Our Girl Went Blind Yesterday: Finding Light In Total Darkness
In a blink of an eye, literally, she went from impaired vision to a blackened world. And my heart broke into a thousand pieces!
Our rescued cock-a-poo, Miss Joee, had lost her right eye in the Fall of 2018 due to a detached retina and adjusted beautifully to being a one-eyed dog very quickly. But, about 16 months ago, she began to develop an issue in her left eye that was, in the end, diagnosed as an auto-immune issue requiring drops twice daily for the rest of her life. To further complicate issues, she had developed a cataract that had begun to impede the sight in that eye. And, if that's not enough, Joee (who we believe to be about 15 years old) is pretty much deaf as well.
Since joining our family in 2013, after living her previous life as a backyard breeder mama, cranking out litter after litter, Joee had become the light of our lives. Painfully timid and quiet, Joee knew nothing of what being a "dog" was actually all about. She had lived her life in a crate, drinking from a hamster drip. With the help of a pair of Norfolk Terrier "siblings" (both now gone to the Rainbow Bridge), it took her years to slowly come out of her shell.
So, fast forward to yesterday. A usual day around the house with the three fur-kids doing their fur-kid thing. (Mostly snoozing (Joee), and the boys having a little game of tag and a wrestling match or two thrown in.) Dinner time came and everyone chowed down as usual. And then, out to the turf for everyone to do their business. Normal.
But, as we sat down in our usual places (all five of us) we noticed Joee. Not normal. With her nose pointed straight up into the air, it was like she was searching for a fly on the ceiling. But, of course, we knew that with her sight impairment, she wasn't able to see that far away. And then, like a ton of bricks, it struck me. Joee's gone completely blind!!!
WHAT DO WE DO NOW? Well, I'm pretty sure that acceptance is the very first thing. As hard as it is to watch, we know that the world has completely changed, not just for Joee, but for all of us.
Every aspect of life for our family has altered, at least in some way. But, there are so many things we can (and must) do to ensure Joee's safety and quality of life.
Research is of course, the first thing I do whenever I'm facing something new. But, I'll save you the trouble by sharing what I've found.
LET HER BE HERSELF Naturally, our first instinct is to pick her up and carry her wherever we go. And, for certain times and places that's okay.
But, if there's an area of the house open and familiar and free of any dangerous obstacles (we'll talk about those later), it's actually necessary to allow her to wander. She needs to stay in tune with her surroundings. All along, even after losing her right eye, we've made time every day to play together and allow some "romping" to happen safely. We'll continue to let her do so if that's what she wants. However, if your pup is still highly active, finding "scent" and squeaker toys may be an option to enjoy some fun. In this case, it may be necessary to fit your pooch is some kind of "halo" that will prevent them from banging their head into a wall accidentally. There are several versions available at pet stores or, if you're handy, you can likely fashion one yourself.
POOCH AROUND THE HOUSE For indoor romping, scout out the area from the pup's perspective (at floor level) to be sure there aren't any sharp objects, open doors, and other dangerous items that could cause a tripping hazard or other danger. Be certain that baby gates protect from stairs or other "off-limits" areas.
I have already taken to putting Joee's harness on her and attaching her leash to my belt loop. It's a win-win situation; she gets to do a little wandering and I get TOTAL PEACE OF MIND while I'm doing my household chores.
It's also possible to create a "trail" through the areas of the house that are safe by using carpet runners. However, in our case, Joee's deafness creates an additional barrier to any new training.
Mealtimes in our home have always been on a regular schedule and totally supervised. So, for Joee, her routine won't change one bit. But, it's highly recommended that a more "hands on" approach is used for feeding your fur-kid. Keep the same dining area arrangement and routines because your pooch is now relying on other senses to understand that it's breakfast or dinner time.
While outdoors, it's a good idea (and highly recommended) that your fur-kid doesn't wander unsupervised now. Just like you wouldn't allow a blind friend to wander through a park alone, your blind pup will be easily disoriented and should always be supervised when in the yard. Absolutely do not let your pup wander near pools, fire pits, ponds, or places where they could fall in.
Going for walks will also require some adjustment too. And, while Miss Joee's age was making it difficult for her to go for walks, we invested in a stroller so she could go along on our outings. But, if your pup is still at a physically active stage, it will be important to go slow and have patience when heading out for a walk. You may want to put some kind of identification on your leash so others realize your pooch is blind. And, always mention the blindness to anyone who approaches so they don't get nipped by a startled fur-kid!!
MAKE SPA DAY A HAPPY DAY When it comes time for a spa day, it's critically important -especially on the first trip- for all involved to have a plan.
If you normally use a busy "commercial" groomer where there's a lot of activity and noise, it may be wise to find a smaller shop where there's a calmness and totally personal atmosphere in order to reduce the amount of stress, anxiety, and fear your pup would be exposed to. Certainly, it will be important to have a lengthy discussion with the groomer in order to reduce your own anxiety.
Remembering that the remaining senses have become more acute, things like the sound of the buzzing clippers or the blast of the hairdryer may be stressful at first and need to be reintroduced gently. The way the groomer talks and handles the pup will also be critical in keeping the stress level low so be certain you have a good conversation with the person to feel comfortable yourself. I recall a time years ago when I witnessed one of my own fur-kids, still sopping wet, abandoned on the grooming table with no one in the room. Even with his full sight and hearing it freaked him out. Not to mention his Mommy!
There are certain whiskers on your pup, you know those wiry ones that kind of poke when you snuggle. Technically they're called vibrissae. Well, those whiskers are packed with sensors to augment you pooch's vision. So, when blindness occurs, these whiskers become even more critical. Therefore, when discussing your grooming appointment, be sure to remind the groomer to try not to trim these whiskers if at all possible. [For some really great info on vibrissae, here's the link https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/canine-corner/201912/the-surprising-reasons-why-dogs-have-whiskers ]
HOME ALONE Another serious consideration is the time that you'll need to leave your pooch home alone. If you haven't already crate trained or have some other routine of confinement in place, it may be a hard time to start. But, definitely necessary!
Since Joee was imprisoned in a crate for the first several years of her life, we have never subjected her to that since she came to us. She was always left to lounge about in her favourite chair, and later on a raised, cushioned bed to prevent her from any serious fall. And, while she would be all snuggled in upon our leaving, we'd find her standing at the front door when we arrived home.
But now, her blindness will change all that.
I have already ordered a small baby playpen to keep her safely contained when we have to leave her home. And, while she may not be too happy with it, I know we'll feel better about leaving her.
OUR SPECIAL GIRL Naturally, with the fact that Joee is pretty much deaf as well, we have an additional challenge ahead. But, certainly I am confident that her quality of life can remain as fulfilled and happy as it has always been.
Vibrations instead of sounds will let her know that she's not alone. Things like talking with our lips pressed against the top of her head and keeping her within touching range (whenever possible) and stroking her back or chin lets her smell our hands and know it's us. Thankfully for us, she's the most docile little thing, so there's no worry of her snapping or nipping if she's startled. But, certainly, we'll do our best to avoid startling her anyway. If your pup does nip or snap when startled, use a toy to gently touch them awake.
Of course, once the pandemic has released its grip on us and we're once again able to entertain family and friends, special attention and instructions will be necessary for those who visit our home.
THE FUTURE STILL LOOKS BRIGHT I know that sounds rather optimistic, and maybe even sadistic to some of you.
Her vet checked her over today and confirmed that there is no neurological issue and next week, she'll visit her ophthalmologist to determine if this is now a permanent situation or if there's any course of treatment that might restore her sight.
But, my faith teaches that we always have hope in hard times and I look to James 1:2 that says, "Count it all joy my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,". Because, you see, while we cannot control the situation of Joee's loss of sight, we can control how she adapts to it and how WE, ourselves, adapt to it. We can find the silver lining and learning that come from difficult circumstances.
In the meantime, by focusing on Joee's care in new and creative ways, we know that she'll continue to be her happy little self and know that she is loved!
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
~ Romans 5:3-4 ~