Retiring an honorable dog

Posted 6/12/11

Alan Mackey can’t see his surroundings as he sits on a bus bench, but he can feel the loyalty and adoration radiating from the furry guy next to …

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Retiring an honorable dog


Alan Mackey can’t see his surroundings as he sits on a bus bench, but he can feel the loyalty and adoration radiating from the furry guy next to him.

He can also detect the heavy panting of his constant companion, a golden retriever/yellow labrador mix named Abbott who guides him on his daily journeys. Mackey, once a skilled aircraft commander of B-52s for the United States Air Force, was robbed of his sight — and temporarily part of his memory — after suffering from bacterial meningitis following sinus surgery in September 2000. His brain swelled to the point that it cut off the blood flow to his eyes. The first thing he remembers is waking up in a rehabilitation center, unable to see even shapes.

Mackey, a married father of two boys, initially struggled with the unwelcome life change. He had to be reminded of the names of close family members and even relearn what a toothbrush was called. Then, there was the mobility issue.

After months of tripping over the family cocker spaniel, Mackey knew he wanted a dog that could relieve him of his cane and lead him around by memory.

One year later, he was introduced to Abbott, who immediately proved he was no slouch by navigating the streets and subways of New York City during rush hour. Mackey, a Lone Tree resident since 2006, has relied on Abbott for eight years, and never once has the dog led him into danger. However, it is clear that he is slowing down and nearing retirement. He has done his job with distinction, and Mackey must say goodbye.

But their separation is an act of sheer love. Mackey knows that Abbott’s life is far from over and, as he clearly demonstrated with random, on-the-street meetings with strangers, he is quite the social canine.

“He should have a good retirement and enjoy himself,” he said.

As soon as Mackey contacted Linda Chassman, a licensed marriage and family therapist who integrates dogs into her sessions, for help in finding the perfect home, Mackey was inundated with offers to take in Abbott. One is very promising: a Veteran’s Affairs hospital is interested in hiring Abbott to provide some TLC to ailing soldiers. He would no longer be required to cross busy streets, guide his owner through the airport or lead him to a bus stop that takes him to the Regional Transportation District’s Southeast Light Rail. He is in line to become a professional visitor, but Mackey is undecided on where to send his beloved dog.

Chassman, director of Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado, suggests that guide dogs transition well into other service roles. She praised Mackey, whom she does not know personally, for repaying the favor to a dog that has opened up his world.

“He knows Abbott still has work to do. He’s thinking about his well-being and that’s really touching,” she said. “You don’t often hear about what happens to service dogs after they’re retired.”

Mackey is scheduled to receive a new seeing-eye dog in September, which means he has a few precious months left with Abbott, now 70 in dog years. He says if he is lucky, he will get a dog just like him.

Mackey is hoping that wherever Abbott’s new home is, he will get to enjoy a relaxing retirement. Choosing the right place will be tough, but not as difficult as their final goodbye.

“I will probably break down in tears, and he will lick me and say ‘where’s my kibble?’” he said.


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