I had occasion recently to consider what should be the fate of dogs if their trainer dies.
Dogs are a craft, almost a religion, to trainers. We put thousands hours of hard work, and so many countless heartaches and long nights contemplating ethics, strategies, and learning with our dogs and ourselves. I put it the other day that Mika is my “fifth limb” – and it’s true.
So what happens if you died, unexpectedly?
Do you let the dog stay with your family? Most of us don’t have a family full of Dog People. Likely, the dog would become an average couch potato house pet at that point because frankly most families aren’t set up to continue working a true working dog – something that is close to blasphemy in the eyes of a working dog trainer. It’s a first impulse to say “no, never, I would want them to be placed in a working household, and continue on being a trainer’s right hand someplace.”
But then, would it be like they are losing their entire pack to do so? What would that do to your family to take your Fifth Limb from them?
What if the family turned the dog – not necessarily into a working dog – but into an active household pet that still had fulfilling activities and discipline that would keep the dog in good health and mental wellbeing? Does the dog know the difference between work that wins ribbons and accolades, and a good long hike and being a household helper?
In the case of a service dog, would it be hubris to keep a dog that could provide that much help – potentially lifesaving help – to somebody else in need if it were placed as a service dog with another person?
I don’t know.