‘We Bonded a Lot’: The Man Who Trains Guide Dogs With Love, Dedication and a Broken Heart | life and style
Fostering guide dogs was part of Gary Lyon’s plan to never be heartbroken again. It backfired dramatically.
It all started when Lyon, a 75-year-old retired plant pathologist, had to put down his pet dog, Zac. “He was a lovely boy,” Lyon said. “But he had all sorts of health issues towards the end, and he was on his feet and not happy.”
Zac, a lhasa apso, has always had a very responsive tail. When it was in place, he was happy; when he was down, he was sad. âWe noticed his tail was down all the time,â Lyon explains, âand realized the end was near. After it was done, my wife Carol and I said we never wanted to go through that again. This is the first of many times in our phone call that Lyon almost cries.
Lyon lives nearby UK Guide Dog’s dog training center in Forfar, north of Dundee, where puppies complete their training before being rehomed. âI had seen some locals with guide dog puppies,â Lyon says, âand I thought, ‘That’s a good way to go. That way I never have to put another dog down.
He registered as a trainer in 2014. For the first year of their life, the puppies live with Lyon. It teaches them basic commands and more complex skills, such as how to lead people upstairs and how to stop at a curb and wait for the lights to change.
âGuide dogs are among the best-behaved dogs,â Lyon explains. “If there are any medical or behavioral issues, their parents are removed from the breeding program. They are intelligent, curious, confident. Most are Labradors, Golden Retrievers or German Shepherds â or a mixture of these breeds .
One of the first dogs trained in Lyon was Elvis, a Labrador. Lyon taught Elvis how to identify a door. “What you do,” he says, “is say, ‘find the door,’ go to a door, shake the handle, then give it a treat.” To test it, he took Elvis to a mall in Dundee. âI said ‘find the door’ and he took me to the nearest exit. We hadn’t even been there. I had no idea how he had done it. I think he smelled the fresh air.
When he first started working with Elvis, Lyon thought it would be easy to reciprocate. (Lyon usually gets the puppies when they are seven weeks old and returns them for further training when they are 14 months old.) deliver it? We said, ‘Oh no, it’s not like shooting a dog.’ I had no idea. I just disintegrated when the dog left. He chokes again.
The next dog trained by Lyon was Murphy, a lab-retriever cross. “He was so cute it was amazing,” he says. Murphy went to see Sarah Parkinson, who is 55 and lives in Newtongrange, just outside Edinburgh.
“I got very depressed when my eyesight deteriorated about five years ago,” says Parkinson. âI had to give up work and felt completely housebound. But when I had Murphy, life started to get better. He allowed me to live fully again. He completely changed my life. Lyon, she says, is a truly remarkable person. “He is so dedicated,â she says. âHe produces such rounded dogs. They are so loving, caring and well trained.
Parkinson, Lyon and Carol are now friends: she comes to visit him and takes Murphy with her. Watching Murphy interact with his new owner is a bittersweet joy. Murphy looks at Sarah with such love, Lyon tells me. He is emotional again.
After Murphy, there was Rocky, a German Shepherd. “God,” Lyon said, his voice cracking. âHe was lovely. I made friends with him. Streams of tears when he left. The most recent dog was Forest. “It was the best,” Lyon said. âHe was stunning. My wife bonded with him and said, ‘I can’t do this again.’ Â»
It’s a bitter irony, I stress, that a plan to avoid the heartbreak of putting down another dog locked Lyons in a perpetual cycle of loss – only with many animals, not just one. âI torture myself,â he agrees. “But it’s worth it.” He says it’s a privilege to train the dogs. âI’m doing something useful. You can’t always do something useful in life.
Asked about his Guardian Angel treat, Lyon is resolute: the only thing he wants are fresh toys for his current charge, Danny, a 13-month-old Labrador-Retriever mix. “He loves stuffed animals,” Lyon explains, “but they don’t last long.” Online pet store love my human provides Danny with a box which the pup immediately gets to work on.
“He’s already shredded one,” Lyon said. “It was a pig. There is only a tail left now. They played arm wrestling with the remaining toys: it takes all the efforts of Lyon not to fall. “They are such strong dogs”, said Lyons.
Seeing Danny frolicking and playing with his new toys is a bittersweet experience for Lyon. “I’m not worried about him leaving yet,” he said. âIt comes later, when they are preparing to leave. I just want him to succeed.
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