Dove makes peaceful return to 'retirement' home

 In News & Events

Tanya Mitchell – VillageSoup/Waldo County Citizen Reporte – 07/12/2007

Mary Beth hugs her seeing-eye dog DoveThat’s how Pat Webber of Belfast describes her experience as a puppy raiser with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an international organization with 10 major schools across the United States. Webber noted Guiding Eyes touts the only puppy raiser program in Maine, through which she has raised 10 puppies destined to work as service dogs for the blind. It’s been said that the joy you give to others is the joy that comes back to you, and last month, Webber experienced that firsthand with the return of one of the first puppies she raised, a yellow lab, Dove.

Dove, now nearly 11 years old, retired after more than eight years of service to Mary Beth Metzger of Albany, N.Y., a woman who has been blind all her life and works for the state of New York.

“I’ve had contact with Mary Beth and Dove all along,” said Webber. “Dove’s been here for swimming vacations.”

Webber also visited Metzger and Dove in their home state over the years, and the two women forged a friendship. The closeness between Webber and Metzger proved valuable when the day came to think about Dove’s retirement.

About a year ago, Dove started struggling with stomach problems and showed other signs that she was getting too old to continue working effectively. “The stress of the job was just getting to be too much,” said Webber.

There are many options for placing a retiring service dog; sometimes volunteers provide a loving home, and owners may choose where their retired service dogs will live out their days. If possible, a dog sometimes remains with the person s/he has served.

Because Metzger lives alone and works, however, keeping Dove as a pet was not an option. Instead, she offered to place Dove with the only other owner the dog has ever known — Webber.

Webber weighed her choice — if she took Dove, she would have to stop raising puppies, at least temporarily. After talking it over with her husband, Mike, Webber wanted to do what was best for Dove after all the years she spent doing what was best for Metzger. “We decided having Dovey back was way more important,” she said.

The transition was bittersweet for Metzger.

Dove with Pat “As a puppy raiser, giving them up is difficult, but for a blind person it’s really hard,” Webber said.

Though Dove is now far away from the busy New York streets, the canine made a lasting impression on the people she met in the last eight years. At one point, Webber said, Dove went undercover in a unique sting with area police.

“They were trying to nab taxi drivers who weren’t stopping for blind people,” said Webber, noting drivers were reluctant to pick up people with service dogs because of the hair the animals sometimes leave behind.

After making friends throughout the various state departments while escorting Metzger to work, all decided to give Dove a grand send-off. “The state of New York threw her a retirement party,” said Webber. Upon Dove’s return in May to Belfast, it soon became apparent that the good-natured pooch had made a lasting impression on those she touched here, when Webber trained her as a puppy.

Webber, who teaches in Camden, was employed with SAD 34 when she raised Dove, and the dog became a regular sight at Troy Howard Middle School. Dove was once featured in a local newspaper for being a good student, and the youth who were Webber’s students at THMS now approach Dove on the street to give her some affection.

Though retirement suits Dove well, Webber said she had a tough time adjusting to a life of rest and relaxation. “It took her a couple of weeks; I would leave for school and she’d panic,” said Webber. “She thought she had to go with me.”

These days, Dove seems happy sprawled out on the deck and playing with the Webber’s other dogs, Big Ray and Kylie. “They all get to hang out together at The Webber Retirement Home,” laughed Webber.

For Webber, it has always been tough to give up a puppy she raised since 8 weeks of age — puppies typically remain with the raisers until they are between 14 and 21 months old. Tears are shed when it’s time for the grown puppy to head to training school, and eventually into the home of the blind person they will guide as long as they’re able.

“When you raise a puppy, it’s a lot of work,” Webber said. “But when you see how important it is, and what an incredible job it is, it’s so heartwarming. You feel such a sense of pride.”

Last week, Webber visited Metzger, who was breaking in a new service dog. While Webber left Dove home for this trip out of respect for Metzger’s feelings, she hopes Dove will have plenty of chances to see her old friend again.

“We’ll be lifelong friends,” said Webber of Metzger

Photo: Mary Beth Metzger of Albany, N.Y., hugs her seeing-eye dog, Dove, during the retirement party the State of New York threw for the pooch before her return to Belfast. (Image courtesy of Pat Webber)

Photo: Dove lets out a leisurely yawn as she poses for a photo with Pat Webber of Belfast. (Photo by Jenn Curry)