By Morgan Watkins
Written in April, 2004
The time has come. The dark red golden retriever, asleep at my feet, has earned his retirement. His face, and paws, and the tip of his tail are white with age. For nearly nine years, this gentle beast, this loving creature, has kept me safe, given me freedom. We have traveled across the country many times. He has been on hundreds of airplanes. He has been at my side more than my own family or the people I work with. His loyalty is absolute. He has never quit trying, and he is still always ready to slip into his harness to work. Even so, his body is not as young or as forgiving as it once was. He is slowing down. And yet, how dear he is. His snoring reminds me of a kindly grandfather. He still runs in his sleep. He makes the dearest sounds while dozing, no different than when he was still more of a pup. And, still I know that if I ask him to work, he'll get up, a bit slower, but ready to serve. However, he's not a young dog anymore. He can't do the ten mile hikes that we once enjoyed together. I feel the fatigue through the harness at the end of a long day.
I've been through the mountains with this dog, over rugged and terrifying terrain, through snow and ice and hot Texas summers. He gave me my eyes and he gave me freedom. The grand realization has come in recent weeks as I've become aware that Fantom, my dear friend, has been truly doing his best and just hasn't been able to always keep up with my rather rapid stride and hectic lifestyle. Even so, I've found myself asking, insisting, that he pick up the pace and, my dear friend, has always given more, pushed himself harder, met my needs. He has always been so loyal, so dependable, always keeping me very safe. He doesn't know how to complain, or at least it isn't in his personality, but here I am, insisting that he pick up speed, move more quickly up stairs, to give more than his tired bones may possess. Am I really treating him with the same care and respect that he has shown to me? I cannot stop moving at a snappy pace, even for this dear and aging animal, but I should not expect him to do more than he can. There is a time, an epiphany, when you've got to ask if you are listening to your dog, to what his body is telling you, to be aware that you owe him the respect he has so richly earned.
There is a time for change, for passing the bone.
Literally hours before I got the call from Guide Dogs on March 29, letting me know of some special dogs in training, I was very aware that Fantom was faltering on the stairs that I'd been climbing all day. He would walk up them, but it was clearly slow going.
He was tired. He is old. Am I being selfish? Am I ready for the change? There is a dog out there, one that is anxious to work, anxious to please, anxious to be loved. There is another Guide Dog, at the beginning of his or her life, that would love to see the insides of beautiful buildings, airports, restaurants and my home.
I am not abandoning Fantom. I am letting him retire with dignity. In my particular circumstance, I will keep him with me for the rest of his life. When he gets older, I will care for him. I will talk to him and stroke him and love him. When his time comes, I plan to be holding him in my arms, ever thankful for his friendship and the vision he gave to me.
I pray that I can comfort him as he has always comforted me.
Thank you, Fantom. Thank you for your love, and friendship, and care. Thank you for my freedom, my eyesight, and the confidence to move as fast as I please. And, thank you God for this very dear soul.