Guide Dog Handler Shirley Lucke and long-time Puppy Raiser Kim Jenkins share a special bond. Like the pages of a coffee table book, their lives are bound together by the love they share for a 12 year old, doe-eyed Labrador named Jodi.
Jodi, who is Shirley’s former Guide Dog, has recently returned home after spending four wonderful retirement years being loved and cared for by the Jenkins family. As the senior Labrador now struggles to walk and up and down the stairs in the Jenkins family home, both families decided it was best for Jodi to return home to Shirley to live out her ‘twilight years.’
The reunion has proved bittersweet for both parties, who have used the occasion to reflect on the same paw-shaped mark that has been left on their hearts.
Jodi was first brought into Shirley’s life by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, who decided the young Guide Dog’s sprightly personality was the perfect match for Shirley’s busy schedule as motivational speaker for the organisation.
For years Jodi helped Shirley navigate the world, safely guiding her around the community in which she lived and worked with the ease and enthusiasm only a highly-trained Labrador could simultaneously provide.
But for Shirley and many other people who are blind or vision impaired, a Guide Dog provides more than independence and freedom of mobility. They provide love, loyalty and an unwavering sense of companionship, and are often seen as a member of the family.
So when the time comes for a Guide Dog to be retired due to old age or other health reasons, the impact can be huge – something Shirley Lucke can attest, following Jodi’s retirement.
“It was a heartbreaking decision to make,” Shirley explained, “but you’ve got to do what’s best for the wellbeing of your dog. In Jodi’s case, it was a back ailment that lead to her early retirement.”
While she was determined to keep Jodi as a pet after she hung up her harness, the arrival of Shirley’s new Guide Dog proved too confusing for the faithful hound.
“When I would go to put the harness on my new dog, Jodi would try and poke her head through. I felt so sorry for her. I knew from that moment on that it wouldn’t be fair to keep her,” Shirley said.
“Jodi was a wonderful Guide Dog and I wanted her to really enjoy her retirement. I knew Kim and her family would provide her with the unlimited attention and devotion she deserved.”
Affectionately referring to her as her ‘second daughter,’ Shirley’s friendship with Kim began 17 years ago, when the Sydney Olympics torch relay travelled through their shared hometown of Blakehurst, NSW. As a new Puppy Raiser for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, Kim couldn’t help but notice the woman with a Guide Dog in the crowd.
“I went up to her, introduced myself and told her I was a Puppy Raiser. It was so nice to meet someone whose life had been changed by receiving a Guide Dog,” Kim said.
“As we were talking, we realised we lived around the corner from each other. We became friends and as they say, the rest is history!”
Throughout the years, the two families have intertwined; their lives enriched and coloured by various four-legged friends – from Shirley’s faithful Guide Dogs to the many playful puppies that Kim raised and cared for.
“By the time Jodi retired, she was already so loved by Kim’s family. I couldn’t have imagined a better home for her to live out her retirement,” Shirley said.
Memories of the boundless adventures and joy that filled Jodi’s retirement have been immortalised in a coffee table book of photos, which was lovingly put together by Kim as a gift to Shirley.
“We had a wonderful time looking after Jodi in her retirement, and this book is a testament to that,” Kim said.
Jodi is now living a life of leisure and luxury with her former Handler, and has happily accepted Shirley’s current Guide Dog, Taryn, as her sister and favourite napping buddy.
Did you know?
It costs more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train one Guide Dog. After a dedicated working life, each Guide Dog will retire knowing that they’ve helped change someone’s life. When the time comes for a Guide Dog to hang up its harness, the Handler will have the option of keeping their older dog as a much-loved pet and almost all retired dogs remain with the Handler’s family.