December 13, 2005.
Villages Daily Sun, Florida.
SUMMERFIELD - Even for dogs, life has a way of throwing a curve ball every now and then.
Taylor, a yellow Labrador retriever, glided through a year of training at the Southeastern Guide Dog School in Palmetto showing every indication of becoming a successful guide dog.
For two and a half years, he lived up to expectations, serving as guide dog to Brian Evans, a sight-impaired man who lived in New York.
Then Taylor and his owner moved to Bradenton. It was a homecoming of sorts for Taylor, who had trained in nearby Palmetto.
In his training, however, Taylor apparently had not encountered Florida's afternoon thunderstorms.
Big, booming claps of thunder made him shiver and shake in fear.
For most dogs, a fear of thunder is merely an inconvenience, easily remedied by lots of reassurance from human companions.
But Taylor was not an ordinary dog. He was a guide dog, charged with the awesome duty of keeping his owner safe. On the day that he locked up in the middle of an intersection, stranding himself and his owner in the street and putting them both at life-or-death risk, it was obvious that Taylor needed help with his problem.
Taylor returned to school, where the instructors tried playing thunder sounds to get him used to them, but he never overcame his debilitating fear.
Taylor's owner was forced to learn to work with a new dog, and Taylor needed a new home. It was a sad time for everyone involved.
Guide dog trainees sometimes are shifted into other career programs, such as companion dogs, therapy dogs, bomb-sniffing dogs, search-and-rescue dogs and cadaver dogs, but career changes are rare for a dog that has been in service as long as Taylor was. And Taylor's fear of thunder made him a poor candidate for a new career.
It did not, however, rule him out as a devoted pet.
Nick Olson, an active member of the Lions Club, a major contributor to the guide dog school, now lives in Del Webb Spruce Creek Golf and Country Club, but he was living in Bradenton when Taylor was retired from guide dog duty.
Coincidentally, Evans belonged to the same Lions Club chapter as Olson.
Evans knew Olson loved dogs and that he had recently lost a beloved pet, so he asked Olson if he would be interested in adopting Taylor.
"It was no decision at all," Olson said. "He was just a great dog. We had just gotten over the loss of a German shepherd. We had a spot to fill, and he fell right in it."
Olson had to be qualified to adopt Taylor.
"They check your house, your surroundings. He'd always been an indoor dog. They don't place them unless they are going to be an indoor dog."
Taylor's adjustment to retirement went smoothly, Olson said. For about a week he constantly looked for Evans, but he gradually grew accustomed to life at the Olson home.
Retired guide dogs, Olson said, have been trained not to play the typical ways that nonworking dogs play, like chasing balls or fetching.
Although swimming comes natural to most Labradors, Taylor had never been given the opportunity to swim.
"We put him in the pool and he floundered," Olson said. "He had no idea."
With a little training, though, Taylor learned to swim and enjoyed it.
Taylor doesn't bark.
"When he's happy he runs around the house like a maniac," Olson said.
That's his usual behavior when he returns from a walk.
"He's just glad to be home," Olson said.
Taylor has adapted well to retirement.
"He likes to lie right along beside me and watch television," Olson said. He also enjoys stretching out on the lanai and watching golfers.
But retirement, as so many area retirees know, doesn't mean giving up helping others. Taylor was no ordinary dog, and he had not been taken into just any ordinary home. His adoptive family belonged to the Lions Club, and serving the community was part of the package.
Olson affiliated with the South Marion Lions Club after moving to Del Webb Spruce Creek, and he is actively involved with their White Cane fundraising events.
Knowing that people are interested in guide dogs, he dresses Taylor in his "retired guide dog" vest and takes him along.
"He's a very social dog," Olson said. "He loves people and other animals."
The Lions soon discovered that when Taylor's along, people stop, listen and take out their wallets.
"They're much more generous with their contributions when Taylor's there," Olson said. "He sits there and gives them that real sad look."
Taylor will accompany Olson and other Lions to their White Cane events at the Publix in the Mulberry Shopping Center on County Road 42 in February.
"The South Marion Lions have basically adopted Taylor, too. He's their champion fundraiser," Olson said.
Taylor has lived an extraordinary life for a dog - first as a working guide dog, and now, in his retirement, as a volunteer worker.
One has to wonder if he actually knows he's a dog.
Glenda Sanders is a features writer with the Daily Sun. She can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9245 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source URL: http://www.thevillagesdailysun.com/articles/2005/12/12/news/news02.txt.
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