Meet Golden Guide Dog Perkins

Alan and PerkinsRecently, we came to meet Alan Conway who has just come to discover the wonders of gold with his first Golden Seeing Eye dog, Perkins. A very busy guy, Alan lives in Gatineau Quebec and works as an interpreter for the government of Canada. He loves to write and his words are quite potent ones. We hope to add more of his tales in months to come but have detailed a few of his pieces below that he wrote about his Black Labrador guides.

Alan, wife Monique, and PerkinsMy name is Alan Conway. I’ve had Seeing Eye dogs for 28 years and Perkins, the dog I have now, is my first Golden. He’s a big silly boy and I have to say that there were times when I wondered if he could ever be serious enough to do good guide work, but he has been fantastic!

I’ll never tie my instructor’s hands when it comes to matching me with a new dog, in that I’ll never insist on the same breed of dog as the last time. These people know the individual dogs much better than we do and I have always had good matches when I went for training. Perkins is my third guide dog. Here is a photo of myself, my wife Monique, and Perkins.





Please experience Alan's wonderful and moving writings.

     Advice on Etiquette
    First Golden Year 
    Letter to Maestro
    Letter from Across the Bridge
    A Birthday Letter

Alan and Perkins







  Advice on Etiquette

I think the most important thing to remember is that these dogs do, in fact, lead two very different lives. They certainly get time to just be dogs; but in most situations where people see them, they are working. Usually these dogs wear something that people have come to associate with their work. In the case of a guide dog, it’s the harness he wears when he guides. People can certainly interact with the dog’s handler, but it’s much better to do so when the handler and dog are not moving.

People often want to offer help when they see assistance dogs, but it’s important that they understand there are right and wrong ways to go about it. Anyone who wants to offer help should first ask if help is needed. If help is refused, it generally isn’t done because the handler wants to be impolite. It’s entirely possible that the help may not be necessary, and the handler may simply be politely refusing it.

If the handler needs help, there is no shame in asking to be shown how to do it best. Part of the training handlers receive often involves dealing with situations where the dog cannot do what it has been trained to do, and the handler needs to get help from someone else. That’s why it’s important to follow the handler’s instructions when being shown how to help.
Strangers should never feed an assistance dog. We are taught to feed our dogs foods that give them everything they need, so additional food isn’t necessary and may even be dangerous if it’s something that a dog’s system really can’t handle. Here again, the handler knows when the dog should be fed or given water. A stranger’s interpretation of a given circumstance may simply not be appropriate. I once recall being accosted by a woman who pointed out that she thought my dog was thirsty. We were on a bus, approximately twenty minutes from home. I remember that the day was quite warm, and this lady would not drop the subject until I explained to her that I was going home, where we would both have a good drink.

Our dogs are well trained, but they are certainly capable of making mistakes; and they sometimes need to be corrected for that. Some dogs are very good actors; and even though they may seem as if they are very upset, such is probably not the case. A properly administered correction gets the dog’s attention and does not hurt him. A negative reaction on the part of a member of the public may even undo the benefit of the correction if the dog feels that he has an audience.

So remember…the next time you see someone with an assistance dog, feel free to approach the person and say hello, preferably after they have stopped moving. You can ask about his/her special companion, but do not give any kind of attention to the dog unless permission is given. And, of course, don’t ask personal questions about the handler’s disability or intrude on his/her privacy…and don’t be offended if the handler prefers your not giving attention to the dog and declines to chat about his/her assistance companion.



  Our First Golden Year
March 29, 2000

Perkins, my lovable hard-working , silly boy! I’m sitting here in an interpretation booth thinking about you and all the wonderful things we’ve done since I met you. At this time, a year ago today, you were in a kennel with other dogs, probably not having the faintest idea that in only a few short hours you would enter my life. I didn’t sleep well the night before I met you. Another wonderful dog had been my guide before and although I knew I had to expect certain things to be different this time, I still didn’t know that you would be my dog.

The instructors knew we were excited too. When lunch was served, excitement hit a fever pitch. We were warned to eat well because you guys probably wouldn’t make supper very relaxing. During the afternoon, we stayed in our rooms to wait. I was lucky. I was one of the first to meet his new partner and I was thrilled when you came to me and wanted me to rub your ears. We went to the room we would share for the rest of training and spent the rest of the afternoon getting to know each other.

You have a big heart Perkins. You’re very careful at work and you needed al lot of encouragement. You could be just a silly as you could be conscientious. Melissa would tell me about those funny looks you would get in your eyes when your mind was on everything else but work. You generally kept out of mischief but you can scavenge with the best of them and if a dog could win a prize for the sharpest eye when it came to watching potential goodies hit the floor, you’d probably win hands down.

You had plenty of adjustments to make when you came home. It’s a good thing you’re calm by nature because I knew when you came home that you were going to see many different places and learn a lot about working with lots of different people. You sometimes let your own curiosity get the letter of you and in the early days, the idea of going back to doors we had just come out of was the farthest thing from your mind. Lots of people told me you were cute but many didn’t understand how much you had to learn and I guess some never will. They don’t understand how much you have had to face.

Time has done its work and a year from the day I first met you has been enough for us to form a great team. I realized it that day a few weeks ago when you backed me away from an oncoming car that certainly would have hit us if you hadn’t been paying attention. I sometimes wondered if you would remember how to do that, especially since you hadn’t had to do exactly that kind of traffic check in ten months but you did it and got a big hug and lots of praise right then and there.

As I finish this, you’ve lying at my feet relaxing. I can’t believe how far you’ve come and I know we’ll have many more great years together. Maybe you’re thinking about that today. This morning you came to me a second time to be petted and scratched all over and when we did obedience together before taking the bus to work I couldn’t help but notice how happy and attentive you were.

I’m proud of you Perkins and if I have any regret, it’s that you’ll never meet Maestro. I know he would have been proud of the way you worked for me on your birthday, one day after he crossed the rainbow bridge. Perhaps he was watching as you brought me home after our walk. You may never know how confident you made me feel as you guided me to the door of our house but even then, not two months after we got home, I knew you would become the dog you are today.

Happy anniversary Perkins; I hope we have many more wonderful years together.
Love, Alan




  A Letter to Maestro

Dear Maestro,
Very soon you will be leaving to go to a new and wonderful home. We will no longer walk the streets together and I won’t feel that same closeness I experience when you come to lie down beside me to keep an eye on what I’m doing. The others who will look after you and love you will learn something of the things that have brought us together, but now it’s time for me to tell you something about what these last wonderful years have meant to me.

How I remember that Sunday in May, almost ten years ago when my instructor spoke those five words "Mr. Conway, call your dog."

You didn’t hesitate when you came, and I got down on the floor beside you. As we played together, I know we were meant for each other and that we would make a great team.

The Seeing Eye staff new it too and all through the three weeks we spent in training, you set about proving them right. I remember how hesitant you were at first, but it didn’t take long before you showed all of us how happy and confident you were. It was as if you wanted all to know how much you loved me and enjoyed your work.

Even when you were young you never played very much, but that big, noble head would often press against my knee and the message was always clear, "I’m still here, I love you more than you can ever imagine and I’ll wait patiently here by your side until you need me."

When you were a puppy, I’m sure you couldn’t have imagined what would happen to you seventeen short months after you were born. I also didn’t know how you would handle things when I brought you to a routine so full of adjustments and surprises, but even then you had a big heart, so we faced it all together. How could you have possibly known that you would have to dig so deep into that big Labrador heart of yours and face all the hard work I ended up putting you through.

You did it though, and so much more. When I’ve needed you, you were always there, even though I’m sure there have been many times when you would have been just as happy to sleep after a long day’s work. How hard you have worked when sheets of glare ice made walking dangerous for everybody; yet you took your time and loved me enough to keep me safe.

Other people did things that made both of our lives difficult. I’ll never forget the two weeks we spent working shifts that were so strange that you ended up starting your workday when we both should have been sleeping. You may have
been tired by the time it was all over and although you might not think so, I did notice that it took just a split second longer before you would come to me when I called you, but you never stopped giving everything you had.

You wear your name so well! That rhythmic tail that never stops wagging, except when you’re asleep as you are now beats out the time like the baton of an orchestra conductor every time somebody shows you just that least little bit of attention.

You may never know how many people have seen you over the years, but most of them have seen at least some of the things that make you unforgettable, but they will never know that wonderful bond that has become so strong. When I was sick, you stayed beside me, even though you could do nothing else to make me well. When a severe bout of the flu made it harder to take you outside, you took your time when you knew I couldn’t walk very fast. When I have been happy, you’ve been there to share it, putting that extra spring in your step so that all who cared to know would understand how happy we both were.

You’ve always been quite an actor too. I have never seen them, but I know how many times you turned on the charm with
those big, sad, brown eyes when friends invited us for supper and you hoped they would just give you a taste of what we were eating.

You never tried to play too many tricks on me, but some summer day, as you lie dozing in the sun, I’m sure some of the funny things you did will come to mind. Do you remember the time you stole that cookie from the little Mexican boy? I knew you had done wrong but when I found out what happened, I laughed so hard I couldn’t have corrected you if I had wanted to. I know you think I’ve been hard on you sometimes, but that was at least one time when you got the upper hand. You may never know it Maestro, but I did it because I love you and I didn’t want anything like illness to hurt you.

When the time came to find you a place to live when you retired, many told me they wanted you. If I tell you it wasn’t easy to come to a decision, I hope you understand that it’s because you’re so special.

When I took you to your new home about two weeks ago, I knew I had made the right choice.

I can’t give you the kind of retirement you so richly deserve in our home, which you have come to know so well, but others who know what you mean to me, can do a much better job. You may never believe it Maestro, but I will miss you terribly. You have given me so many wonderful memories to cherish long after you have crossed the rainbow bridge, where Dana will meet you to bring you to a wonderful place where all the good things of life will be waiting for you and where other wonderful dogs who have given so much of themselves will be proud to welcome you.

You’re asleep beside me as I write this and you probably don’t notice the tears that are welling up in my eyes, but they are there. The lump that’s forming in my throat almost chokes me as I sit here, knowing that in fifteen minutes, I’m going to have to turn on that microphone and sound as if I had never written one word of this letter you will never read. The people who will be your new family in a little over a week will see it though and I know they will appreciate that a part of me has gone along with you to a richly deserved new home, with loving people who understand how much I love you.

Wear your collar proudly Maestro. It tells all who care to know just how special you have been and how much guide dogs mean to so many of us.

When the time comes to hand your leash to these loving people, try not to be angry with me. Try not to resent me for doing this, because my love for you has always been there to guide me in everything I have done for you.

I know that you will still think you can keep up your hard work. The last snowstorm we had to face proved that you still love it and want to keep on, but you’ll see in time that I planned your retirement out of love.

I promise that you will meet my new partner and I know in my heart of hearts that you will understand when the time comes.

I haven’t betrayed you Maestro. You may not agree and maybe I can’t ever make you understand why I will let someone else walk out our front door with you on the end of a leash, but I want you to know that you may no longer be living in the same house, but you will always live in my heart.

I wish you a great retirement with these three loving people who have opened their hearts to both of us. Your master, who can’t help but feel that these few words could never be enough to express my love for you.
Love, Alan




  A Letter from Across the Bridge
July 31, 2004

Dear Dana,
It’s hard to believe that you first came into my life almost thirty years ago! Others I have come to know have asked me to tell them something about you and what made you so special. They have learned something about the wonderful dogs that have been part of my life since you crossed the bridge, but it’s time to tell them about you as well.

I remember that first day you and I were introduced just like it was yesterday! My instructor brought you to the door of my room at The Seeing Eye. He told me your name and that you really liked to walk fast. He told me to call you and we both praised you a lot when you came to me.

My instructor was certainly right about your walking speed! I remember how much my very first walk with you made me feel as if I was flying. It was great! We bonded quickly and I knew we were on the right track the day my instructor told me that when he approached me, you looked at him disapprovingly. He told me you saw the devil in him then.

You were very well suited to your job. I remember having to wake you from a sound sleep as we got ready to get off the New York subway after a very short ride and how you handled your first flight as if you had done it a million times already.

You were my first dog and the situation you found when I brought you home wasn’t an easy one to deal with. The university residence we lived in was full of people and you were the first guide dog ever to live in that building. It didn’t matter though, because wherever I wanted you to go, you were always ready, even though there were challenges to face. We went to baseball and football games together where there were large crowds and plenty of distractions, but you kept your cool.

I still recall the day about a year after we came home when you saved me from a very serious accident. I misjudged a traffic light and when you began to speed up and pull hard, I remember hearing my instructor’s voice in my ear telling me to follow you. I’ll never know how you managed to get me across the street without anything more than a couple of bruises. I do know that later that same day, we had to go back across there and you did it is if nothing had happened.

We had our adjustments to make too. You knew you were my first dog and you tried to take advantage of it. That wasn’t your fault. I admit to being a bit careless about following some of the rules when we got home. The great thing is that we learned together.

You gave me a freedom I’ll never forget! You were with me when I went through a couple of difficult moves to eventually find an apartment of our own. In fact, we weren’t even there for six months when I got my job as a translator. You were steady as a rock through another move and all the subsequent adjustments and I was really proud of you!

The thing is, you weren’t through proving how tough you could be and how willing you were to rise to any challenge. Becoming an interpreter involved a whole new series of surprises and changes in routine, but you never stopped working, even though you probably wanted to. You had a fantastic memory! I remember an early assignment where we had to go after you had only been there once. I recall how you guided me back to that place the next day and how crestfallen you were when the security guard told me that things had finished the night before. I praised and encouraged you as we left the building. You never forgot that place and when we went back later on, you always took me right there.

You had your funny side too. I’ll never forget how you tried to get attention and sympathy from people on the street by lifting a paw that had been injured some time after the stitches had been removed, only to put it down again when I dropped the harness and made you sit. I also remember that you forgot which one had been injured after a while and would pick one at random.

Pierre, one of those people you always thought as special, will certainly remember how you tried to nibble surreptitiously at his sandwich while we were out on a picnic. Of course, he caught you, but we were both laughing so hard I couldn’t have disciplined you even though I knew you had it coming.

People told me you were a stunningly beautiful dog! Many wanted you when I had to make that difficult and painful decision to retire you when you were almost twelve. That day was one of the hardest of my life. We went to work as usual and then went straight to the airport for the trip to your new home in Saskatoon. We even ended up in first class! The flight went well, but spending the weekend with my friends was difficult. You were sound asleep when I went to the airport on Sunday morning to come home. I’ve made that trip many times, but it never seemed longer than it did the day I did it without you. I was miserable all the way home and when Monique let me in the front door of our house, the tears I had held back came in torrents.

I later learned that you had a tough time with retirement. You were with people who I knew loved you very much and I know they kept you busy, but they also told me you didn’t eat for a few days and that had to be difficult. You always loved your food, so you must have been very upset to do without it for four days.

I’m glad you met Maestro six months after we came back from class. You were settled in your new home and I remember how happy you were to see me, even though it was clear when Maestro and I left that you knew where you belonged and didn’t try to follow us.

I also learned that my friends had to find a new home for you. I’m not sure exactly when you crossed the rainbow bridge because the last people who took you didn’t tell my friends when it happened as they promised they would. I know the crossing was peaceful though and I know you and Maestro are both patiently waiting for the day when we will all be together again.

You and Maestro never met Perkins. He has come to do the work you devoted your life to and although he handles some things a bit differently than you did, I know you’d be proud of him.

I’ve never forgotten you! I’ll never compare you to other dogs I’ve had, but there were a lot of firsts in my life when we were together and I’m glad you shared them with me.

I love you Dana and I’ll always be thankful for your love, loyalty and friendship. As I write this, I know that big tail is wagging at me from across the bridge. It is not yet my time to come, but I’m with you in spirit.
Love, Alan



  A Birthday Letter
May 30, 2005 Happy Birthday Perkins!

Hi Perkins!
It has been far too long since I’ve written you one of these birthday notes. It’s hard to believe that you’re 8 years old! I remember the last one I wrote at work, while you were lying at my feet with your mind so far away from where we were. You still work just as hard and although age and maturity have somewhat tempered that silly side of you, I’m glad it’s still there.

We’ve been through a lot together since you came home. You’ve made me feel so many different kinds of emotions from pride to embarrassment and you’ve covered it all with generous amounts of laughter. You’ve also been forgiving many times over when I’ve corrected you for mistakes I thought you had made.

You’ve given me many gifts over the years. Anyone who has ever met you knows about them; your love, devotion to your work and your deep appreciation of the silly side of life. As I sit here writing this, I’m grateful for all of them, but I’m also thankful for your good health. You’re well on your way to a long career just like Dana and Maestro. It won’t be easy to say goodbye when you cross the bridge to meet them, but I’ll always be proud of you as I know they are.

Happy birthday Perkins! I wish you all the best and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your love and loyalty!
Love, Alan