One of our first pet-sits was for a little Llasa apso named Clinker, in Barra de Potosi five years ago. Cute as a button, he was plagued with health issues, from allergies to rashes to obsessive tail-chasing (and shredding). Just when he overcame those, he lost an eye to infection. This only served to sharpen his other senses, particularly hearing, and he got along just fine. Except he’d bump into you if you walked him on his sightless side. Then, a few years later, he lost his other eye. Still doggedly undeterred, he gets around by smell and feel, as well as those highly tuned ears. Dogs and cats are remarkably resilient critters; they don’t let much drag them down. Where we’d be freaked, they just deal.
Common causes of blindness or eye loss are melanoma, glaucoma, and progressive retinal atrophy. Experts say dogs and cats can live quite normal and healthy lives with one — or no — eyes. Unlike humans, they won’t miss a good book or movie. They’re not bummed if they can’t drive. And if the vision loss is gradual, they adjust even better. If the pet has lived in the same home for a while, they’ll remember where their food and water is and how to manoeuvre around quite well without sustaining too many bruises and lacerations. Still, it’s a good idea to keep obstacles out of their way. Completely blind pets are prone to falling off a balcony, down stairs or into a swimming pool.
For our latest sit we cared for not one, but two, one-eyed pets: a dog named Abi and a cat named Boo. Neither seemed to notice. Abi got giddy chasing sticks on the beach and Boo navigated the house and yard with the ease of a ghost.
Abi was born with a tumour in her eye socket instead of an eye. And even though she never had to adapt in the way other pets do who suddenly lose their sight, she still has depth-of-field challenges. “More than once she has run full tilt into a log on the beach when chasing a stick,” says her owner, Ann. “Sometimes she needs help following where a ball has been thrown. We used to have a pit bull mix who quite often acted as a seeing-eye dog — for a dog. She would follow the ball and point with her nose so Abi would find it. It was very sweet.”
Boo was a four-month old kitten when he wandered into their yard on Halloween. When a search for his owner scared up nothing, they kept him as a companion for their recent rescue, a fluffy Persian named Porsche. When he was about eight months old, Boo was hit by a car. “His jaw was dislocated, tongue almost severed, teeth broken,” recalls Ann. “It didn’t look hopeful for him, but after two days he started eating again and recovered.” Except for vision loss in his left eye.
When we cared for them, Boo kept to himself mostly, venturing outside only a few times, but slept with us at night. Abi enjoyed long walks through the park, neighbourhoods and on the beach (no logs were damaged in the course of her stick chases). She’s a big bear of a dog, with a thick woolly coat, and actually preferred to sleep outside in her doghouse, even on the chilliest nights (although we’d persuade her to come inside just for our own peace of mind). She’d wade into the frigid ocean and walk on frost-covered leaves as if it was a summer day.
Boo and Abi don’t seem to have a special bond because of their mutual handicaps, and they certainly don’t feel helpless or disadvantaged. Maybe they just don’t see it.
Eye and vision loss in pets is so common, people have written books — “Living With Blind Dogs: A Resource Book and Training Guide for the Owners of Blind and Low-Vision Dogs” and “Blind Dogs Stories: Tales of Triumph, Humor, and Heroism”, by Caroline Levin, RN — and blogs — blinddogs.com, http://oneeyedog.wordpress.com/ oneeyedluna.wordpress.com