Doggone! Stevens retires seeing-eye dog
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Matt is retiring.
Nancy Stevens’ 8-year-old seeing-eye dog is hanging up the harness to spend the rest of his days in blissful irresponsibility.
“I started thinking of retiring Matt about a year ago,” said Stevens, sitting on the floor of her Glenwood Springs house ” her favorite golden retriever stretched out on his back, already anticipating days of carefree romps and endless doggie biscuits.
Stevens said she called The Seeing Eye, the training center in New Jersey where she acquired Matt and his predecessor, Dani.
“But I couldn’t even fill out the replacement form,” she said of the questionnaire the center sent her to apply for another dog. “So I thought, if I was that upset, it probably wasn’t time yet.”
Instead, Stevens took a couple of trips without Matt last year ” a quick trip to Denver and a five-day excursion to Nicaragua ” to brush up on her cane skills.
“I wanted to make sure I could still get around with a cane,” she said. “I got around fine.”
Once she knew she could make it on her own ” at least until she could get another guide dog ” she started getting used to the idea of retiring Matt. But it wasn’t easy.
“Having a dog retire is like losing a dog,” said Stevens. “You grieve. A friend of mine I graduated with at The Seeing Eye told me she recommend I wait six months between retiring Matt and getting another dog. But I decided two months will be enough.”
Although sometimes people keep their guide dogs as pets after retirement, Stevens found a couple who live in El Jebel who she knows will make a perfect second family for Matt. Stevens is planning to take Matt to Debby Kenealy and Gary Kill of El Jebel this Saturday.
Kenealy said she took a CMC class with Stevens and met Matt there.
“He looked just like a dog I’d lost,” Kenealy said. “He was working so I couldn’t touch him or anything, but he’d just look at me and I’d get tears in my eyes. He is so sweet. So, when Nancy told me she was thinking of retiring him, I told her to keep me in mind if she decided to make a change.”
Matt’s eyes ” the most gorgeous, soulful, big brown eyes on the planet ” are indeed compelling.
“Friends tell me that if I could see his eyes, I’d let him get away with a lot,” said Stevens, giggling and patting Matt’s side.
As it is, Matt has boundless energy, especially for a guy entering his golden ” no pun intended ” years.
“Matt’s hyper,” Stevens said, as he frolicked around Stevens’ living room, wagging his tail. “I wanted to retire him while he still has some play left in him.”
Stevens said she’ll probably not visit Matt for a couple months, so that he can bond with Kenealy and Kill. She’ll also be getting ready for her new companion, another Seeing Eye-trained dog.
“I don’t know anything about the dog yet,” said Stevens. “I don’t know if it’s male or female, or what kind.”
Rosemary Carroll is the director of development and public relations director for The Seeing Eye. She said Stevens’ dog is currently in training and getting ready for her to come to New Jersey at the end of March for a month of intense training together before beginning their new life.
“We don’t know who Nancy will be paired with,” Carroll said of the German shepherds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and golden Labs that are trained at the center. Trainers pair dogs with people based on energy levels, physical fitness and lifestyle.
“I’m not sure what that says about me!” said Stevens with a laugh as Matt took one more rambunctious lap around the house.
Matt is Stevens’ second dog. Her first dog, Dani, also a golden retriever and a graduate of The Seeing Eye, was with Stevens for 10 years before Dani contracted cancer, and was given six months to live. Stevens kept her and cared for her, and in the meantime contacted The Seeing Eye and got Matt to take over guiding duties.
“I remember that the trainer told me that Matt and Dani should be introduced in a neutral place,” Stevens said. “So we all went out to a parking lot. I’ll never forget. I crouched down with the two dogs, and Matt and Dani both put one of their paws on my shoulders, and their other paws on each other. We were in a big circle. It was like they knew what was going on and they were saying, ‘OK, we can do this.'”
Stevens still says she catches herself wanting to cry about Matt, but is happy about Matt’s new parents, whom she interviewed before agreeing to take on a new dog. Kenealy also spent a day with Stevens and Matt playing, and Matt spent a weekend at their house.
“He’s really flexible and adaptable,” Stevens said. “I think the hardest thing for him might be that he won’t be able to go to work all day like he does with me.”
Rosemary Carroll said she is excited that Stevens is getting her third dog from The Seeing Eye. The organization is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and Carroll said it’s the oldest guide dog training organization in the country.
“We think the world of Nancy,” Carroll said, who is currently writing a book about graduates who have had multiple dogs from The Seeing Eye. “With these graduates and these dogs, you never see a woe-is-me complex. Here, there’s never a bad hair day.”
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
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