By Kathy Wallace at Almosthomeohio.org
I’d like to introduce you to a young dog named Charlie. Charlie charms everyone he meets. He races around the yard with his doggie siblings. He travels to the pet store, plays ball, and goes up and down the steps. None of this sounds extraordinary until you learn that Charlie is blind.
Charlie almost did not have a chance at life. A breeder in another state brought a litter of puppies to the veterinarian for their checkup. Upon finding that one of the puppies was blind, the breeder requested he be euthanized. A vet technician knew a woman named Cheryl and the mission of Almost Home and ran to make the call that saved this little puppy’s life. Cheryl worked with a volunteer pilot, Bob Born, to bring him to Ohio and sent an email requesting a foster for the puppy she named Charlie.
One of those emails landed in Laura Johnson’s inbox. She had fostered senior dogs who were blind or who had gradually become deaf or blind and she and her husband, Hal, decided they would foster this blind puppy. But, after two weeks they knew that Charlie had found his forever home. They cannot imagine life without him.
An obvious question is: is it hard to raise a blind puppy? The answer is important because probably most blind Collie puppies are euthanized and if we were willing to accept a blind dog into our homes, we could save lives.
Although Laura and Hal had fostered dogs who were blind, they had never had a blind puppy. They wanted to give Charlie the best environment to support his ability to manage well in his world and found many resources online to help them in their quest. Environmental adaptations were important and paved the way for Charlie to be both independent and confident in his surroundings. The door to the outdoors has jingle bells on it so he knows where it is. He jingles them when he wants to go outside and amazingly only ever had one accident In the house. They put a bit of vanilla on his toys so he could find them by smell. He has a giggle ball that makes noise and he can find it outside or inside by listening to the noise it makes. He wears a harness, not a collar in case he would find accidentally find himself in a spot where his collar could choke him.
There were a few challenges along the way but with some patience, treats and practice he has mastered all of them. People who are blind can sense nearness to walls and large obstacles. Apparently dogs can also do this, too (in fact people who are not blind have the same sense if they are blindfolded). This became apparent when Charlie was taken outside through the two car garage with both cars in it. There was only a narrow space to walk and Charlie refused to walk between the cars to go outside. It took time, treats and coaxing for him to understand it was safe to walk between the cars. Laura relates a humorous story about the first time she took him to the pet store. He went in through the door just fine and walked up and down the aisles with her, but when it was time to leave there were people streaming in, it was noisy and the space must have seemed too narrow to him. He would not go out the door. Coaxing and treats did not budge him one bit. There appeared to be two choices, carry him out, or well, show him it really was ok. So she got on her belly and crawled out along side him. That was all of the reassurance he needed and after they both got through the doorway, Charlie pranced to the car as if he’d shown them all that going through doorways was really no big deal.
Stairs posed another challenge: a dog who had sight at one time would understand the purpose of stairs. But imagine if you couldn’t see and didn’t know that the stairs “went” somewhere. The sense of height would be disconcerting for any of us. As with the few other challenges, once he got up and down safely a few times, he navigated stairs without any help at all. Getting in and out of a car was another hurdle. Again, some treats and patience while he learned it was safe was all he needed and he now slides his front paws out of the car until they touch the ground and then he jumps out.
If you came to Charlie’s house or back yard and did not see his eyes, you would not be able to tell which of the dogs was blind. They race and play and all seem to be able to “see.” The amazing part about Charlie and other blind dogs is how quickly they can map their surroundings so they can move confidently about. He learned to trust when he was walking on a leash and moves easily on walks even to unfamiliar places. Once he has been somewhere once or twice he remembers it and can navigate without relying on the person holding the leash. Laura said that dogs may map (getting a sense of obstacles and where things are so one can navigate without bumping into anything) differently: one of their dogs who was blind tapped the floor ahead of him to make sure the way was clear and another dog, who arrived as a foster at 10 years old, mapped the whole house in just two days. Each seems to be able to manage it quickly and has a phenomenal memory for where things are.
No one knows if it is “just Charlie” or as a result of not having sight, but Charlie loves water. As a puppy he splashed in the water bowl. It still is a favorite past time of his. Their water dish is the biggest one that could be found so he can’t tip it over and even as a puppy he would jump in the bathtub to splash in the water. During the warm months Charlie has his own baby pool outside to splash in to his heart’s content. Since all of his siblings apparently think “bath” when they see the pool he has the whole thing to himself.
His confidence was evident when Laura saw him out the window overlooking the fenced in yard and he was standing on the picnic table. Abby, his doggie sibling and best friend of the bunch, runs on the picnic table and he wasn’t about to let her best him, so up he went. Getting down was a little more of a challenge, but as Laura watched from nearby in case he needed help, he moved around the edge of the table top with his front paws to get a sense of the edges of the table. Then he ‘found’ the bench and gracefully jumped to the bench and to the ground.
Charlie has already been instrumental in helping others even though he is still young. An OSU fraternity brought in dogs to help students stay calm during exam week and Charlie was such a hit with the fraternity that they raised $100 for the Almost Home fundraiser, Pars Fore Pets.
I think if you could ask Charlie he would say being blind just doesn’t matter. I am guessing we have all seen in our pets their incredible resiliency in the face of aging, challenges, and physical adversity. I, for one, have tried to adopt their attitude of, “ok, it’s different, but I can manage” (instead of “it’s terrible and I can’t manage”). Laura said that she thinks he has taught her as much about living and being blind as she has taught him and learns from him every day.
So, no one needs to feel sorry for Charlie, he is whole, is happy, is confident and loves life. Thank you,to the vet technician, Cheryl, the pilot, Almost Home and Laura and Hal for giving him a chance, and if the opportunity arises, would you be willing to save the life of a blind dog or puppy? I hope so.