GREENWICH, Conn. -- Amy Dixon threw a retirement party for her Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, Elvis, Saturday night at the YMCA of Greenwich. The party was fit for a King.
And like the legendary rock and roller was to his audiences in the 1950s and 60s, Elvis was the King for Dixon, a 40-year-old world-ranked paratriathlete who is legally blind.
“From the moment I met him at Guiding Eyes, I knew he had a unique personality,’’ Dixon said. “He did a 'levitating heel', where he literally flew 180 degrees through the air from a complete standstill to a perfectly squared off 'heel' on my left side by simply pointing my finger, and looked at me like, "Hey, that was fun! What's next?’’’
I knew he was special way before then. But the first time it happened, it was then that I knew he would die for me.
Dixon and Elvis were paired together in 2009. For the past 6 ½ years, Elvis has been at Dixon’s side while traveling everywhere, through fair and foul weather, through airports and train stations and cab rides. Dixon, who has had 19 surgeries to help alleviate vision issues, took Elvis on almost every visit to New Haven for her appointments. Every time, Elvis was there with a “Labrador Lick,’’ a sympathetic shoulder and a happy-to-see-you personality.
There were also some hard times. Three times, other dogs jumped Elvis while he worked with Dixon, twice drawing blood. “He's overly friendly by nature and thinks everyone is a playmate,’’ Dixon said. “Also non-working dogs somehow detect something 'different' about him because he wears a harness and acts differently, and even the most placid dogs that their owners claim are friendly somehow become aggressive in his presence.”
While it would’ve been Elvis’ natural instinct to react when attacked, he never did. He suffered -- so that Dixon didn’t have to. “I knew he was special way before then,’’ Dixon said. “But the first time it happened, it was then that I knew he would die for me.”
Dixon said she saw Elvis slowing down nearly a year ago. Elvis loved to play fetch and blow off steam after a long day. “But suddenly the play got shorter and shorter and then he would just lay down with the ball, uninterested in doing anything but hanging outdoors,’’ Dixon said. “His work however never suffered.”
Dixon traveled extensively to competitions this year as she continued to climb in the world rankings. She said she worked at “weaning us both” into his retirement. and Elvis stayed with her family members. “The trial separations were difficult, but I was busy at races and very focused and distracted by that,'' she said. "Being home for the first time with no dog felt totally foreign. He's the first person I talk to in the morning, and anticipates my every move, from the fridge, to the coffee maker, to the computer, laying on my feet to be ready when I need him, and then accompany me daily to Whole Foods or CVS and the Greenwich YMCA."
When Elvis slipped into retirement last month at her mother's home in Sherman, Dixon said she felt awful. She returned to using a cane. Even walking stairs became a struggle. “You don't realize how dependent upon your dog you become for making decisions each moment of your day that a cane simply cannot do,’’ she said.
Dixon will likely get another dog. There will never, however, be another Elvis.
“I miss his humor and goofy demeanor,’’ Dixon said. “I have never belly-laughed so hard or on a daily basis like I do with this amazing dog. It is physically impossible to be in a bad or sad mood around him. He is a sweet and persistent comic relief. I also miss being perceived as , 'the girl with the cool dog' rather than, 'the blind woman with the cane'. And finally, I miss the confidence that having every mobility and safety decision made for you on a continual basis.a Guide Dog brings. Especially one as smart and sweet as Elvis.”
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