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updated 12/10/01
Well earned retirement for the
Home Secretary's best girl
by Nick Mays

SHE'S SURELY the most celebrated Guide Dog in the country, because, after all, one's master doesn't come much more famous and powerful than the Home Secretary himself. But age creeps up on us all and Lucy, who has been David Blunkett's eyes and ears for the better part of a decade is now contemplating retirement, which is sure to be somewhat quieter than the hurly-burly of the House of Commons or all those Home Office functions.

Next month Lucy will be nine - the equivalent of 63 in human years - and the Home Secretary signalled her imminent retirement with genuine sadness, saying, "I will really miss her."

Mr Blunkett, who has been blind since birth, now faces one of the toughest decisions he is ever likely to make - whether to keep Lucy as a pet or to give her away to a new home.

Pete Smith, from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, said that it was a very sensitive time for any blind owner whose guide dog was due for retirement.

"It can only be compared to a bereavement," he said. "I don't know what David will do. It is a very personal decision which only he can make."

Mr Blunkett has already started his search for Lucy's successor and has laid down a number of ministerial specifications. Perhaps it flies in the face of equal opportunities, but only dogs with dark coats and short fur will be considered.

Mr Smith, who trained Lucy himself said: "I know just what David wants- a black dog with short hair. A golden dog would be no good because of it moulting when its owner is wearing dark suits all day long."

The new dog must also not be greedy. With all the finger buffets and functions which Mr Blunkett has to attend, a dog who is constantly thinking about food would be a liability.

"Lucy has been marvellous," added Mr Smith. "Due to David's busy schedule she was actually trained on the job, which was hard for both of them, but she hasn't really put a paw wrong. When she retires, we'll have to repeat that process to avoid disruption."

During her seven-year career, Lucy has established herself as a favourite of the public and certainly stands head and shoulders above most of the politicians in whose company she was seen, lying patiently at Mr Blunkett's feet in the Commons chamber.

On her Commons debut, she prompted much amusement by leading her master, then Shadow Home Secretary to the Government benches - a sure sign of things to come.

In 1999 she was rebuked by the Speaker for being sick during a speech by Conservative MP David Willets attacking her master's policies as Home Secretary.

She also sent Peter Mandelson's boisterous Golden Retriever puppy Bobby packing by growling at him when he appeared in the Commons. Her message was clear: Working dogs only in here.

Lucy gets the weekends off and spends her time on the Derbyshire hills near her master's Sheffield Brightside constituency.

If she is to go to a new home, there will be no shortage of prospective new owners. A spokesman for Guide Dogs for the Blind Association said: "Guide dogs normally work for six or seven years. When they retire, they make wonderful pets and we have a waiting lost of people wanting to take one on."

Lucy is Mr Blunkett's fourth Guide Dog. His first was yellow Labrador Ruby who joined her master in the world of politics when, aged just 22 in 1969, he was elected to Sheffield City Council. She was also the first dog to be allowed inside the House of Commons when she and Mr Blunkett visited in 1971. Ruby retired in 1978, after nine years' loyal service to Mr Blunkett, often sleeping by his side as he worked at the town hall.

Labrador cross Ted was Mr Blunkett's second guide dog, and also spent nine years with his master at Sheffield Town Hall, where Mr Blunkett served as leader from 1980 to 1987, proving himself to be one of the most able local councillors in the country.

When his owner was elected as MP for Sheffield Brightside in 1987, Ted became the first Guide Dog to grace the floor of the Commons. Ted had an unfortunate habit of snoring loudly during debates and also made his presence known on BBC TV's Question Time by lapping water loudly under the table.

Ted died in 1988, just before he was due to retire to the Blunkett family home.

Offa, a GSD-Retriever cross, was Mr Blunkett's third guide dog, but he had a relatively short career, dogged by a series of unfortunate mishaps.

In 1990 he was sick while Labour's Shadow Environment Secretary Bryan Gould outlined his party's proposals for an alternative to the Poll Tax, he suffered a violent allergic reaction when Tory MP Nicholas Fairburn showered him with snuff at the entrance to the Chamber and in 1991 he was struck by a van after bolting in the road to escape fireworks near his master's home.

In 1994 Offa was retired and now lives with a vet in Somerset.