Sally and I were crushed when our golden collie mix Mozy lost her sight. It was a strange process from thinking she had a problem with her legs to realizing her eyes were failing. There is more than a little helplessness to see an animal you love become slow and walk into things. With animals, the inability to tell them what is happening is deeply frustrating.
I get to spend a lot of time with our dogs. This means I get to see Mozy adapt to blindness. What I have seen borders strangely on miraculous. Already keen senses of hearing and smell seem to have become a new radar. I doubt any human could have made this transition with such speed.
Right this moment, it is sunny in our backyard. Mozy has always loved to bake in the sun to the point of panting and then move to the shade to cool off. She will do this cycle for hours. If you didn’t know she was blind, there would be no way to tell anything is different for her.
Both inside and out, she has a mental map of her world. She walks through the middle of doorways and around chairs. We do have to be conscious when adding new things to the map. On a warm day, I put a fan in my office in her usual path to the back door. She bumped it once, but in every other trip in and out she arched around that spot. She does that now fan or not.
The old wood basement stairs to their pen and feeding spot were tricky. She slipped and Sally was scared for her. I simply nailed down a carpet runner to each step and she goes up and down with no problem. She even hurries down when there is food in the offing. The dog loves to eat.
The most funny adaptation is that we call the “goose step.” You’ve seen the pictures of Germans marching? Well, when see is looking for a step she raises and drops her paws to find it. She goose steps to curbs and stairs.
Walks? Sure. At first she was very slow and cautious. Now that she trusts we are watching out for her she walks at speed. We just call out the curbs so she can goose step. Bringing her back home one evening she got excited. Smell, sound…I have no idea how she knew she was home, but she wanted to jog down the sidewalk and then up the driveway. We jogged together. Seriously, I jogged with a blind dog.
Sometimes she just forgets she is blind. One of the dog rituals is to run up the stairs to the little window and bench seat at the front of the house when Sal leaves for work. I sometimes hear the sound of Mozy and Zoom running up the stairs. When I look up, there they both are “looking” out the window at Sally.
Our back fence is a squirrel highway. Three generations of dogs have tried to chase those damn squirrels. Mozy was sleeping on the back stoop. I heard a commotion and a bang, then her barking. She had jumped off the stoop and run right into the garage. Undeterred she adjusted the map and when up the steps to the back wall to bark at the squirrel. But here’s the freaky part. Now she runs to chase the squirrels behind Zoom and on her own and doesn’t miss a step. How is that even possible? Try closing your eyes and running down one set of steps and up another then stopping perfectly in front of a fence.
Our friend Bob loves Mozy. He came over a few days ago and she was just Mozy. She immediately recognized his voice and smell and came to him once he stepped inside the door. You wouldn’t know she couldn’t see him.
For Sally, the most important thing is that after a short time Mozy got her personality back. She jumps and makes Wookiee noises she Sal comes home. She seeks affection like always. And she can hear the crinkle of a potato chip bag at 100 yards.
Living with a blind dog is like getting to see little miracles all the time. Oh sure, she is slower and sometimes gets a little lost in corners. Sally has coined the description “bonking” for when she runs into things. We are having a little success with the command “stop!” to warn her away from another bonk. But unlike a human, she has no judgement when she bonks. She just adjusts and moves on.
People ask if Zoom knows Mozy is blind. I don’t think so. But she does key off of his movements sometimes following him. They are still mostly likely to be found sleeping curled around each other.
There is much we miss about sighted Mozy. She could look quite majestic running off leash. She also loved to bark and harass Zoom to get him to play. I miss tossing her popcorn. But even that is funny. She sometimes tries to anticipate me throwing it and opens her mouth to catch the invisible kernel. Still best to tap her on the nose with treats.
But like Mozy, we adapt. We have learned to take joy in little, simpler things. Now, we celebrate the amazing things our blind dog can do with the ironic phrase, “Did you see what she just did?”
The sun is out. Time for Mo to get some rays.