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A Guide Dog Laps Up Retirement

By Beth K. Wallach / August 18, 1989

IT was Good Friday, and the longed-for rain penetrated the ground with a dreary, cold intensity. He was retiring. It was his last day at work, and he seemed to sense that something was happening. Ormon, my husband's Seeing Eye dog, had done his job well. Ten years ago he replaced the free-spirited Pete, who 10 years earlier had replaced Brian's first guide dog, Fax. It seemed like yesterday that Brian returned from The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey, with the 21-month-old Ormon, and now he was calling it a day. A best friend, who remembers all the special occasions with style, sent a retirement card to the office. The sentimental words concluded: ``Now you'll have time to do the things you've always wanted to - like sleep late, or roam around at leisure, chase sheep in Vermont, find a girlfriend, hang out with the other dogs, and visit Baskin Robbins. And, best of all, no more boring meetings.''

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The sun was shining the next day as Brian packed his bags for a three-week training stint at The Seeing Eye, the foremost dog guide school in the world. Suitcases usually mean Vermont in our household, but Ormon hadn't heard the familiar words that he loved: ``Do you want to go to Vermont?'' He knew something was up, and it didn't include him. He moped and stayed close to Brian.

We left Ormon at the front door with Jim and Lyla, our cats, and reassuring pats. ``See you later, Ormon. Be a good boy.'' I kissed him on the nose. Brian spoke private words to him as I started the car.

When I returned home later that afternoon, Ormon and I went for a walk in the woods and then spent a quiet Saturday night together. He seemed content, and he ate his dinner with gusto. We watched TV together, and occasionally he stood up and smiled at me - a smile being that certain look that German shepherds are so good at executing: ears back, the corners of the mouth drawn back just a little, eyes gazing adoringly. So far, so good.

Orman had guided Brian through the streets of White Plains, into elevators, restaurants, and offices, and once, donning a big, white bow, he helped escort a bride down a church aisle. He never missed a beat. The years, however, were catching up with him. It was time for retirement - and all the benefits that senior citizens look forward to.

On the third day of retirement I opted for a walk overlooking the Hudson. My favorite walk there takes just an hour, including time out for admiring the view.

I hoped Ormon was getting as much out of this retirement as I was. It was good to have an excuse to slip off for a bucolic walk. With a demanding work schedule, I need to remind myself of the importance of walks in the woods and snatch those moments greedily.

Tuesday we walked around our neighborhood with the former bride and our grandson Andy. Ormon lagged a little, thinking, no doubt, that we were heading for the office, which lately had become not his favorite place. Increasingly, I had noticed how slowly he moved on his way downtown with my husband, and how rapid was his return. As soon as we rounded the bend indicating that we weren't headed downtown, Ormon's pace increased.

Barbara (the retirement card friend) left a message for Ormon on my answering machine on Tuesday. ``Hi, Ormon! How would you like to go to Baskin Robbins for an ice cream cone?''

Ormon seemed to be enjoying his new life. He stationed himself at the front door and barked at squirrels, cats, joggers, dog walkers, school children, Brendon the mailman, the UPS man, and the Con Ed man. He loved barking. We made about four trips a day to the woods just to smell the leaves.