DAVID Blunkett’s guide dog, Sadie, is retiring after almost ten years at the side of the Sheffield politician.
She will be cared for in her old age by a dog lover in a Derbyshire village while Mr Blunkett forges another partnership with a Labrador/retriever cross, called Cosby.
The MP for Brightside and Hillsborough and former minister has started to introduce his new dog to the routines of negotiating the Palace of Westminster, crossing the busy road from Portcullis House, getting around London Underground and St Pancras and squeezing into the luggage space on trains between Sheffield and London.
Cosby will follow in the footsteps of Ruby, Teddy, Offa, Lucy and Sadie, without whom he “can barely imagine what life will be without her”.
But Mr Blunkett, a former Labour leader of Sheffield City Council, said: “With her 11th birthday just weeks away, Sadie’s long working life is over.
“It is time for my faithful and hard-working canine companion to put her paws up and, hopefully, enjoy several years of quiet and well-earned rest, living in a Derbyshire village with the dog-lover who is to care for her.
“If ever a working dog has earned her retirement, it is Sadie, and I am truly happy for her.
“And yet my heart is heavy, too. She is the fifth guide dog I have had, and, after almost a decade with Sadie, I shall miss her terribly.”
Sadie became probably the best connected dog in the country.
She was a regular in the Commons, met the Queen and had her ears scratched by President George W Bush.
Now the role falls to Cosby, who was chosen by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. Although people can express a preference, the association makes the final decision when a dog is properly trained.
Mr Blunkett, aged 64, who served as Education Secretary, Home Secretary and Work and Pensions Secretary in Tony Blair’s cabinet, said the 19-month-old curly-coated Labrador-retriever cross was “ready to start a new life at my side.
“It will be months, rather than weeks, before we are anything like as polished a team as Sadie and I had become. But the signs are good: he’s absolutely raring to go.”
He said it was “a bittersweet moment. I say a fond farewell to Sadie but I also want to give a warm welcome to Cosby.
“In truth, I need to thank not just all six of my guide dogs, but their human back-up teams too: the puppy-walkers, the boarders with whom dogs in training stay so that domestic life becomes as familiar as kennels, and, of course, the Guide Dog Association’s magnificent training staff.
“Collectively, they have given me the independence, mobility and equality which have been the hallmark of my life and for that I am profoundly grateful.”
*Mr Blunkett, vice president of the national Alzheimer’s Society, opened the Ideal Care Home in Sicey Avenue, Shiregreen, which will offer residential care, and care for those suffering from dementia or minor disabilities.
He said: “This is a phenomenal new home. It provides not only the usual intensive and supportive care but facilities including an atrium, games area and a cinema, which will allow residents to enjoy the kind of facilities available to those living in the community.”