful memories we have of our lives together.

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