Meet Golden Guide Dog Perkins|
Recently, 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.
My name is Alan Conway. Ive
had Seeing Eye dogs for 28 years and Perkins, the dog I have now, is my first Golden.
Hes 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!
Ill never tie my
instructors hands when it comes to matching me with a new dog, in that Ill
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.
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, its the harness he wears
when he guides. People can certainly interact with the dogs handler, but its
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 its 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 isnt
done because the handler wants to be impolite. Its 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. Thats why its important to follow the handlers 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 isnt necessary and may even be
dangerous if its something that a dogs system really cant handle. Here
again, the handler knows when the dog should be fed or given water. A strangers
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 dogs 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.
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, dont ask personal questions about the
handlers disability or intrude on his/her privacy
and dont 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! Im sitting here in an interpretation
booth thinking about you and all the wonderful things weve 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 didnt 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 didnt 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 wouldnt 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. Youre 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, youd
probably win hands down.
You had plenty of adjustments to make when you came home. Its a good thing
youre 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 didnt understand how much you had to learn and
I guess some never will. They dont 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 hadnt been paying attention. I sometimes wondered if you would
remember how to do that, especially since you hadnt 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
As I finish this, youve lying at my feet relaxing. I cant believe how far
youve come and I know well have many more great years together. Maybe
youre 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 couldnt help but notice how happy and attentive you were.
Im proud of you Perkins and if I have any regret, its that youll 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.
A Letter to 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 wont feel that same closeness I experience when you come to lie down beside me to keep an eye
on what Im doing. The others who will look after you and love you will learn
something of the things that have brought us together, but now its 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 didnt 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 didnt 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, "Im still here, I love
you more than you can ever imagine and Ill wait patiently here by your side until
you need me."
When you were a puppy, Im sure you couldnt have imagined what would happen to
you seventeen short months after you were born. I also didnt 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 Ive needed you, you were always there,
even though Im sure there have been many times when you would have been just as
happy to sleep after a long days 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. Ill 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
youre 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 couldnt walk very
fast. When I have been happy, youve 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.
Youve 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, Im 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 couldnt have corrected you if I had wanted to. I know you think
Ive 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
didnt 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 wasnt easy to come to a decision, I hope you understand that its because youre so
When I took you to your new home about two weeks ago, I knew I had made the right choice.
I cant 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
Youre asleep beside me as I write this and you probably dont notice the tears
that are welling up in my eyes, but they are there. The lump thats forming in my throat almost chokes me as I sit here,
knowing that in fifteen minutes, Im 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 youll 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 havent betrayed you Maestro. You may not agree and maybe I cant 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 cant help but feel that these few words could never
be enough to express my love for you.
A Letter from Across the Bridge
July 31, 2004
Its 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 its 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 wasnt 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 didnt 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 instructors voice in my ear telling me to follow you.
Ill 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 wasnt 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 Ill 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
werent 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
The thing is, you werent 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. Ill 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 couldnt 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. Ive 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 didnt
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.
Im 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 didnt try to follow us.
I also learned that my friends had to find a new home for you. Im not sure exactly
when you crossed the rainbow bridge because the last people who took you didnt 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 youd be proud
Ive never forgotten you! Ill never compare you to other dogs Ive had,
but there were a lot of firsts in my life when we were together and Im glad you
shared them with me.
I love you Dana and Ill 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 Im with you in spirit.
A Birthday Letter
May 30, 2005 Happy Birthday 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
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!