When I learned that Thelma might have Stargardt, a rare eye disease showing up in Labradors, I started to investigate. Stargardt’s disease is an inherited form of macular degeneration causing central vision loss. After confirming through extensive testing that Thelma had Stargardt, I was in denial for several days…maybe really weeks. But I knew I had to devise a plan for finding her a new home. I had to move on, and so did Thelma. We both had more of life to live and new adventures before us.
How would I ever find a new home, I wondered? I didn’t want to put it out on Facebook, or put out an ad. Not for such a special friend like Thelma! So I posted on a Seeing Eye graduate list asking how others dealt with having to retire one of their dogs, especially a hard working trained service dog. It was a discussion point for several days, and quite a few people spoke into it. Their stories comforted me. I wasn’t the only one who went through this dilemma! I contacted a couple of my local friends who had Seeing Eye dogs to see what ideas they had. I also talked with a few folks from church, and my kids did the same at their church. Several prospects came to light. I made a list of “musts” for the new owner; and a list of questions I’d ask a potential owner.
In a radio interview I did with a high school counselor, she mentioned how schools were beginning to add more therapy dogs to their tool boxes. Could Thelma do that? I started exploring the idea of Thelma becoming a therapy or a comfort dog. She needed to be of service…to have another purpose. I didn’t want her to become just someone’s lap dog who never had any more exciting adventures. I interviewed Tim Hetzner, the director of “K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry, “a great mission for MY dog,” I thought. They started dog training for that at 8 weeks old. They had just gotten back from helping survivors in Uvalde, Texas, the site of the most recent school shooting. You can listen to our interview, which first aired on Bott Radio Network, on my podcast at judyredlich.com.
All in all I had 6 individuals or families interested in being Thelma’s “forever new home.” Eventually that number dropped to two families. One was in St. Louis, the other in Columbus, Ohio. We did a play date with the family from St. Louis. We did a Facetime call with the family in Ohio. We checked references on both. They both would have been great homes, in our minds, to fill the bill.
I just hate it when you are in a gray area on something. I’m a black and white decision maker! I needed answers. All I could do was pray and ask the Lord to help. “Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take”—Prov. 3:6. My husband and I took Thelma on walks almost daily as I had done before when she was a working dog. But this time, I could only hold her leash, and take Ray’s arm to guide us. We waited for answers!
Finally, I woke up one morning with a clear mind about this situation, and joy in my heart. I knew then and there that the Lord wanted Kathy and her husband to be the new owners of Thelma. Kathy had been praying for 3 years for a good dog she could love and be its “forever home”. She is a semi-retired community nurse and her husband is a doctor. They would make sure Thelma got the proper eye care. Now, 420 miles away, how would we meet and arrange for Thelma to unite with her new “forever family?” I’ll tell you when it happens.
Have you ever had to find a home for a dog you loved? What helped you most? What tips can you share with others?