When she managed a veterinary eye clinic in Portland, Oregon, Caroline Levin witnessed some heartbreaking scenes. “I’m sorry,” the veterinarian would tell a pet owner. “Your dog is blind. There is nothing we can do.”
“The people would leave in tears,” Levin says, “whether it was some little old lady or a big burly guy. They had no idea how life was going to work with a blind dog.”
Levin had previously worked as an ophthalmology nurse. She helped human patients understand their disease, connected them with support organizations for the blind and handed them helpful pamphlets. But back in the 1990s, there were no similar resources for pet owners, she says.
Drawing on her experience in veterinary and human medicine and her background as a dog trainer, Levin wrote Living with Blind Dogs (petcarebooks.com). Her goal, she says, was to help people understand that “blind pets can live a happy, healthy life.”
Create a safe, familiar space
An animal who has lost or is losing her vision may feel vulnerable and anxious, so it’s important to create a consistent routine and a safe, comfortable home environment. Block off stairs and swimming pools, cover sharp corners on furniture and remove protruding branches and other potential hazards in your yard. In time, your pet will develop a mental layout of her domain and may learn to safely navigate stairs and other challenges, but it’s good to be cautious because a bad experience can cause injury and erode her confidence.
When Bundock brought Stevie home, she kept him in her small bedroom and made the area off-limits to her other pets. After a few weeks, she let him explore the rest of the apartment and interact with her resident dog and two cats in short sessions. If he ever seemed uncomfortable or confused, she would guide him back to his safe zone.
Today, Stevie roams the apartment freely. Bundock accommodates his blindness by keeping her furniture in the same place and avoiding clutter “so there isn’t suddenly a box or some other obstacle sitting right where he would jump,” she says. “… But if he runs into an obstacle on the floor, he just investigates and figures his way around it.”