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Hanging up the leash

LO resident Marilyn Lewis cares for retired guide dogs until they find permanent home


by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Marilyn Lewis provides foster care for retired guide dogs until they find a permanent home, and it doesn't take long for her to develop a connection with them. Old habits die hard, and this is especially true for dogs who have spent years guiding their blind owners through every step of life.

Take Pinto, for instance. In early March, the 9 1/2-year-old black lab had just recently retired from guide dog work, landing first in a kennel at the Guide Dogs for the Blind headquarters in Boring, before being taken in by Lake Oswego resident Marilyn Lewis for temporary foster care.

Guide Dogs for the Blind, which celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2013, provides guide dogs free of charge to legally blind applicants across the country and banks heavily on the services of volunteers like Lewis.

While representatives from Guide Dogs for the Blind were looking to find Pinto a more permanent home, Lewis smiled when she talked about his idiosyncrasies.

She wished, for instance, that Pinto could understand that he was retired, and thus no longer needed to wake up at 6 a.m. on the dot. Pinto also remained boundlessly active, able to walk miles at a time without a problem.

Looking at Pinto, as he tugged at his leash and wagged his tail at passers-by, it was difficult to see any signs of the fatigue that would prompt retirement. by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Pinto, 9 1/2, has adjusted well to retirement, though he still wakes up at 6 on the dot every morning.

But guiding is a job that requires near perfection from these dogs, and in her time as a foster caretaker, Lewis has learned that the slightest hiccup can mark the end of service.

“It could be their reflexes, their hearing, their vision,” Lewis said. “But often it’s something that doesn’t affect them being a perfectly fine pet.”

Lewis, for her part, has always been a dog person, but she also travels often with her husband, making it difficult to care for a pet full time. She got involved with Guide Dogs for the Blind shortly after moving to Lake Oswego in 2010.

“I had wanted to be a puppy raiser when we lived in Idaho, and it just never worked out,” Lewis said. “When we moved here I thought, ‘Well, I live close to the (Guide Dogs) school, so I’ll just see what kinds of opportunities they have.”

Lewis began volunteering every Wednesday at the training school, helping at the veterinary clinic in the morning and then walking dogs in the afternoon. Soon, she was asked if she would consider foster care for retired dogs.

Since then, Lewis has taken in more than 10 foster dogs. Three were retired guide dogs, while others were going through a career change or in need of a different training environment.

The older retired guide dogs are easy to care for, Lewis said, and many are permanently adopted by either the person they guided — as just a pet, and not a guide — or the “puppy raisers” who cared for them early in life.

“They say even the older dogs who have been gone for many years still remember their puppy raisers,” Lewis said.

As Pinto awaited his permanent placement, it did not take long for him to make the transition from faithful guide to loving pet — wake-up calls aside.

“The first day he was kind of anxious, like he ought to be up and doing something,” Lewis said. “But for the most part he was just fine. He didn’t seem sad, and he adapted to us very quickly.”

Lewis found that Pinto was particularly fond of games like tug-of-war or hide-and-seek — the latter playing on his natural instincts as a guide dog.

“I’ll go hide and call him,” Lewis said. “And he’s always so happy when he finds me.”

By Patrick Malee

Reporter

503-636-1281, ext. 106

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