by Diane Bergeron, President of CNIB Guide Dogs
In July of 2012, only a few short months after beginning my work with CNIB, I found myself once again sitting in an armchair waiting to be introduced to my new guide dog. So many things were going through my mind: Have I made the right decision? Maybe Maximo could have worked just a little bit longer? Maybe I retired him too early? What will this new dog be like? So many questions. One thing that I was sure of was that I had decided that retiring a dog was too painful. This time I was going to remember that a guide dog is a mobility aid and even though I will bond with it, and trust it, I wouldn't allow myself to get so close that it would hurt when the relationship ended.
Then the moment arrived. My trainer Debbie came in and introduced me to Lucy. She was a 17-month-old golden retriever with a lot of energy. She was spinning around like a tornado. As I crouched down to meet her, I was smacked in the face with the biggest tail I have ever felt! This made sense since it matched her big paws. All the self-talk went down the tubes. It was too late. I was in love!
Over the next 7 years Lucy and I were inseparable. We travelled to several European countries, and all over the United States and Canada. We met with two Prime-Ministers and their wives, many Members of Parliament and Ministers, Senators, and even Stevie Wonder.
With Lucy by my side, I had the opportunity to influence changes to the Canadian Copywrite Act to allow Canada to accede to the Marrakesh Treaty, The Accessible Canada Act, and numerous pieces of legislation, regulation, and public policy affecting people with disabilities. What a ride!
In October of 2019, it was time for Lucy to retire. She had done her job and deserved to have a rest. Again, I found myself waiting to be introduced to my new guide dog. My Trainer Ben came in and introduced me to Carla, a 16-month-old golden retriever with a lot of energy. She is smaller than Lucy with a smaller tail, but just as much personality. The two girls got along extremely well and quickly became the best of friends.
We were expecting to have this dynamic duo for a few more years. My husband was excited to finally have a dog he could take fishing and camping with him where he didn't have to stick to so many rules. Then my world was rocked…Lucy was diagnosed with a tumor on her spleen that was causing internal bleeding. We were told that the bleeding was slowing down and that it would probably stop and she would rebuild her energy, but that it would be only a matter of days or weeks that she would have before it would start again. My heart dropped and I just could not understand. She was only nine years old…far too young to be so sick. We took her home and gave her the medication. She got her energy and appetite back and was doing well. Three weeks later we were convinced that the vet had made a mistake; she was going to be around for a little while. Then once again my heart was broken. On Good Friday she stopped eating and her energy dropped. We held her and waited for her to turn around like she did the last time. Unfortunately, it was not to be. By Saturday morning it was clear that she was not coming back to us this time. We took her to the vet and had to carry her in because she was too weak to stand. I held her head while we said goodbye. I remembered the day when I first met her and my thought that I would consider her a mobility aid and not get too close. How wrong I was. My heart was hers from the moment we met. She dedicated her life to guiding me and being by my side. She was a part of me, and I felt like something was being ripped from my body. As she took her last few breaths, I thanked her for her years of dedication and loyalty and told her how much I loved her. I knew she would be leaving us knowing that she was my everything.
It has been two weeks since we lost her. I am crying as I write this, knowing that it will be a long time before the pain diminishes. I will never forget her or the wonderful times we spent together. My husband and I will miss her so very much! Now I am comforted by Carla. She seems to know my sadness and I think she also misses her friend. Together we will get through this and move on, but we will all remember the legacy that our Lucy left behind.