Retired Assistance Dogs

This page is meant to honor all of our hard working service dogs who have served their partners well until they had to retired. We are grateful for their love and dedication to their human partners.

Our first recipient, Angie, has set up a retirement fund in Syd's honor. Donations to "Syd's Fund" will help cover medical/ veterinary care for Syd and all future Circle Tail service dogs who have served their partner well but have had to retire for age/ medical reasons and be returned to Circle Tail. If you are interested in donating to this fund, please complete a donation form, check the dedication option and complete the Tribute Name with "Syd's Fund." Syd and future retired dogs thank you for your generosity.

Retired Service Dog, Shade

Assistance Dog for Angie Del Greco from August 26, 2012 to August 24, 2018

On May 31st, 2018, German Shepherd assistance dog Shade, was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy (DM), the canine equivalent of multiple sclerosis (MS). This was a huge shock to me (Shade's partner, Angie), as well as Shade's trainer, Marlys. This very serious and sad situation manifested within weeks. We retired Shade, from public access work May 31st. He continued to work "in-home" for me as he could, taking care of me, helping with the hermitage, cats, gardens, etc., which he loves to do.

But it became clear over the course of a few months that it was difficult for him not to have his public access role too, as he had identified himself so totally with his whole job. So Marlys and the team at Circle Tail, Inc. After consulting with Shade's vet and me, thought it best to retire him completely as of August 24th.

Shade came to Circle Tail, Inc. with his litter-mates and parents. When only a pup he was helping his Mom with the others and Marlys recognized his gentle demeanor and high work ethic, desire. He is named after the great Cherokee, Hastings Shade who put the Cherokee languages into script. His name is also Old English for Shadrach, "survivor of the fiery furnace," and his birth in a utility room and steadfastness under fire, show he is aptly named! His name in Swahili also means "sweet singer," and his voice is dearly missed by all who know him here in Minnesota!

Shade now lives with Marlys in her lovely log home with Circle Tail's campus just a walk away, where he can swim in ponds (great therapy for his condition), hang out with staff and volunteers who he remembered and watch over training classes conducted by Marlys and live with Tika, Kiva and Gage too.

The weakness came on fast. He will be 8 years old in December- he is at the age where this manifests. This is a genetic disease, mainly in German Shepherd Dogs. No cure. Progression can be slow or fast. Very little treatment options, mostly to provide comfort. If this was simply and solely hip and joint issues, other issues, he would not be declining as he is, but doing better and remaining stable. And he would not be exhibiting weakness as he is doing. There is little pain as it becomes paralysis starting from back legs then to front and chest. The hindquarters are effected first.

I am devastated, shattered for Shade. Shade is a faithful, very professional award winning service dog- and a loving, hard working companion. He has been through much with me these past 6 years, especially, the last 5, as he and I dealt with the lasting impact of and healing journey since, from auto accident injuries. The DM diagnosis was a hard blow for Marlys too as she raised and trained Shade from a pup. Shade is still young. We thought he would work until age 10 or so, and have a nice retirement. But God had other plans.

Shade not only worked, doing all of the expected assistance dog tasks he was trained to do, but after I was injured in the auto accident, I taught him to pull a cart loaded with wood for our wood burning stove, using a Siwash harness and trained him with techniques suggested in a book about this sport for working dogs. The Bernese Mountain Dog is mostly seen in training information but all working dogs enjoy this as there are different size carts and weights to pull. Shade loved pulling his cart! In fact, that fun work may have strengthened him and helped him work longer.

Shade's veterinarian was so impressed with all that Shade was doing for me, his professional demeanor in clinic and at the 2013 accident scene, that he nominated Shade for a major award. Shade was inducted into the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA) Hall of Fame for Professional Working Animals in 2016. He received a medal with blue ribbon and certificate at a banquet with 250 veterinarians and technicians present. He sang for them from the stage and Angie received many compliments about Shade's song. They commented, "Oh, you have a singing shepherd—those males are rare!"

Shade is very much that same dog in mind and heart even though he is physically declining. One of Shade's joys and gifts was to sing a song at the end of the Sunday Mass (liturgy) every week at Saint John's Abbey that was in tune with the organ accompaniment. The people present and monks welcomed his song. Male shepherds who do this are "singing their flock through the gates" and he would do this as people left the church.

Shade's last Sunday liturgy at the Abbey was the Feast of Pentecost in May. His little closing solo was not his normal long joyful song, but a sorrowful short one. He had trouble navigating the pew space, and he did not want to stay and greet people as he likes to do afterwards, but was ready to go home with me. Unlike his habit of past Sundays, he did not look back at the church doors as we left. I think he knew he was moving on, his job done.

This summer was a nice time for me, with and for Shade. The month of ruling out other causes that were quite manageable and then being faced with the reality of DM made me very conscious of all Shade is, in his body, mind and heart, as he continued to serve and try doing things that became harder.

I am so grateful for Shade's presence and companionship in my life! The bond between a service dog and his/her partner is unique and lovely to behold and experience! It is based on mutual deep trust and love. Shade is one of God's cherished, gifted and loving creatures with a heart of unconditional love. He, like my other service dogs before him, has enabled me to live a full independent life with my disabilities so his and my abilities can shine, but Shade had the added challenge of navigating me through three years of rehab, (and himself as he was hurt too), so he was doing even more.

God's richest blessings Shade! You deserve them. I miss you and will love you always! I am so grateful you will be well cared for and loved by Marlys and the folks at Circle Tail, Inc., where your journey began.

—Angie Del Greco, Shade's human partner

Shade's induction into the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association Hall of Fame for Professional Working Animals

Retired Service Dog, Chester

Chester, a Shepherd Mix, came to Circle Tail from a family who found him running the streets. He was partnered with Bethany in April, 2003. Chester received his basic and advanced training at Ross and Chillicothe Correctional Institutes.

When I thought about writing “a little something” about Chester on the occasion of his retirement, I couldn’t figure out where to begin. Then I thought that I would begin, well, at our beginning.

Before I was partnered with Chester, I was so sick I was convinced that I would not live to see my 21st birthday. Then I learned that I had been approved for partnership with a service dog. It gave me something to cling to, and I made that birthday, and almost exactly one month to the day afterwards, in early April 2003, Chester and I met at Circle Tail and began team training. I knew from the moment I began to work with him that he was a truly special dog.

The last 8 years of partnership with Chet have brought me unbelievable joys, joys that I never imagined I could feel. Being diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and struggling with it for almost half my life had narrowed my world to the point where I no longer had what I could call a life. When Chester came into it, he opened doors for me in so many ways (both figuratively and literally: he loves smacking those handicapped door buttons even though it’s not really a task I need him to do, but I let him because it makes me laugh to see him so happy and proud when he accomplishes his goal!) With him by my side, I began to go out and participate in life instead of being a bystander. Chet was loved everywhere he went; his wagging tail, soulful brown eyes and playful grin could win over just about anyone, and I ended up talking to more people because of him than I ever would have if I had been alone. He gave me the chance to educate people about how service dogs change lives, because he changed mine.

We went through a lot together. He was with me for my final year at Ohio State, where I was studying music education. He sat through classes, band rehearsals, euphonium lessons, brass choir ensembles, symphony performances, broadway-style musicals, and operas. He gave me the courage to step out again, and we rode the bus all over Columbus, exploring every corner of the city. When I had to leave OSU due to the progression of my illness, we moved home to Buffalo, NY and I spent the next 6 years doing odd jobs while trying to find my footing again. Chester was with me every step of the way, through several jobs, countless doctor visits and all sorts of bad and good days. Finally, in August 2010, I felt I was stable enough to return to school and enrolled at the University at Buffalo as an English major. Ches and I were college bound again, which meant living in an on-campus apartment, attending lectures and labs, and doing all sorts of fun new activities. Ches became the unofficial mascot of several of my English classes, and ended up with what amounted to his own special fan club… I always had to laugh because when people saw us it was always “Oh! There’s Chester!! … Oh, hi Beth.” I had to get used to coming in second, but coming second after that adorable furball wasn’t too painful because he was always pretty darn charming.

Even though he turned 11 in March of this year, Ches was ready and willing to work right up until the moment he was hit with the surprise medical issue that ended his service career. Every time that vest came out, his tail would start going, and he’d be bouncing in excitement, just waiting for me to snap the straps around him and clip on the leash so we could go on another adventure. That’s how he approached everything we came across: just one more adventure in a series of wonderful escapades on our journey together. He taught me a lot about how to look at life: if you see life as an adventure rather than a trial, and laugh when things go wrong instead of cry, and just pick yourself up and try again, then every single day, rain or shine, is a very good day. Chester has earned his retirement and then some. He truly saved my life, and I will never be able to repay him for that. He’s going to live out his retirement at my parents’ home, where there is lots of land and many critters and birds to watch, and plenty of things to sniff and pee on, and he will be showered with love and cookies every day of his life, just as he showered love upon me, and taught me that life isn’t something to be feared, but to be lived and enjoyed.

My little Bear, I can’t thank you enough.

Chester pushing the elevator button

Retired Signal Dog, Syd

Sydney (aka Syd), a Shepherd/ Lab mix was donated to Circle Tail in 1998 by a family who loved her immensely but could not keep her because of family constraints at the time. She was trained as a Signal Dog and placed with Angie, a women with a hearing impairment, in July, 1998.
Sydney was trained to alert Angie to sounds that Angie was unable to hear. Syd went above and beyond the call of duty every day. Besides the typical sounds that Syd was trained for, the alarm clock, phone, door, oven timer, and tea kettle, Syd notified Angie of other unique sounds such as the toilet that wouldn't stop running, traffic noises, the UpS truck down the street, etc. The two had a wonderful five years together exploring corporate America, a Monastery and studying for Angie's M.Div in California. Where ever the two went, Syd took her job seriously and was always alerting Angie to important sounds. When she and Angie lived in the Monastery together, Syd signaled Angie to an older woman in a room down the hall who had fallen and no one else could hear her weak cries. Syd made an positive impression on many people besides Angie.
Syd has won two awards that made Angie most proud -- 1) The Beyond Limits Award, as the top dog for the Central Region US in 1999. She was the first signal dog to be recognized by the Delta society for all of her great work including alerting Angie to the tornados in Cincinnati that tore through her neighborhood and 2) the L'Arche Tahoma Hope Community Companion Award in 2001 -- the first and only dog to win the award!! She was given the award for her great companionship that she provided at the spiritual retreats with Angie. Amazingly, Syd was able to bring one of the emotionally disabled man out of his shell and had him communicating with the rest of the community.
Unfortunately, Syd's health began to fail. Her kidneys and joints were not as strong and healthy as they were in her younger days. It soon because apparent that she could no longer keep up with Angie. The very difficult, painful decision was made to retire her. Syd returned to Circle Tail, and Angie was partnered with Caritas (aka Henna), a four year old Beagle/ Dachshund. Though grieving over the loss of Syd, Angie and Cari are bonding, and Cari is already signaling her to key sounds. Cari has big paws to fill, but so far, she is doing a great job!
Sydney was adopted by her original family, with the first mom and dad that she knew. They welcomed her back with open arms and are giving her the love and respect that she deserves after a job well done. We are assessing her health to determine what medical care is needed now and in the future.
Although Caritas took over Syd's job as Angie's new set of ears... Syd will never be replaced.
Angie & Syd

Syd & her bunny

Syd in Utah hiking

Syd & Caritas

Retired Seizure Response Dog, Jesse

Jesse is Circle Tail’s second retiree. This good-natured Shepherd / Rottweiler mix retired from his job as a Seizure Response Dog in fall of 2003 around the age of 7.

Jesse came from the Clermont County Humane Society as a young pup of only 8 – 10 weeks old. He resided in a foster family for about 1 ½ years, where he learned basic obedience, house manners, and socialization. He then returned to Circle Tail for advanced training and was partnered as a service / signal dog in North Carolina. Unfortunately his partner’s life became unstable, and she was unable to utilize Jesse’s skills. So Jesse returned to Circle Tail and entered our prison program at Chillicothe Correctional Institute to begin training for seizure response.

Jesse was partnered as a Seizure Response Dog with Greg in August 2000. He was trained to pull an emergency cord in the house if Greg had a seizure, or when in public, to take a medical card out of Greg’s pocket and give it to anyone who will take it from him. Jesse was so well trained and bonded to Greg - he pulled the lifeline 5 times sending him to the hospital in the first year!

After Jesse’s partner had a stroke, he was no longer able to care for Jesse and utilize his skills. Now at approximately 7 years old, Jesse was ready for life as a pampered pet and was adopted into a loving home where he plays with his elderly canine sibling, gets stalked by the 3 resident cats, hunts "rabbits" (and the occasional misidentified leaf!) and seeks pets and belly rubs daily from his new mom and dad.
In his new family, his canine sister, Abby has taught him to be a real dog -- barking at things out the window, but his training is still very ingrained since he will respond to "quiet" unlike Abby and still "asks" to be allowed up to snuggle with his mom and dad on the couch.

Everyone now asks whether he can go get them a beer from the fridge... if you check out his smile, you know he could, but he will act like he never heard of "Retrieval" cause he is now living the life of luxury!!

Nevertheless, his new family loves him and reports that he is the best dog in the world -- they could not have gotten a better match for their family.

Greg & Jesse
Jesse... smiling in his new home! Retirement is grand!