A CHOCOLATE labrador named Bear has entered into a well-earned retirement after leading his owner to places he never thought he would go.
For eight years, Bear stood by Albury physiotherapist Daniel Searle to lead him about 9000 kilometres around obstacles.
Mr Searle, who lost his sight age 16, said it was a heart-breaking decision.
Bear had been at his side since 2007 for University, graduation, his first job and a tour with the Australian blind cricket team.
“I started with him not long after I lost my sight, I was still re-adjusting,” Mr Searle said.
“He gave me a big sense of independence and the confidence to go to places.
“I can’t say it was love at first sight or even that it was an instant bond.
“It took us a good couple of months to establish our bond but once we did I was constantly amazed by how he helped me and how much he loved who he was.
“Even up until his last couple of months of work, he was still amazing me with his memory of travel routes.”
At 10 years old, Bear began to suffer from arthritis in his hips and shoulders.
He now has a new guide dog, named Frodo, who helps him navigate his way around.
The change was not the end of the road for Bear and Mr Searle, who still play a big role in each others’ lives.
“Well luckily you do get a say over what happens to your guide dog when it retires and I made the decision to keep him as a retired dog,” he said.
“I’m glad they do have the option for me to keep Bear and he's still part of my life.
“When I pick up Frodo’s harness, he still often runs over and stands beside me as if to say ‘I’m ready, I'll do it’ which breaks my heart a bit.”
It costs about $35,000 to train a guide dog.
A Sydney couple, who were Lord of The Rings fans, sponsored Frodo and were able to choose his name.
Mr Searle threw a retirement party for Bear to raise more than $3000 for Guide Dogs NSW-ACT.
Now, while he still sees Bear at home, he is getting to know his new companion.
“Frodo's name is growing on me,” Mr Searle said.
“He is a bit more excitable and playful than I was used to with a 10-year-old dog.
“He's a good worker and eager to please.
“It is surprising the differences, and Bear being my first guide dog was very used to the way he worked.”