A Heart-Tugging Decision

I like to give my readers a heads-up with my posts if I expect them to be considerably long or different from the usual somehow. I strongly believe that each of my posts (regardless of content) is a reflection of where I am spiritually, emotionally and mentally. I don’t mean that in a mystical way like my words are an expression of my inner-most being influenced by Buddha and The Wizard of Oz or anything like that. But I do try hard to put my heart out there and share my journey with all of it’s successes and struggles despite feeling slightly vulnerable in being so honest. I have faith that God is able to use my story for His purpose. With that said, I am preparing you now that this post will be unexpected for most and you will not fully understand everything but that’s ok. I don’t understand all of it either but God knows every aspect and that is what I’m leaning on right now. Ok, I won’t continue dragging this on into a more suspenseful prelude any longer.

With a heavy heart, I have decided that it is time for Retha to retire as a guide dog.

From the start, Retha has never really been an easy partner to work with but I always thought that was just her sassy and energetic personality. Earlier this year, I began to notice that our guiding was extremely inconsistent. We went back to basics for a few weeks just to reestablish boundaries and expectations and things did improve a bit but we continued to be inconsistent in guiding. Toward the end of May, I reached out to our Guide Dogs for the Blind field service manager and scheduled a time for him to come out and observe our guidework. In the weeks leading up to his visit, I started to realize that Retha may just need to be done as a guide dog. I became more confident in considering her retirement and felt a tugging on my heart that this was the right decision. I have no doubt that God was planting the seed that just needed more time to come to fruition.

When we met with our field service manager, I was fully prepared to retire Retha and begin the process of getting her back to GDB. Our field service manager didn’t see major problems in our guidework but respected my decision to begin the retirement process for Retha. Directly after the meeting, I went straight to my room with Retha and absolutely lost it. Sobbing, I called my wonderful mother for support. She lovingly listened to my blubbering emotions and helped me to think more clearly. At one point, I was sitting on the floor with Retha in front of me as I unloaded my bucket of feelings on my mom. Retha sat down, put her ears back in a worried expression and leaned forward to lick the tears from my cheeks. At that moment, I knew I was not ready to give my baby girl up. I wanted to keep trying. I immediately called our field service manager back and expressed my change of heart. He helped me to come up with a plan of action. We decided to see how the summer went with my internship in Utah and if we needed to revisit the subject then we would.

The summer started out well. Retha could get me to our Dial A Ride stop relatively smoothly and I began to think my earlier thought of retirement was misled. But even with stricter boundaries and an increased workload, our guidework was still inconsistent at best. It was not one specific problem area but more of a lack of reliability. Through discussing the idea of retirement again with an important mentor in my life and with Retha’s puppy raising momma, I have come to the decision that guiding is just not the right job for Retha. She does not excel in guiding and I am not benefiting fully from this relationship. Although there are times where Retha is excited and focused, ultimately she is not happy with this life. Her wellbeing means more to me than anything else and because of that I know she needs a change. And with so many new exciting opportunities on the horizon, I need a partner that is reliable and focused, enabling me to grow in independence rather than create exhaustion with the relationship.

I have had another conversation with our field service manager and he agrees with my decision especially after we gave it a second shot to get on track. Because I feel so strongly now with this choice, I think it is best that we get Retha back to the GDB campus as soon as possible. Both of us need emotional closure and I do not want Retha to feel at any point like she has done something wrong. So I will be bringing Retha back to the Boring, OR campus within the next few days. It is a 26 hour and 1200 mile drive roundtrip from here in Park City, UT but my incredible friend and mentor from the NAC has so graciously offered to drive me there and back. She has even reached out to her own contacts in the area to arrange a place for us to stay so we can break up the drive just a bit. I cannot even begin to explain how grateful and humbled I am to have such support from her. It is the definition of a God given blessing.

Emotionally I am doing better than expected with my decision. I love Retha as a mother would love a child so I feel confident that this needs to happen for her sake more than mine. I believe Retha could have a future career as a drug detection dog or simply be a beautiful addition to an active and engaged family or individual. Having that hope for a better future for her is what drives me to put these wheels in motion (literally!) as soon as possible. I want her to go in for evaluation and move on to a happier life than what she has now. I will miss her dearly and I am sure the tears will flow when it comes to saying goodbye (slightly teary eyed writing that). But not only does God have his hand over me, He has it over the beautiful soul that is Retha too. I am learning to let go and trustingly place her in His hand. She has taught me so much and will bring such light to whoever her new person will be. My initial heart-tugging earlier this year was indeed God’s guiding hand and I am at peace knowing He is in control.

I know you must be wondering what the plan is now as far as getting another guide dog. I have reapplied for training to be paired with another guide. I hope to meet my new partner as soon as possible however I am willing to wait for the right dog to come my way. I know now that I need a very mellow and steady guide and strongly prefer to have a male. My hope would be to have another dog by October or a bit after but as I said, I am willing to wait. God has the right match out there for me and I have absolutely no doubt that it will come through in His timing.

In the meantime, I admit that I will enjoy a bit less responsibility. It will be extremely strange and lonely without Retha but I aim to spend some time focusing on myself both spiritually and physically. I want to be ready whenever the next dog comes.

I promise, this post is almost over!! With all of this happening, I would humbly ask for prayers as we hit the road to OR and Retha and I begin our journeys apart from each other. I trust in God and I trust in the power of prayer.

Thank you so much for reading and for the endless support and encouragement. I appreciate it more than you know. I will have some pictures of Retha and I this summer to follow this post. We have so many happy memories to hold on to.


About Ali S

Please read more on my About page.
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