Unfortunately, while pet adoption happens quickly for many, for some animals, finding a permanent home may never be in their future. Unfortunately, pets with any special needs are unlikely to be adopted. That’s currently the case at the Tehama County Animal Care Center in Red Bluff.
Gretel, Randall and Jacob are special needs dogs. The first is that they are adults whose guardians have passed away and have had the misfortune of not being cared for by someone else. Second, Jacob and Randall are blind and partially blind, respectively. Gretel has vision and helps the other two negotiate the world around them. Randall and Jacob are bound together, and the ideal situation would be for all three to stay together. They are well functioning, calm and very friendly and truly deserve a caring home where they can spend their remaining years. For those who may be interested but worried or put off by their disability, I urge you to read on.
In general, blind dogs can lead very normal lives. You’ll find that family, food and toys are at the top of their list of things that are important to them, just like any other dog. Their vision, or rather the lack of it, is not really in a big category. Given time and some help, dogs use their other senses of hearing, smell and touch to compensate for the loss of vision, which is already quite acute in our canine friends.
For example, instead of using hand signals, verbal signals are more important. A blind dog needs to be warned with words like “up”, “down”, “danger” or “stop”, “sit”, “stay” so that he can move in and out of his world in the safest way possible. Use whatever works for you to keep the dog safe and more confident in its surroundings. Have conversations with him. The sound of your voice will help him know where he is. Also, before any touching, use your voice to get his attention so he doesn’t startle or get scared.
Keep a consistent routine. All dogs, blind or not, thrive in everyday life. Avoid moving food and water bowls around. Putting food in the same place every day will make life less stressful for everyone. For the same reason, do not rearrange the furniture. Moving around the furniture makes it difficult for the dog to learn its surroundings. It will often remember the layout of the house and can avoid bumping into things if it doesn’t change.
Toys, shoes, clothes, or other items on the floor can quickly become a tripping hazard for a blind dog, so keep the places where the animal is frequented free of clutter. Like planning a crawling baby, crawl around your house looking for hazards. Place corner guards on sharp furniture and baby gates at the top of the stairs until the dog can safely maneuver the stairs. In addition, there are several companies that manufacture circular halos that are worn on a harness or vest that covers the head and face of a blind dog. They work by bumping into furniture or other obstacles before the dog. One well-known example is Muffin’s Halo (https://www.muffinshalo.com/).
Different surface textures can make it easier for a blind dog to orientate at home. Dogs feel the change in the legs just like us. This makes it easy to give non-visual cues for home navigation. For example, mats can help the dog find the door. Gravel or wood chips around the perimeter of the yard can help prevent it from running into the fence. If you have hardwood floors, non-slip rugs or runners can act as guides around the house. Carpet or rugs in one room feel different than tile in another, and this can help the dog learn the environment more easily.
Placing a small bell on the collars of other pets and even household members helps a blind dog learn where everyone is in the house. Even pets without vision loss enjoy the background noise. If you’re away, keeping the TV or radio on not only orients the dog, but also helps reduce feelings of loneliness. Toys that provide food, squeak, or make some kind of noise are especially helpful for blind dogs. Remember, a blind dog is still a dog. Therefore, you can and should play an active game with it. Why don’t you play fetch? If you rub a dog treat or put a drop of essential oil on a ball or other toy before throwing it, and choose an open, safe place, there’s no reason he can’t play.
If you are considering adding a blind canine companion to your life, the following books may provide additional helpful information: “Living with Blind Dogs: A Resource Book and Training Guide for Blind and Visually Impaired Dog Owners” by Caroline D. Levin and Cathy Symons “Blind Loyalty: The Blind and the Sighted” improving the lives of dogs with disabilities”.
Even though blind dogs cannot see, they can be as beautiful and friendly as any sighted dog. Gretel, Randall, and Jacob are perfect examples. For them, love is truly blind.
Ronnie Casey has volunteered at the Tehama County Animal Care Center since moving in 2011. Retired RN dedicated to helping animals in need in Tehama County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.