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For working dogs, retirement can be a challenge

FOR nine years, Brac has worked like a dog, chasing geese at a private golf club and sparing members the indignity of goose poop in their spikes.

The 10-year-old black-and-white border collie now has arthritis in his legs and cataracts in his eyes, and he has lost interest in the birds, so it is time to retire.

Larry Jones, assistant superintendent at the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt, Colorado, cannot keep him and has been trying to find him a good home.

"He loves everybody. He's really a sweet dog. And even though he's losing his working mojo, he still has a lot of pet mojo left," Jones said.

Working dogs like Brac are often forced to retire by age, illness or injury. Finding adoptive homes for retired working dogs, however, can be challenging if they require medical care or have behavioral problems. Some working dogs spend their lives outdoors and may not be house trained. Others may have trouble with basic daily routines like riding in a car or climbing stairs.

Marie Turino, 35, of Freehold, New Jersey, fostered nearly 30 racing greyhounds before she adopted two.

"All they've ever seen is a track and a crate. They've never been in a home before, never seen a mirror or stairs," she said. She adopted Anna and Jasmine in 2002 and 2003, from different racetracks, when both dogs were aged two.

"They don't know normal house sounds. The first morning, I turned on my blow dryer and Jasmine came flying, then stopped on a dime, staring at me." One of her foster dogs "went crazy when she saw a mirror and kept poking it with her nose."

She has cared for dogs with ticks, broken bones, infections and cuts on their noses from muzzles.

But not all aspects of care are difficult. "They are crate-trained so they are easy to housebreak and they don't shed much," she said. "It's easy to brush their teeth, clip their nails and clean their ears."

In some fields, retiring dogs are typically adopted by the people who work with them. About 90 percent of the dogs in the Sacramento K-9 unit retire with their handlers, Sacramento County sheriff's deputy Brian Amos said. The rest of the deputies find homes for the dogs.

Amos and his dog Jimmy had been together four years when Jimmy was injured in training and forced to retire in 2005. The hardest part for Amos came each morning when he left for work with his new dog, Jesse.

Jimmy would bark and whine. "I felt like I was cheating on him."

Jimmy has since died of old age, but he eventually took to retirement, becoming more relaxed and less anxious, Amos said.

Since 1950, Dalmatians with names like King, Bud, Brewer, Barley and Hops have been working with teams of Clydesdale horses to promote Anheuser-Busch, the beer company based in St Louis, Missouri.

Puppies are taught basic skills at the St Louis stables, then go out with a Clydesdale team to learn from an older dog, said Jeff Knapper, general manager of the company's Clydesdale operations. They usually retire after four or five years on the job and are nearly always adopted by their handlers.

Sled dogs pose a variety of challenges as house pets. Often they walk in circles because they've been tied to posts all their lives. They also need to be house trained and learn how to walk on a leash, climb stairs, walk across slick floors without falling and ride in a car without vomiting, according to Seth Sachson, who has adopted eight sled dogs. Sachson serves as executive director of the Aspen Animal Shelter and the Aspen Boarding Kennel in Aspen, Colorado.

Tracy Sargent of Cedartown, Georgia, runs K9 Search & Rescue Specialists Inc, which has responded to hundreds of calls ranging from missing persons to plane crashes to natural disasters. If a dog works for her, it retires with her, she said.

Just like people, however, some dogs find difficulty in adjusting to retirement, Sargent said. She uses rides, mini-training camps in the yard, more ball play, longer walks and extra attention to help them make the transition. Brooke, a German shepherd, worked full time until she was 10. Then she slowed down, her vision dimmed and she had trouble jumping in and out of a rescue vehicle. Sargent took more than a year to retire Brooke fully, taking her on shorter trips and using her for confined searches. Eventually Brooke seemed happy to stay home and rest. She lived to be nearly 16, Sargent said.

Bailey, a 13-year-old English springer spaniel, has become Christy Judah's couch pal since retiring a few months ago after more than 150 land and water searches with the Brunswick Search and Rescue Team in Brunswick County, North Carolina.

"He loves to search and it is not a matter of not being able to sniff out the victim, but a matter of lovingly deciding that his aging body needed a rest," Judah said.

These days Bailey gets pampering, people food and access to a bed and couch, Judah said. To keep him sharp, they still play search games, but in smaller spaces with simpler problems. In some cases, working dogs don't retire, and neither do their owners. Patti Gibson has been running after bloodhounds for 26 years as a founding member of Illinois-Wisconsin Search Dogs, which has gone on 390 searches.

"Retirement is a dirty word," she said. "I have never retired any of my four bloodhounds. The average life span is eight to nine years and mine have all lived to 13 to 14 years and worked until the day they died. Bloodhounds don't seem to want to stop working."

Gibson, who is 75 years old, says "everyone needs a passion; running behind a hound is mine. It's more exciting than crocheting."


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