I’d like to tell you about my friend. She isn’t around any more, but you can see her picture on both of my websites. Many of my friends met her, but for anyone who hasn’t, this is the story of Cindy, my golden guiding girl.
If you asked me about my favourite dog breed, I’d tell you it’s the golden retriever. This is because I spent 9 happy years with one – firstly as my guide dog, and then as a friend and companion because she stayed with me when she was too old to work.
Cindy was not my first guide dog. The first one was a crazy Labrador who had some behavioural issues and after a year it was decided that she was not suitable to guide. She retired early and became a family pet. I knew I could make it work with a guide dog. I saw how much happiness and freedom they brought to other visually impaired friends. I have loved dogs since I was a small child. We always had them when I was growing up because my grandparents loved dogs as well.
When I was 4, we got a new dog, who was also called Cindy. I grew up with her, and she was my childhood friend. When I was 5, I thought she was smart enough to learn to read. “Wag your tail if this word says cat”! That didn’t work out so well, but she was a smart girl and we had a lot of fun together, in our garden, on holiday, on walks, or just chilling out. The first Cindy died when I was 15.
Cindy the retriever bounced into my life when I was in my early twenties. You don’t get to choose the name of a guide dog, so it felt quite special that this girl shared her name with my childhood friend. Each litter of puppies is given names beginning with the same letter – so all of Cindy’s brothers and sisters had names beginning with C.
We trained out of a hotel in Greenwich, London, which meant that we were close to a nice big park for walks after the training sessions.
During the next years, we did everything together! Cindy sat under my desk in my various offices, helped me to negotiate two of my least favourite obstacles on London streets – roadworks, because they are never in the same place twice and completely change the landscape that was otherwise so familiar to us, and tourists, because many of them are so intent on taking their pictures and completely oblivious to the fact that there are other people on the streets who might actually need to get somewhere, such as to work!
I had a lot of dog-loving friends, many of whom worked long hours, so they couldn’t have a dog of their own. We all went for long walks together, mostly in the Surrey countryside, and sometimes we went for long weekends to visit a friend on the Isle of Wight, where the golden girl could swim in the sea.
This is something I wrote on her 4th birthday and it sums up a lot of the happy memories we had together:
Four years – where have they gone?
The golden wagging bundle of fun
Who bounded in to my house one day in November In preparation for our December class.
Something about you got my attention
Your love for life and sense of fun
Your ability to keep calm and wag whatever happens.
I loved the golden puppy girl straight away!
I’d been so disappointed with a failed match
Willing to put my trust in a new guide But feeling under ridiculous pressure to make it work.
Pressure of my own making – but still it was there.
Class was fun in the training centre.
We learned together.
A few months in, you were naughty
Not wanting to walk past the vets
Because you’d been in there for ear treatment.
Not wanting to go home
If you didn’t think our walk had been long enough!
But somehow along the way things fell in to place And we became a team, and good friends.
I think we’d always been friends
But were just getting to know each other.
You learned I don’t like mornings
I learned you love to run and chase after sticks And bark at them if they are too big!
You love to sing and do headstands when you’re happy
And can pick up if I’m annoyed or upset,
Coming over to make sure I’m ok,
Laying your head on my lap And not leaving till you’ve made me smile.
So many happy memories
Chasing in the park after your ball
Diving in to the forbidden muddy pond
When we were supposed to be going out for lunch.
I was so proud when we did our first walks together
And you remembered the places we’d been before.
You soon got the name Singing Cindy
Because of your happy songs!
We explored our new area together
When we moved house, under a year after we met.
Would you find our door again? Would we get lost?
Only once did you try to have me break in to another house with my key
But that was months in to our time there and I wasn’t paying attention!
The time when you were so ill after eating a firework
I was so worried because you couldn’t breathe.
Rushing you to the vets to get you cared for.
Then moving jobs to a brand new office and company
You looking out for men as you always do Unaware of their place on the talent scale!
How many secrets do you know about me?
It’s a good thing you can’t talk!!
I was so proud as you took in each new place with ease
Learning routes and following other dogs without going crazy!
It’s fun to see you out on walks
Loving the feeling of freedom
Running like a crazy horse
And carrying logs twice your size!
Rolling in the dry grass
And telling off any log which is too big for you to carry!
With you I can stroll around town confidently!
Not feeling clumsy or dependent,
But travelling quickly and freely because I know you’re looking out for things in our way.
The time that the knife-wielding men fled at the sight of you
After trying to terrorise the train carriage.
Meanwhile you were sleeping – oblivious to the whole thing!
The time we accidentally got on the TV news,
Because I thought the live reporters outside our building were a bunch of tourists
And urged you forward so we could go inside!
How many people say how beautiful you are
And want to stroke that golden head!
Sometimes it’s annoying
But I’m proud to know you’re so stunning
Sometimes people try to deny you access
And that makes me really angry.
I’ll take on the argument, and usually win
But how embarrassing and degrading is that?
We just want to have a meal or a drink with friends in peace
And don’t always have the energy to make people aware of the law.
We’ve done so much together!
The long trips we’ve taken
The new people we’ve met.
Apart from your tendency to want to be everyone’s best friend
I know I can take you anywhere And that you will behave impeccably.
And the Cindy hugs,
When you jump up on your back legs And give me a hug.
And the times when it’s all got too much
And you let me cry in to that silky fur!
Staying with me, no words necessary!
I asked for a speedy dog, and I got one
Happy to trot along when I’m late
Quickly but carefully!
Trying to stop at the taxi rank
To see if I’ll pay for a ride home
And in doing so give you the evening off!
We’ve had so much fun over the last four years
And I look forward to the next years together with you My golden guiding girl.
Well, We had more than four more years together after that. As Cindy grew older, she had a number of health issues and we later discovered it was pancreatitis. This meant various types of medication before and with her food, and that I had to be so careful that she didn’t get anything other than the special prescribed diet. Otherwise she could get very sick.
This became easier when I changed my job and set up my own business. No more 3 hour commutes into London! That was wonderful and although we’d both had good times with our colleagues in London, in the end we were glad not to have to travel any more.
I was so relieved when I got permission to keep Cindy when she retired. This doesn’t happen automatically and if you can’t find an approved home for your guide dog, the Guide Dogs Association will rehome your dog, but the new owners are not obliged to stay in touch with the original guide dog owner. After we’d been through so much together, I could not imagine anyone else looking after her but me. After all, we’d worked together as a team for so many years. She’d looked out for me, and I wanted to do the same for her in her old age.
It all worked out well in the end. I worked from home, and Cindy stayed with me. At first I thought about applying for a new guide dog straight away, but then I moved house again and decided that I didn’t want to put Cindy through the stress of having a young dog bouncing around.
When Cindy was 12, she developed a tumour. At first nothing happened, but then it began to spread quickly. I had to make the hardest decision that any animal owner has to make, but I didn’t want her to suffer, or to keep her alive just because I couldn’t bear to say goodbye. The vet came to our house to make it less traumatic and Cindy fell asleep for the last time in my arms.
I don’t plan to get another guide dog at the moment and this is not the place to ask about that. This post is to celebrate my friendship with a wonderful golden retriever who brought so much happiness to my life. She wasn’t perfect – anyone who has lived with a golden retriever knows just how stubborn they can be – but I certainly wasn’t perfect either, and that’s what makes a friendship real.
If you’ve written a post about your dog, please drop the link in the comments. I would love to read it!