A job for unemployable dogs?

Kasha, my rescue Chocolate Labrador was happy but often bored. She needed a job. But when did you ever see a Choccie as a guide dog, guard dog, Customs sniffer or in any other employment? Genetically from showlines rather than working lines, Chocolate Labs are said to be less trainable than their black and yellow cousins, but given their insatiable appetites, how could any training involving treats possibly fail? Yet they don’t even seem to be used as gundogs, maybe because they’d get lost in the mud.

In 2019 I learnt of OSF at an event in Sudbury for voluntary organisations,  and decided an AAA role for Kasha and myself was ideal. The job specifications for her – to laze around being admired, brushed and fed tit-bits by lonely elderly people – ideally suited her laid-back temperament and cuddly physique.

But ‘cuddly’ was not OSF’s assessment at our joint recruitment interview in Belinda’s house.  Adopted from a couple who ran a restaurant, Kasha had clearly been chief taster, and disappointingly, was considered too overweight to be a good ambassador for the charity. She had to go on a diet before starting work. (Thankfully, owners are not sent to Slimming World.)

A couple of months later, a slimmed-down Kasha and I began visiting our first client in her own home. Since then, we have enjoyed meeting more clients, and I have also carried out other short-term assignments for OSF – walking clients’ dogs, looking after them in my own home, accompanying a client for walks with Kasha, and taking another’s to the vet during ‘lockdown’.

The outings give Kasha a change of scenery, and she loves the attention.  We currently visit just one lady, Jean, and it is so rewarding to see her face light up when we arrive. We stay an hour, and as she has slight hearing loss I pull up a stool and sit directly in front of her (to aid communication), with Kasha between us (to stop her searching the house for biscuit crumbs). I enjoy learning about Jean’s past, especially her experience of living in Iran, or Persia as she still calls the country.  We swap books and sometimes sit in her pretty garden.  Our client has both happy and sad recollections, some involving the dogs she has owned, and hopefully telling me about them helps to maintain those memories.

However, Kasha has proved unsuitable for visiting residential homes, as she is distracted by the sweets and biscuits on the residents’ tables, ignoring the person we have come to see.  And it would not do for everyone to respond to those pleading brown eyes. She cannot afford to get fat again, or she will lose her job. So we stick to home visits now where we can keep a very close eye on the biscuit rationing!

Kasha enjoying some attention from Jean