A Guide Dog has a surprisingly short working life: a typical animal is around two years old by the time he’s trained, retiring at around ten years of age. This only leaves eight years of working life, which can pass surprisingly quickly. Most dogs are still fit and active at ten years of age, but it’s felt that it’s only fair that they’re given a good long retirement. John used to have the classical breed of Guide Dog – a yellow Labrador, called Bree. When Bree retired, she was adopted by another family, and she went on to have a “second life” as a much loved pet before eventually passing away at the age of sixteen.
Bree had been a wonderful assistant, and she was a tough act to follow. In some ways, it was helpful that Vico turned out to be a different breed of dog: it made it very obvious that he was not a “new Bree”.
Vico is a good example of a twenty first century Guide Dog. Instead of always using pedigree animals, Guide Dog breeders have started to use a mix of breeds, aiming to produce working dogs that are as fit, healthy and effective as possible.
Vico is a Labradoodle, which is a mix between a Labrador and a Standard Poodle. He resembles a small Irish Wolfhound, with the same big craggy head and tousled, wirey coat. There are several advantages to the cross-breed. Poodles have a different type of intelligence to Labradors, and Vico thinks ahead: he will spot someone fifty metres ahead of him on the pavement, planning a walking route far in advance to make it as easy as possible. Poodles are also known as a low-shed breed. Labradors tend to moult continuously, and when he owned Bree, John couldn’t wear black because of the yellow hair. Vico doesn’t moult nearly as much: as well as not having the hassle of having hair on clothes and around the home, this seems to be better for people who are allergic to dogs. John’s son has asthma, but he has no problem being around Vico.
There’s only one complication with Vico’s breed: he doesn’t look like a typical Guide Dog. People sometimes try to talk to him, not realising that he’s a working animal. Vico accompanies John on a busy daily routine: dropping the children to school, then heading into John’s office in Dublin City Centre by DART. He sits under John’s desk during the daytime, going out for a walk at lunchtime around Grafton Street and Stephens Green before heading home in the evening. When he has his harness on, he is “on duty”, and it’s important that he isn’t distracted. If someone comes up to Vico and pets him, it’s as bad for John as if someone has stepped into his path and physically stopped him from continuing on his way. John doesn’t mind if people ask him if they can pet Vico, if he’s sitting down anyway (e.g. on the DART). But when he was out and about in busy places, tourists especially would come up and start talking to Vico, not realising that he had a job to do.
John used to have to politely ask people not to do this, but recently he’s been given another answer to the problem: a simple sign attached to Vico’s harness.
Vico can’t talk, but his sign says it loud and clear: “Please don’t distract me: I’m working.”
- Guide Dogs are intelligent, friendly animals that often attract attention
- It’s important to remember that they are working animals who need to be allowed to get on with their job
- Always ask a Guide Dog owner before approaching a dog.
If you or a friend could benefit from having a Guide Dog please contact Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind for an information pack.
Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind is a charity that depends on public donations: to find out more, visit http://www.guidedogs.ie