A blind woman has said she is “heartbroken” after her guide dog was taken away from her for being overweight.
Lena, an elderly woman living in Cork, had a Labrador-retriever mix named Elsa for eight years before she was removed by the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind on July 8.
Speaking to RTE Radio One’s Liveline, Lena said she was given two warnings about the dog’s weight but due to the bad weather she was unable to exercise the dog regularly.
“I’m helpless now and I can’t do anything without her,” she told host Philip Boucher Hayes.
Lena burst into tears as she told the programme she was “very depressed" since the dog was taken away three weeks ago.
“She’s my eyes, she takes me everywhere, now I have to be here depending on people. The only place I go now is to mass in the morning and even for that I have to be helped across the road.
“There’s road works now and I had an awful fall there last week, so now people have to help me cross the road. They have to help me walk up the aisle for communion, I can’t even do that much without the dog.”
She said she put the dog on a diet, but because the weather was so bad she had to cut her walks short.
Since the dog was taken away, she has visited her at the kennel whenever she can and said she feels the dog is frustrated to be away from her.
“I’m going out to see the poor dog and I’m there roaring crying because I don’t know when she’s coming home, I can feel the dog is fretting and shaking when she’s going away from me.
“I’m worried I’ll go out to that kennel some morning and the dog will be dead.”
David McCarthy of Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind joined the programme to explain why the dog was removed.
“This isn’t an easy situation for anybody, in particular for Lena. It’s complex, it’s not straightforward, there’s no easy solution,” he said.
He said Elsa was 6kg overweight and that they worried she would have to retire before the end of the year if her health continued to deteriorate.
“We want to ensure that Lena and Elsa get to work for at least another two years if not longer,” he said.
“If we didn’t do what we’re doing now, you’d be looking at a potential situation of the dog having to retire this year because the dog’s age added to the weight would be a situation that wouldn’t be tenable on an ongoing basis.”
He noted that the definition of a healthy weight for a guide dog is typically lower than what many people would consider acceptable for their own pets.
“A dog carrying any level of extra weight over and above what they can when they’re a working dog, they could develop joint issues and potential organ issues.
“We want to get the weight down so the knees and the hips don’t start developing things like arthritis.”
Mr McCarthy added that once the dog returns to a healthy weight, they plan to reunite her with Lena.
“The dog is doing well, it’s consistently lost weight and its fitness is coming up,” he said.
In the meantime, Lena said she has felt trapped at home without any means of safely leaving the house.
“I’m here now housebound, I have nothing. I have to wait for people to bring stuff into me and I have nobody else,” she said.
“I can’t go outside the door, I’m in an awful state without the dog.”