When I was just out of high school, I worked for a veterinarian and had many occasions to see service dogs. The very first time I saw a golden retriever was when his owner brought him in for shots, and I was so impressed with the noble dignity of these dogs trained to assist humans in so many ways.
I lived and worked in Michigan just north of Detroit, and found out that Leader Dogs for the Blind were trained in Rochester, not too far from where I worked. I made it a point to go there whenever I could to watch the training and pick up some tips for training my dogs. I still use some of their methods, which are based on positive rewards and repetition. There are no choke collars or harsh treatment used. It was incredible to watch those dogs change from rambunctious young pups to mature, dependable leader dogs.
What I never thought about at the time was what happens to those service dogs when the master or mistress dies. And I only thought about it recently because a friend shared a touching story with me about the devotion of one of those dogs. She had just attended the memorial service for one of her friends who had a dog trained to be a companion for someone with emotional issues. The dog had lived with this family for five years and had formed a close bond with the man who suffered from post-traumatic stress. At the gathering after the memorial service, the family kept noticing how the dog was pacing and softly whining. The dog would walk to the front door, then back to a chair where his master used to sit, then back to the door.
After watching this for a little while, one of the daughters had the idea to put the dog in his "uniform." So they got the saddlebag and harness and put them on him. According to my friend, the minute the dog was in the uniform, he jumped to attention like a Marine coming on duty. Then the dog walked over and put his head on the widow's feet. He stayed near her for the rest of the afternoon.
My friend said that watching the dog was one of the most poignant experiences she had had in a long time, and it brought tears to my eyes as she related the story.
I asked my friend what was going to happen to the dog now, and she said that her friend will be able to keep the dog. She has been taking him out for daily walks with his "uniform" on, hoping that soon he will realize that his job now is to be with her and share the memory of the man they both miss.
Since we all love a good story, I thought this one was worth sharing.