by John Delach
Mary Ann returned home last August after an outing with our friend, Ria Mead. “John, Ria confessed that she fell last night while out with Tess. Thankfully, it was a gentle fall onto the grass and she wasn’t hurt. The problem was, Tess didn’t lead her as directed and that’s why Ria lost her balance. She’s quite upset and knows it’s time to call the school to decide what’s next.”
“Okay, what’s next?”
“I asked her, ‘where will Tess go?’ but added, “What if we adopt her?”
“You did! ‘Works for me. What did Ria say?”
“That would be great.”
“So be it.”
Tessy, aka, Tess was born on November 29, 2008 at Seeing Eyes for the Blind’s Kennel in Morristown, New Jersey. A medium-size Yellow Labrador Retriever, she became Ria’s sixth guide dog succeeding in reverse order, Spenser, Olympia, Amir, Henry and Rusty.
Ria lost her sight at twenty-seven years old due to juvenile diabetes and was accepted into the Seeing Eye program three years later.
Ria and Tess bonded during a one-month training program of long hours of basic and advanced courses at the Seeing Eyes Training Campus to pair the person into effective partners through mutual love, respect, understanding, intelligence and hard work.
Ria explained, “Compare us to dance partners. We have to learn each other’s moves and tendencies to complement each other.” Ria also noted, “Seeing Eyes is a wonderful place to be. The staff is totally attentive, the trainers are superb as are the facilities. Best yet, I don’t have to think about anything else except training and lively discussions with my fellow students. It was like an upscale working vacation with like participants seeking the same goal.”
After graduation, Ria and Tess returned to Long Island to begin their life together. For eight years they maintained their partnership through good times and bad.
This past summer Ria noticed subtle differences in Tess’s performance, not so much Tess behaving differently so much as how she performed her tasks. Ria noted to me, “Something is off. It is hard to explain but I can sense it.”
After her fall, Ria knew to contact Seeing Eyes for an evaluation. A trainer confirmed Ria’s troubling belief, Tess was nearing the end of her working life. He estimated that it would be best if Ria joined a class early in 2019 to be assigned a new dog.
Saddened, no heartbroken, Ria made her wishes known to Mary Ann that we adopt Tess once the training class began. “Most of my previous dogs lived with me in retirement but then I had a house with lots of room. I don’t think it could work in my small apartment.” Ria also confessed, “As much as it will pain me to let her go, I want her to enjoy a retirement life of play that she will find in your home.”
Tess coming to live with us wouldn’t completely isolate her from Ria as we live close to each other and Ria could see Tess whenever she wished.
Ria knew about Max, our eight-year-old Golden Retriever who we described as being mellow. We agreed to have them meet when the time grew shorter and arranged to take them to a park where they could interact without it being territorial. As we expected, these two mature and laid-back dogs, engaged in some sniffing, a little play followed by their natural pastime, sniffing the grass, trees and shrubs.
A couple of successful sleep-overs followed. Tess discovered Max’s toy box and her favorite turned out to be an antler that must feel wonderful on her teeth. She also loved going out in our fenced-in back yard and the joy of being free to sniff and meander on her own. Max readily accepted her getting along handsomely.
In mid-November Ria learned that she had been accepted into a class beginning on January 7, 2019. We began to plan for an exchange just before that date, but these plans were cut short when Ria developed pain in her left shoulder, an inflamed rotor cuff. Ria guided Tess’s harness with her left arm and those changes in Tessy’s gait were causing Ria’s pain.
We agreed that it would be best for us to take Tess sooner to enable Ria to have enough time to rehabilitate her arm before the training began. However, it was important to Ria to keep Tess and celebrate her tenth birthday on November 29th.. Ria’s wish was easy to fulfill as circumstances postponed our adoption until the following week. Mary Ann and Ria made the switch on Wednesday December 5th, a traumatic and difficult experience for Ria and Tess.
As for Max, his food regime suddenly improved as we changed his diet to Tess’s. He now enjoys yogurt, string beans and apple slices, although he rejects another of her favorites, carrots.
Tess is coming along but she is obviously confused by this rather late-in-life disruption. Her eight-year career suddenly ended and where did her partner go? Fortunately, she likes Max, Mary Ann and me in that order. The other day, she and Max found themselves in a tug of war over a toy that led to a play wrestling match. Some mornings the two jump into our bed and tussle with each other. (Memo to file: Not a bad way to awaken.)
Ria is happy to receive our reports about her partner’s new doggie experiences. Tess never climbed onto her furniture; check that one off – never slept with Ria; ditto that and never barked. I will save that for Part Two: “Tessy’s Christmas Vacation.”
I will also report further on Ria’s experiences at Seeing Eye and a reunion planned in February for Tess, Ria and Ria’s new partner.