OBI has gone, and he's left quite a gap.
But to start at the beginning … when I moved to Phillip Island six years ago, I decided I wanted to do something useful.
My daughter Kate had previously taught special needs children and found an organisation called Dogs for Kids with Disabilities (DKD), on the internet. We decided to volunteer and train one of their pups.
The idea is that the dog will become a friend and confidant of a child with learning difficulties. Many of these children are on the autism spectrum and don’t relate very well to people.
But giving them their own dog can be transforming. The kids are responsible for feeding and grooming their dog and a strong bond usually develops.
It also provides a bit of respite for the rest of the family since these children can be very demanding.
To cut a long story short, a six-month-old golden labrador pup called Obi arrived at my place in Ventnor in January last year.
Accompanying Obi was a young woman from DKD who was a trainer. Bec lives part time on the island and became a frequent visitor at Ventnor, checking that Obi was on track and meeting his milestones.
Our golden retriever Molly and Obi got on beautifully and he fitted in right from the start. Every week Bec visited and we’d do some sort of training. We’d take Obi to Cowes and walk through the supermarkets. We’d catch a bus or take him to the children’s playground to get him used to noise and shouting. Some of the DKD children have Tourettes syndrome and can be very loud, so it’s essential that companion dogs remain calm amidst the chaos.
I took Obi to croquet twice a week. At first he wanted to run off with the croquet balls but he soon learned he had to stay on the sidelines until the game was finished. Whenever he became bored with the exciting game of croquet he would race the dogs outside along the fence line, which was fun for all concerned.
Obi was a dream to train because he learned so quickly.
I was initially told I would have Obi for eight or nine months before he was handed over to a trainer to work with the dog and child. But Obi had such good attributes for an asistance dog that DKD decided they would breed from him so they could spread those good genes around.
Last Christmas he left to perform his duties, then he came back to live with me until a suitable match was made.
There is a strange twist to this tale. I’ve mentioned that Obi had a great personality and was very trainable. In fact he was a star in the world of assistance dogs and those genes were valuable. So valuable that DKD recently sold him to a world-wide conglomerate that raises puppies as support dogs for various organisations around the world.
Last week we said goodbye to Obi and he left for Hong Kong. Of course we miss him, and so does Molly, but we are also proud of what he’s achieved and the good that will come from his puppies.
People ask us “How could you bare to let him go?” but of course we always knew this day would come. (Perhaps not quite in the way it happened!)
Would we do it again? Absolutely!
In the meantime, we are holding a fund-raiser for DKD to help them with their valuable work. I hope you'll join us.
A Warm Day in Winter, Rhyll Hall, 4pm Sunday, July 2.