Nobody wants a blind dog, right? Well, not absolutely no one, but it’s a rare individual who would choose to give a home to blind dog. To be honest, there was a time when I would have felt the same way. It’s not hard to rationalize. A blind dog would need more help than one with eyesight, at least in theory. In practice, the distinction is not nearly that sharp.
There are two blind dogs in our house. One is Elke who was my dog before Sharon and I Brady Bunched a whole pack of rescues together. The other is our foster from Old Dog Haven, Minky. Both of them lost their eyesight due to age and congenital defects in Elke’s case, and just plain old age in Minky’s, along with the Shih Tzu tendency to use their big old eyes like the bumper of a car. Neither is totally blind. They can see a little bit of motion, perhaps some light and dark, but they are effectively blind, certainly handicapped enough to call them blind with a straight face.
I adopted Elke from a couple in Ballard back in 2007. She had been through several shelters before that. Elke is alpha to the core, and had spent her time dominating their older and larger dogs until she had disrupted the entire household. I was only planning for one dog back then, and decided to give her a home. She’s half Border Collie and half Jack Russell. There are two drawbacks to this mix. One is her tiny Jack Russell head on a 45-pound Border Collie body. She gains a little weight and starts to look like a tick. The other, as you may have guessed, is that she has every kind of OCD dogs can get. If she’s not trying to herd you, she’s trying to fetch something. If those options fail, she falls back to staring obsessively at cats, or yapping for attention in a voice that sounds like it was stolen from a prehistoric bird. Lately, she has picked up our deaf dog’s worse habit, which is to sing freestyle jazz way too early in the morning.
My original plan was to take Elke on my long walks, and she turned into an excellent companion for those ambulations. (Side note: Are we the only ones who keep having to think up new words for things like “breakfast” and “walk” just to keep the dogs from freaking out?) She also turned out to be a top notch Frisbee dog. The more elaborate the commands became, the better she liked it. She could catch a Frisbee while flying backwards and upside down 7 feet off the ground. Really. I have photos.
Fast forward almost a decade and she can no longer see the Frisbee against the sky. However, she does have bat-hearing which will take her right to it when it hits the ground. We have adapted by playing fetch with ground balls. She can hear it bouncing along so effortlessly that she may as well have perfect eyesight. The only real evidence of her blindness is revealed when someone leaves a vacuum cleaner in her path and she smacks right into it, or when she gets distracted with her need to rule the universe and misses the open door by six inches. Yes, it’s a little sad to remember that she once ruled the skies, and I cringe when she runs into something solid at a running pace, but she doesn’t care. The queen does not have time for embarrassment.
Minky showed up at our door already blind, and mostly deaf as well. His eyes were in bad shape in general. After a lot of care and eye medicine, his eyes look much better, and I suspect he sees a bit better too, but no one would mistake what he does for adequate eyesight. It’s tough break for him; he’s clearly a very visually oriented dog. On the upside, he’s old. What? See, he doesn’t move fast enough to run into anything. He just takes his time, pokes around with his nose, and goes wherever he wants, including under the dresser in case the cats spilled any food. Speaking of his nose, it’s working just fine. He can smell food at 20 paces (even that healthy stuff he hates) – no problem. His hearing is not entirely gone either. He still hears high pitched noises like metal dog dishes clanking, microwave doors latching, the rattle of dog food bags, and the incredible high pitched “MINK!” my wife uses to get his attention.
The point is simply this: It does not matter if a dog is blind, deaf, or missing a leg. They still act like themselves. They simply use what they have and do what dogs do. Unlike us, they don’t waste time worrying about what they have lost. They compensate for it, find a new balance that ends up being far more graceful than we would expect, and they keep right on going.
So, it’s easy to believe that a blind dog is harder than one with good eyesight. It’s easy to believe that a young and healthy dog is more fulfilling than an old one, but it’s not true. The truth is that if you open yourself to a relationship with a dog, you will revel in every victory, no matter where the bar is set. You will find that in a good relationship with us, dogs have that measureless capacity to find joy in every moment. If we pause to notice, we find ourselves right there in that moment with the most dedicated friends we can have.
Or. as it says on a dog paw print bumper sticker I saw yesterday. “Who’s saving who?”