Retired Service Dog- What Happens When They Hang Up Their Vests?

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Service dogs play an important role in the human experience, from providing mobility and support to blind and other-abled individuals to assisting in law enforcement and search and rescue.  However, the career of a highly trained service dog is relatively short, averaging 6 - 8 years.  What happens when a service dog retires?  Here, life after service for these special dogs will be discussed.Why Do Service Dogs Get Retired?There are many reasons a service dog may be retired. Two of the most common reasons include:Loss of HumanService dogs generally work with humans that have health problems or are aging.  Therefore, it is not uncommon for the service dog to outlive his or her owner.  In general, loss of a human occurs for dogs that are also nearing senior status; however, this may not always be the case.  Service dogs are intended to bond with their owners and are trained specifically with their individual needs in mind.  For this reason, it is very unlikely for the dog, whether old or young, to simply be rehomed with another individual requiring the services of a highly trained dog.  Therefore, loss of a human almost always results in the dog’s retirement.AgeThe second, more common reason that a service dog is retired is due to old age and age-related health problems.  Many service dogs are retired between the ages of 8 and 10.  In most instances it is up to the dog’s handler to decide when the time is right for the dog to hang up his or her vest.  The most common reason a TLCAD service dog retires is due to health issues (either related to old age or a medical condition) where they are no longer able to perform cues or behaviors to help mitigate the symptoms of an individual's disability. Signs that a handler should consider retiring a service dog include:- Slowing down- Decreased mobility- Health problems- Increased sleep requirements- Decreased happiness / willingness to serveJust because a dog is no longer fit for his or her role as a service animal does not mean that life should end, however.  Just as a human might retire at the age of the 65 but still have a lot of life left, so do retired service dogs.What Happens to Retired Service DogsThe common myth is that retired service dogs are euthanized after they can no longer work.  However, this is simply not true for most cases.  Instead, there are several options for retired service dogs to happily live out the rest of their years.Dogs that retire are usually older and have bonded strongly with their recipient. With TLCAD, the recipient typically cares for the dog until it passes, and may receive a replacement service dog either before or after their retired service dog transitions. In some cases, a replacement service dog is not needed. Very few dogs are replaced with another recipient, but some can be if young enough and working well to the needs of a new individual.When it is not possible for a service dog to stay with their recipient, below is a list of other options a retired service dog has:Become a Family PetGenerally, owners of service dogs can keep their retired dogs as family pets.  This arrangement, however, is not right for everyone.  For instance, if the person requiring a service dog lives alone, chances are that he or she is unable to care for both a new service dog and the retired one.  If the dog was retired due to old age or medical conditions, the dog’s care may be too intensive or expensive for the handler.  Additionally, dogs that have served a specific human for most of their lives are not always able to turn off the innate desire to help.Be Adopted by a Family MemberIn cases when the owner is unable to keep them, the retired service dog is usually adopted by a close family member.  This situation is ideal because the dog still feels as though he or she is part of the family yet is not tempted to continue working.  Unfortunately, this arrangement is not feasible for every retired service dog.Return to the Training Facility / Puppy RaiserWhen service dogs are being trained they spend time with a “puppy raiser” that provides foster care until the canine is transferred to its working home.  In the unlikely event the owner or family member is unable to keep them after retirement, these families can be given the option of having the dog return to them once the animal is retired.Get AdoptedFinally, if the aforementioned options are not feasible for the dog, a service dog rescue organization will intervene and ensure that the animal is placed in a proper foster or adoption situation. This is a uncommon situation since most retired dogs stay with the recipient or a family member.How Service Dog Retirement Affects HumansMany people question, "Why doesn’t the handler keep the service dog when he or she retires?" Assuming the dog has been retired due to its old age (not because of the human’s passing), the answer is complicated.  For some handlers, they may not be able to provide the dog with the life that a retired companion animal deserves, due to their own health and medical issues.  For other service dogs, it is simply too difficult and confusing to live with the person they were trained to serve in a companion capacity.  Frequently, the dog simply requires care that the handler is not equipped to provide.There is a misconception that these humans are “dumping” their service dogs when they are no longer able to perform their jobs.  However, it should be noted that humans who retire their service dogs go through a grieving period of their own.  In many ways, this process can mimic the death of a pet or loved one.  The trust between a dog and its handler is unparalleled, especially when the human has relied on the canine for around-the-clock assistance.How You Can Help Retired Service DogsWhat can you do to help a retired service dog in need?  There are many ways to help the animals that have given so much of their lives to others.  These include:Become a Retired Service Dog FosterRescue organizations rely on foster families to provide love and care for retired dogs before a potential adopter can be found.  In this way, service dogs can still enjoy the comforts of home during transition while staying out of a shelter-type setting.  For older / ill retired service dogs, a hospice foster  situation may be ideal.  Here, a rescue would pay for the medical care of a retired service dog while a foster family provides end of life love and care.Support Retired Service Dog Rescue OrganizationsIf providing foster care for a retired service dog is not feasible, you can still aid rescue organizations in numerous ways.  These include:- Making a monetary donation- Donating items from the rescue’s wish list, such as bedding, treats, toys, food, etc.- Providing transportation for retired service dogs to new homes or veterinary visits- Volunteering at events- Donating servicesAdopt a Retired Service DogPerhaps the best way to help a retired service dog is to adopt one!  By providing a loving, permanent home for a retired service dog, you are helping an animal that has dedicated its life to helping others.  Service dogs are among the most sensitive, empathetic dogs on the planet, and certainly deserve to live out their golden years with dignity and love.Assistance Dogs International  StandardsADI organizations are required to provide replacement service dogs to clients who qualify when their current dog is unable to continue its work (retires and/or passes away). You can find more information on the standards of ADI organizations by visiting the Assistance Dogs International website.About the AuthorVince has many hobbies in life. Most important to him is God, his beautiful wife and three children and almost anything outdoors. When he is not chasing his kids around, Vince is spending time on his website NewDogOwners.com. His passion to help stop the passing around of dogs. Vince believes a dog's forever home should be their first You can find him on his social profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Instagram