How Can I Leave Her Home?  Time to Retire my Service Dog

How Can I Leave Her Home? Time to Retire my Service Dog

Back in 2009, I was matched with Maggie, my NEADS service dog. I had waited eight and a half months after my interview for the call to come in that I was to meet and train with my new partner. At that time, I was newly diagnosed with two incurable conditions, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Sarcoidosis, creating the possibility of my being wheelchair-bound for life. The training happened for a full two weeks, living on campus and hoping I would pass and be able to come home with her. The training was rigorous. Prior to meeting me, Maggie had been training for almost eighteen months, so I had a great deal of catching up to be ready for her. Fortunately, Maggie and I bonded rapidly, and we did graduate and come home together.

Just six days after settling home with her, it was early morning with our house filled to the brim with our four adult sons, wives, and grandchildren home to celebrate Thanksgiving together. I woke up to horrible pressure on my chest. My immediate reaction was why was this new service dog on top of me? I couldn’t breathe! She was supposed to be sleeping next to my bed. When I was finally able to respond, I realized she was not on top of me but instead next to me on the bed. She was attempting to reposition me to bring airflow back. I had stopped breathing and she was intuitively attempting to save my life. My sternum had dropped down so much that I was not breathing when she had jumped up onto the hospital bed. I was going to lose my life had it not been for Maggie - she sensed I was in trouble and successfully provided a critical lifeline.

For all these years since, this small black lab has been by my side, protecting me by opening handicap doors, picking up items I drop and has continued to alert me when my oxygen levels have gotten too low due to the sternum, trachea and hyoid bone shift. The amazing thing is that she was not trained to be an alert dog, but we became so bonded that she figured this out on her own. I can be in the pool kicking and if my breathing starts to concern her, she will go from sound asleep at the end of the lane to suddenly staring at me. The message to me it is time to get out. One time, I decided to push myself, not listen to her alert, and do just one more lap. She sat up and backed up like she was going to jump in if I didn’t get out! So today, I listen to her for she seems to know more about how my body is functioning in real-time than I am willing to accept.

But my little lifeline is getting older. She is now 11 years old and I was advised to consider retiring her before she passes so I won’t be alone with her gone and on the waiting list for a match. Even thinking about leaving her home and leaving the house with her replacement almost makes me sick to my stomach. However, I don’t want to take that chance of losing her and not having another dog to work with. It was suggested that with both home together, Maggie will help show my new partner the lay of the land in terms of what she has been doing. So the interview did happen, and I am now on the list, waiting for my next match.

She is ready to rest but I don’t feel confident she is ready to stay home and watch me leave. The few times I step out of the house, I find her at the door wondering where I am. So, this transition will be a huge adjustment for us both.

Recently at a conference where I did a presentation about service dogs, I was approached by a woman that asked if I had seen the movie called Adele and Everything After. It is about a woman in the same circumstance that had to make this emotional decision if it was time to retire her cardiac alert service dog. I cried through most of the movie, but in the end, observed her new service dog come home with her and instantly bonded with retiring Adele. Instead of jealousy, it was instant love and excitement for her older dog to have a playmate. I hope that will be Maggie’s reaction too and she will learn to be at peace knowing I will continue to be watched over and protected. While our mutual needs may end, our love and friendship will be with both of us forever.

This will be her deserved future - rest, happiness and peace after years of service. I can never thank her enough for keeping me alive, happy and loved.

May life be kind to you,

Ellen Lenox Smith

Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain- And Have a Good Life, Anyway, and My Life as a Service Dog!

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report.

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Authored by: Ellen Lenox Smith

Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical cannabis advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation, along with Ellen on the board and they both also serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical cannabis visit their website.

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What’s her current update? I can’t envision what it resembles to lose a buddy and massive aide, for example, Maggie, particularly since she’s been a significant piece of your life. I’m thinking about whether you would share the name of the association that discovered Maggie for you and where you went to prepare with her.

Ellen Lenox Smith

Rena, I am happy to share the process if you want to email me @


Hi Ellen.
I enjoyed reading this, but also felt sadness for both you and Maggie. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a companion and immense helper such as Maggie (I realize you may not have lost her yet, but you’ve retired her, or will be soon, and that sounds very difficult since you’ve both become so close), especially since she’s been a major part of your life.
I’m wondering if you would be willing to share the name of the organization that found Maggie for you and where you went to train with her. I’m currently interested in finding myself a much-needed service animal and am unsure how to go about it, and would greatly appreciate any helpful info you have, etc.

I cannot stress this enough now that your dog is at the end of her journey you need to bring her with you do not leave her at home this causes a dog to grieve greatly especially since y’all had such a huge bonding over the years. You are her/ he pack mate. Essentially you are her child, would you leave your child at home? That dog was trained to have a purpose in your life and if you leave she / he at home it will grieve due to loss of purpose and loss of you. Now I don’t think there will be jealousy when the other dog comes in because labs are not jealous dogs but if your dog is feeling ill and then the other dog irritates it the old dog will growl to teach the new dog not up for it. But dogs do learn from other dogs just like children learn from children faster than they do from adults. I may be putting my emotions on you because I am at Avid dog lover and had my own dogs that were in tune to my health issues although not professionally trained but just like you , you figured out what the dog was trying to tell you. I even had small dog that cried when the suitcases would come out. I do have a video of it since no one believed me.


Aww, your post made me tear up. I absolutely love dogs. They are so much a part of us. Family for sure. I think my dog knows me better than my husband as far as weird breathing. She’s not even a service dog. I’m glad that you will still be able to keep her when she retires.


Thank you for this. Is it something I occasionally wonder about wonder about more than a shirt as my service that is Going to turn six so that he is by my side 24 seven. That this morning spent most the day laying Curled up next to me with his head on my shoulder bc I was in too much pain to move. It was a strong and gentle reminder to meditate and take time to rest . btw I too I’m on other things that other things have Ehlers Danlos and my service I did actually save my life at an EDS conference.

Lisa K. Jones

Wow!!! Trying not to cry, after reading your beautiful story. I’m going through the same thing. my service dog is also 11 years old. Want to get another one before she gets too old, however thinking about the expense of two. As of now, I’m just taking it day at a time and enjoying her. I’m soo blessed to have This service dog in my life, couldn’t have made it without her. She is definitely a blessing from God.

Melinda nix

Sad but sweet…sweet but difficult

Melinda nix

Beautifully sad

Jennifer Sapankevych

I just got a new puppy as i train with my trainer we need a cardiac alert which is untrainable and needs to be natural i have a 7 year old lab cardiac alert service dog i have had since he was 5 weeks old he was a rescue and it is guaranteed it will be 2 years before this 10 week old prospect can do mobility work safely i am hopeful that she can help fill the void of his brother who he just lost and that he will train her to pick up on the same things he does he has saved my life so many times the thought honestly kills me to retire him but i want him to enjoy his last years

I am going to have to get a job or two. Probably both will not be suitable to have my dog with me. I am going to have to “Pretend” that I don’t need her. Let’s just hope that I don’t fall. I am desperate to get a job or two as SSDI is just not enough to even pay for my medical costs let alone my mortgage. We just moved thinking it would help but it doesn’t. My little girl will panic not having me with her. She doesn’t even like it if I leave her in the car with my husband while I run into the store quickly. Let’s just hope we both make it as she also helps with my pain.


Hope all works out,she loves you & just wants you to be safe n sound.She is beautiful,thank goodness you had her to help you thru your life🐕💛🖤


At 10 years old it was obviously time to retire Justice, my mobility service dog (SD). On his 10th birthday, I brought home a present. A puppy. I took Justices blanket to the breeder (Standard Poodles) and she gave me Chances blanket. We exchanged them weekly. The bond was immediate. Chance would be my SD. Justice and I trained Chance on our outings. 3 years later Justice takes his puppy out to wrestle and play tug a war for sunrise & sunset. Chance is an amazing SD. He knew his job and Justice accepted his retirement because he knew I was taken care of.


She’s such a beautiful lady, with such a wonderful caring and giving sharing Soul. Thanks to her many year’s of unwavering Services. She’ll live a peaceful but watchful Retirement. Thank you for sharing this Beautiful Life with each of us.

Happy Day’s for her life is still Present with you.


I’ve never had a pet, but am so moved by this column and by the posts.

I’ve been a CPP for over a decade, and since I’m alone so much, have recently, at times thought that it would be nice to have a small dog. I never had any interest in a pet before, but after watching a lot of Animal Planet the last few years, and reading columns like Ellen’s today, I finally understand that they can be wonderful friends.

But, I couldn’t take care of it. I couldn’t take it for its needed daily walks, and since I can barely make my own doctor appts — and sometimes don’t — how could I take my dog to the vet?

And to be honest, the thought of cleaning poop really bothers me. And the thought of in-home “accidents” that I’d have to clean up terrifies me for both the physical labor aspect and the pee/poop aspect.

How do you all manage to care for your animals? I understand they care for you, and for Ellen, her service dog Maggie literally saved her life, but, still, animals need humans to care for them.

And I have no interest in a cat, in spite of one of the posts below about a cat best friend. I have no animal experience and have been afraid of dogs until recently and have never wanted to touch an animal until recently. I’m still afraid sometimes, but much less after watching Animal Planet’s Pit Bulls and Parolees. That show has made a huge difference in my life and is the only reason I even consider getting a dog, and due to that show, now if I see a small dog, I go up and pet it. I never used to touch a dog. I still shy away from big dogs — cross the street even to avoid one on a leash. But, I’m a zillion times better about animals than I used to be.

But, really, how do you all care for your pets given your own pain etc? I look forward to reading some posts about this.


Michele Young

How do I train my dog to be a service dog?

Sharon L. Harwell

This article was awesome! I just happen to be going thru the exact same thing w/my 15 year old German Shepherd service dog. I was told 5 years ago that he had 3 months to live so I went out & got an 8 week old female to start training. Samson (my 15 yo) & I have trained other dogs & they always end up w/his awesome disposition. Delilah (my female) is now 5 & Samson is 15. Just goes to show you that The Man Upstairs is the only one that knows when our time is up! Samson has a bad limp due to arthritis, but he is insistant on going when we leave. I’ve never left either one, so I’m that lady walking around my town w/not 1 but 2 service dogs.Ive had many people tell me to put him down because he limps. I simply tell them that I just happen to limp as well & I’m certain if it was the other way around, Samson wouldn’t put me down because of a limp! He has taken care of me for 14 years & I’ll be darned if I’m gonna put him down just to please the general public. I don’t think I’d even be alive if it wasn’t for him! He’s been thru 2 divorces with me. The best man was left standing. He’s not just a dog, he’s family! He knows me better than I know myself. He’ll let me know when it’s his time to go. Until then, he’ll continue to be @ my side along w/Delilah!

Michelle Ondusko

This brought me to tears. My service dog Maebel has developed the same intuitive sense to interact with me before I have a dissociative episode to try preventing it. She is only four but every day I wonder how I will manage when the day approaches. Thank you for sharing.

I cried while reading this. It’s a beautiful story & I can’t imagine how it would feel to make that decision. We bond with our animals whether they are service animals or not, they become part of us. Labs are such smart loving dogs. My son adores them.

I’m hoping that a new dog will ease worries for your Maggie & that they too will bond.

James McCay

I had to dry my eyes before typing, because I have trouble seeing from Myasthenia Gravis (MG)- blurry eyes & fatigue (so tears make everything worse). It’s extremely hard for me to write today too, my widespread nerve pain is firing off everywhere & very shaky hands.
Ellen I love all your posts!

I’ve lost much of my quality writing due to MS symptoms that came with my Advanced MG (with Musc.Dys. symptoms too; both in 2009 ironically). The year you were matched w/Maggie & the year my MG Advanced & I got Buster. Buster is my cat & best friend.

I needed a cat in 2009 because there’s no heat in my small BSMT apartment room (space heater), so outside mice came in for winter (only my room!) and they nest in my pillows! I cringed the first few years I had to deal with that too. I tried everything to fix that- no luck.
I had no option but to ask my mother to get me a shelter cat; >1-year old and healthy who will catch mice & I gave her $200.00 to donate to the shelter.

My mother comes home with a 4-5 year old cat with cataracts, half an ear (& ongoing yeast problems). She says proudly “He was returned from (3) homes and was days away from being put down.”. I have a HUGE HEART for all animals, but not when I NEEDED HELP! My mother’s HURT ME my whole life, but her being a “cat person” I thought she’d get this right. Little did I know…

Buster was the BEST thing that EVER HAPPENED TO ME! We bonded instantly. Yet Buster HATED my mother! He knew! This cat that attacked every person in the homes who adopted him, yet was sleeping in my bed the 1st night. I KNOW he senses my pain. He puts his paw on my cheek w/love when I’m in excruciating pain! He has all his claws, yet he’s never scratched me unless we were playing (he likes to play fight)- yet he attacked my mother daily!
He never caught one mouse for 5-years. Then learned over the last 3-years, & NO MORE MICE! ???
He’s my best friend & a ONE PERSON CAT. I so feel for you.

Tracy Cabanting

Sweet Maggie! I’m crying!
While my dogs were not service dogs, Boo, who I lost in May, and my new guy Jasper help me thru the really painful days and keep me up and moving!
What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing and please update in the future!
Other than my pain meds, my dog is the best medicine for anything!
Please give Maggie a vigorous ear and butt rub from her Aunt Tracy!
I’m gonna go hug my dog now!!


What a beautiful and moving story, it brought tears to my eyes. My little sidekick is also a Maggie, a dachshund, but not a service dog. She is my comfort pet, when in pain she lays as close to me as possible. When I cry or scream out in pain she is right beside me, crying and screaming. She makes me laugh bcuz I ask her do I sound that bad?

I can only imagine the emotions you have been experiencing when realizing your beloved Maggie will be taking a back seat. You are blessed to have one of God’s creatures to care for you.