“So, the day has finally arrived.
Sadie, my trusted guide dog and faithful companion for more than nine years, is retiring – a final pat on the head, a wag of the tail and off she will go.
No doubt retirement will be a blessed relief for her.
She won’t miss the long hours spent travelling between Sheffield and London.
She certainly won’t miss the rigours of another winter, nor the late nights pushing her way through the tangle of legs and bodies in the voting lobbies.
I have been preparing emotionally and practically for Sadie and I to part company.
I will miss her terribly.
We are comfortable together, both of us slightly slower than we used to be.
Changing dogs is reminiscent of moving from primary to secondary school or the numerous other experiences in life where things are about to change and the outcome is unpredictable.
I wish her well as she hangs up her harness and goes off to enjoy a well-earned retirement with her foster carer.
My new dog, Cosby, is 19 months old and raring to go. He has no fear of escalators, crowds or new challenges.
Like Sadie, he is a curly coat retriever/Labrador cross but is 2ins taller at the shoulder. In fact he reminds me very much of my second dog, Teddy.
I am happy to have my fourth curly coat/Labrador cross as I have found them to be committed to working and extremely good-natured.
With his trainer Kevin Rowney Cosby has already been learning the ropes in London – the Palace of Westminster, the route to and from my office in Portcullis House and the busy area around St Pancras station.
His training in Derbyshire has included the suppression of his natural interest in sheep so that we can enjoy our walks in the countryside together.
But for Cosby and me, the challenges are only just beginning, for working with someone new and understanding what’s required is going to take time. He will need to accept that I am now the boss. This will mean being tough but extremely kind, checking constantly for diversions and distractions for the dog.
For any young animal, a new environment and new places to explore are bound to be too interesting to let go easily, so I will need to be on top of the job until, after months rather than weeks, we are working together as easily as Sadie and I did.
He will need to learn exactly where to place me when approaching the lift, to manoeuvre carefully in order to be able to step onto the down-side escalator and avoid the disaster which would befall us if we hit the up-side and to pause for a second or two at the top of a flight of stairs to avoid any potential accident.
He will need to hear and respond to the instruction to go right or left, to find the door – and to hop up, when he hesitates or slows down for no other reason than having seen something interesting to look at! When he makes a mistake, I must never be in such a hurry that I don’t have the time to take him back and reinforce how it should be done properly.
But gradually, over the weeks ahead, we will create that bond and build a partnership, where eventually his allegiance will be transferred to me.
With a new young dog, no doubt I will rediscover muscles I’d forgotten I had.
I will have to get that bit fitter and lose a bit of weight to ensure that I can give Cosby the kind of exercise and stretching he will need when off the harness.
So to Sadie my thanks and best wishes in her new life and to Cosby a warm welcome to a young dog who has no idea what life holds in store but is as eager to work and to please as any owner could want.
A big thanks too to all those who have played a part – the puppy walkers who did the job of house training and socialising, the boarders who looked after him so that domestic life and not just kennels became familiar and of course, the training staff and those offering advice and support who have helped hone Cosby’s skills to give me the independence, mobility and equality which have been the hallmark of my life.”
Guide Dogs for the Blind Association chief executive Richard Leaman said: “Sadie has done an incredible job over the past eight years, supporting one of our leading politicians and treading the corridors of high ministerial office. She is testament to the quality of her breeding and training, and I am confident that David’s next guide dog will prove equally successful.”
FOR guide dog Sadie the hustle and bustle of a life at Westminster is coming to an end.
Instead of pacing the corridors of power she will be padding the fields and pathways of the Peak District in her new retirement home with foster carers.
David Blunkett is very happy she will be lovingly cared for in her later years.
“It is a great comfort to know that Sadie will have a wonderful life,” he said .
“Her regular walks in the peak district will now become a daily pleasure. For her new home is in a small village in Derbyshire where a retired dog lover will lavish on her all the love and care she deserves.
“Not only that, but the whole of the village are offering their help for walks, dog sitting and the like.
“Sadie is clearly in for the kind of retirement most of us can only dream of!”
Guide dogs making a difference
South Yorkshire has 120 guide dogs helping the visually impaired.
In 2012 the county Association expects to place 30 new guide dogs.
It’s 80 years since the first guide dog was introduced.
It takes around 20 months to fully train a guide dog.
The Guide Dog Association provides 4,500 guide dogs a year in Britain.
It costs £50,000 to train a dog.
A guide dog’s working life is arround eight years.
It costs £46 million a year to provide dogs – all raised through charity.
To help go to www.guidedogs.org.uk or via The Star website.