I remember the moment my dog lost her sight. It was 3am. She stumbled over to my side of the bed while I was asleep, attempting to get my attention. At first, I thought she caught a hint of a scent of food in the trash can. Perhaps the lingering smell of leftover chocolate that just barely scraped off onto the wrapper. When she bumped into the leg of my desk and then onto the side of the bed, I knew something was wrong. That was the day I discovered, my dog, in the ripe old years of her life, had gone blind. Completely. She had cataracts a short time before the blindness took over. There was no time and such little warning. Even if I’d known sooner, the high risk involved with surgery would have made it impossible to even consider.
My job now was teaching her how to adjust. Not once was I scared I wouldn’t be able to handle it or that she might be too much of a burden. My only fear at the time was how she would cope with this herself. I could only imagine the feeling of helplessness, the sudden and constant dependence on others and the uncertainty involved with trying to assess her surroundings.
What scared the heck out of me most was the thought that she could fall into a depression and start to lose hope. That her body would start to decline as the result of a loss of energy. She loved to chase things like balls, pucks, sticks. With the loss of her sight came the loss of ability to enjoy those things. My biggest fear was starting to happen as she started to decline. The emotional stress was just terrifying to watch but there were physical wounds, as well. I could see her frustration from bumps to the head each time she hit a wall. During this time as she struggled to adjust to this new condition, I worked tirelessly on creating a halo for her, attached to a harness. This helped her to navigate the house easier. Several weeks later, in a somewhat completed stage, I’d gotten it to where it was sturdy enough to maintain its shape and position after her absolute abuse of it. The halo would take the impact of everything she bumped into so that her head wouldn’t have to. She quickly took to using this apparatus like a pro, finding her way everywhere, with good speed and an excited tail wagging the entire time. It didn’t take much to convince me this was the very thing that saved her life and brought her out of the depressed and declining state she was in. Everything that set her back had completely turned around. Both her mental and physical wounds healed as time went on as she became more adjusted to this apparatus. I was amazed at how it saved her life and allowed her to be happy again. It was truly a miracle to see.
Now that I had my dog back again, receptive to commands and trusting of me, it was time to teach her some new commands. “Step” meant she needed to hop a sidewalk. “Step, step, step” told her there was a small flight of stairs to climb. I’ll say “puppy” when there’s another dog so that she’s prepared and I’m always careful of which dogs I let get close to her. If I say “little jog”, she’ll start to trot along faster than the turtle pace she normally walks now. This gets her some exercise and takes her nose off the ground for a few minutes. Since the nose has taken over her senses, it’s always on the ground and sniffing everything out. I got her into the habit of sniffing for her ball, which she seems to enjoy immensely. The thrill of the chase is something every dog loves. If there’s one thing to remember about dogs it’s that to them, everything is a game and they are in heaven when they have a willing partner to play with them. Letting her find the ball herself is not the same as throwing it for her and she certainly doesn’t get the same kind of exercise but I can see it makes her happy and that’s really all that matters, given the circumstances. I play with her constantly in the house by bumping her halo as I walk by, petting her, talking to her. I play music or leave the television on for her when I leave her alone at home. Doors to rooms that she has a hard time navigating have to be closed or sectioned off. Wires and anything potentially dangerous have to be out of reach of her and her halo. Anything she can bump into with that thing can pose a threat to her if it falls on her head, so we have to be really careful of what areas she can have access to in and around the house. For snack time, I bust one of her homemade biscuits in two and lay the pieces on the ground, telling her to “find the cookie”. That’s her favorite game. She just loves those cookies.
Some of the things she was accustomed to now had to be things to adjust to. She can no longer jump into pools of water on hot summer days like she used to. I now walk her through small fountains and large puddles instead. She can no longer run and play with the other dogs but I still let her sniff their butts. Movie night was one of her favorites because popcorn was a guarantee for her. I’d toss the non salted, non buttery popped kernels into her open mouth. Now, she plays ‘find the popcorn on the floor’. It’s been quite an adjustment but she’s coping surprisingly well.
So, while life with a blind dog can be challenging at times, there is nothing burdening about it. She still gets to enjoy those later years of her life and I get to enjoy them with her.