EL JEBEL - Every dog owner knows what a bummer it is when a canine companion starts wearing out and winding down toward the end of its life. It's particularly tough for owners of service dogs.
Amanda Boxtel, of Basalt, has had a golden retriever named Tucker at her side 24 hours per day, seven days per week, for 10 years. As a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair, Boxtel is able to have Tucker with her at all times - even on airplane flights and in hotels.
"He's the love of my life," she said.
But Tucker has been hit with a bunch of medical maladies and age-related problems. His hearing is fading, his back legs are "going," and he recently required surgery. He is receiving acupuncture treatments from veterinarian Cindy Wallace to ease his pain and maintain his appetite, but Boxtel is realistic.
"I don't know how long Tucker will be with us," she told a crowd of about 15 people at the El Jebel City Market on Wednesday.
Boxtel is a motivational speaker and co-founder of Challenge Aspen, a renowned organization that assists people with disabilities in outdoor pursuits. Boxtel was paralyzed in the lower part of her body in a 1992 skiing accident.
City Market and dog-treat maker Milk-Bone are teaming up to make sure Boxtel won't be without a canine companion for long if at all. They teamed to provide another service dog from an organization called Canine Assistants to Boxtel. The Georgia-based group trains dogs for one to two years and then pairs them with a prospective owner in a two-week boot camp. She will travel to Georgia in October to find a new companion.
Few in the audience could help tearing up as Boxtel recapped how Tucker has helped her over the past decade and how powerless she feels as his condition deteriorates. She thanked Milk-Bone and City Market for providing the funds that will help her secure another service dog next year.
Training one of the special dogs can cost more than $20,000, according to by Canine Assistants. The organization currently is training 33 dogs to assist owners with disabilities thanks to Milk-Bone's "I Give" program, in which it teams with partners such as City Market.
While sad to see Tucker inch toward retirement, Boxtel is eager to get a new companion. She is determined to find another golden retriever.
"The blond leading the blond," she quipped.
Tucker lay at Boxtel's feet, as he is trained to do, for most of the 30-minute presentation. The puppy emerged from the old dog when he was given a soft, bone-shaped chew toy. It kept him entertained throughout the end of the ceremony.