Hanging Up the Harness
by Schulzman Walter Shannon McCann (aka Schulz)
My name is Schulzman Walter Shannon McCann, but most people call me Schulz or “Good Boy.” I’m a seven-year-old black lab and for about five years, I was a Seeing Eye dog. So many people think that just because guide dog handlers are blind, we, the dogs, do all of the work. That’s inaccurate. I was an equal partner with my mom. (She named herself that; not all handlers do.) She knew where to go and how to navigate things such as traffic. I got us where we needed to be, safely. It took both of us working in tandem to be a successful team. We trained at the Seeing Eye which is a guide-dog-training school. There are many schools around the world. There are also programs designed by handlers who train their own dogs.
While I was working, I went everywhere with Mom. It was legal for me to accompany her as a service animal though we experienced a lot of discrimination. (I’m looking at you Uber/Lyft.) Of course, I had to be clean and well behaved, but that wasn’t a problem for us. Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle for us was interference by other people and animals. I can’t tell you how many times people tried talking to me, making noises at me, or even grabbing my harness handle while I was trying to work. Even scarier was the amount of untrained, uncontrolled dogs who tried to come at me while I was working. Thankfully, I was never harmed by these animals. Sadly, there have been many service dogs who have had to retire because of trauma caused by attacks.
In 2019, I hurt my paw while playing. My veterinarian diagnosed me with something called lupus. I got medicine, and we had it under control. However, last summer, I started walking very slowly. Trips that usually took us five or ten minutes were taking almost twenty. Mom worked with the Seeing Eye and my veterinarian to figure out what was going on. It turned out that the lupus was flaring up. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that never goes away, and since mine affects my paws, my mom knew that it was in my best interest to retire.
You may be wondering what guide dog retirement is. Well, it’s very similar to human retirement. We simply stop working. We are considered pets during retirement. That means that just like animals who were always pets, we are not allowed in public places as before. While my reason for retirement was health related, there are many reasons for service dogs to end our careers. Some of us go back to the people who raised us, some of us go to new families, and like me some get to stay with their handlers.
Transitioning from guide dog to pet took some getting used to for all of us in my family. I had to learn to relax and not worry about working, and my mom had to rely on her white cane. It’s hard for me to watch her leave with her cane every morning. I very much still want to guide her, but I know she has the skills to come back to me safely. It is so nice to lounge around and rest as much as I need to in preparation for when my parents come home to play with me. You may think that as the daytime queen of the house, I lay around with nothing to do. This is mostly true, but I do keep my little cat sister in line and wait for the mail carrier to drop our daily correspondence through the slot for me to sniff.
The thing I miss most about guiding is working together with Mom to find our destinations. The thing I miss the least is people distracting me and out-of-control pets crossing my path. If there is one thing I’d like for people to remember, it is that guide dogs serve a purpose and should be respected as half of a team trying to make its way through the world.