Lessons Learned From My Blind Dog

Earlier today, I administered my first injection ever. No, it wasn’t to myself…nor to any other person. It was an insulin shot to my 9 year old dog Alva, who was diagnosed with diabetes only just yesterday.

And when we received the results of her lab work a little over 24 hours ago, they actually came as sort of a relief, even though they indicated that she did indeed have diabetes. At the end of last week she suddenly went blind. This, combined with a recent noticeable increase in her drinking and urination, were big indicators that we were probably dealing with diabetes. Now, we at least know what is wrong, and can work on controlling her blood sugar levels with twice daily insulin shots.

When we realized that she was blind (it practically came on overnight), I was heartbroken. Even though I read that dogs adapt quickly to blindness, and that sight is actually only their third most important sense after hearing and smelling, it was difficult to see her initial reaction, and her initial inability to move around like she once did. In order to console myself a bit, before I got depressed and spiraled back into a flare, I decided that I would use this experience as an opportunity to learn even more about coping with disability. In this case, however, the disability would be hers, and not mine.

On Day 1, she was reluctant to move around much beyond her water bowl and her food bowl. By Day 2, she was already walking around the house a little more, and started exploring the area of the patio immediately outside the doggy door. By Day 3, she was following me around the house, and–though still a little reluctant–was jumping back up on the sofas and on the bed. By Day 4, she had explored (on her own) all three sides of the outside of the house, and was occasionally going out during the evening to bark. (It was at this point where I stopped constantly worrying about where she was.) And today, on Day 5, I just found her waiting for me in her usual place next to the table, as I sat down to have lunch. She also greeted me at the front door, when I returned home from physical therapy.

And what have I learned about my dog, as I’ve seen her adjust to her loss of vision over the past few days? A lot. I’ve noticed that even though her confidence was quite shaken at the beginning, she continues to regain her confidence with each new day. (We’re probably going to do our first outdoor walk this coming weekend.)

I’ve seen her continue to do things that she enjoys doing…like going out to bark for about half a minute every hour or so (I’ve always said that she’s on night duty, and is making the rounds.) She’s back to napping in her favorite spots, whether it’s the pillow on my bed or the ottoman in the living room…and like I said, she’s back to greeting my at the door, and slobbering me with kisses as soon as I sit down at my desk.

I’ve also noticed that even though she occasionally walks into a piece of furniture or corner of the wall, she never gives up. She just makes the appropriate adjustment, and keeps on moving forward. Every time she stumbles, she doesn’t stop, and tell herself that she’s a failure…in fact, she does quite the opposite: she know what she wants to do, and she gets it done.

Lastly, I’ve also noticed how capable she is of using different aids to move around the house and yard. Sometimes I see her walking straight towards a wall…and my heart starts to race and I wonder if I should call out and warn her. But a split second before running into the wall (whether it’s a change in temperature, a change in lighting, or both…I don’t know), she makes a quick 90-degree turn without so much as even brushing a hair against the stucco. And once she’s in the house, she continues to use walls as a guide, as she often walks around the perimeter of spaces to get from one room to another.

There are a couple of behaviors that haven’t returned yet, mainly her afternoon wrestling sessions with her younger pug brother Oliver. She’s not running as much as she normally does, although she is once again sprinting to the front door anytime the doorbell rings, and double-times it whenever she thinks (rightly or wrongly) that I’m handing out snacks.

I’ve frequently heard stories in the past about how quickly and how well pets adjust to problems such as blindness or a lost limb. While I’m still a little sad that my dog has had to encounter these challenges over the past week, I’m proud of her, and of her ability to so quickly overcome the biggest obstacles of being blind. Most importantly, I feel fortunate to have been able to see–firsthand–how animals are indeed able to adapt so quickly to disability.

I’ve learned a lot of lessons from Alva over the past week, and I hope to be able to continue to learn even more lessons from her in the future.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy

9 Comments
9 comments
  1. Bonnie says:

    Not that I am happy to hear about your doing going blind and having diabetes, but I am glad to hear I am not alone with this problem of sudden blindness in dogs. My little Chihuahua, Baby, has gone blind, too. I don’t know if she suddenly went blind and I gradually noticed it, or if she gradually went blind and I suddenly noticed. Either way, she is now blind. Took her to the Vet last week, but he did no tests other than his own to confirm her blindness. Guess I’ll have to take her back to have him test her for diabetes now – she has gotten rather fat of late. Don’t know why he didn’t think of that – maybe an oversight, or maybe something else. It makes me angry that he didn’t do any tests that day since I’ll now most likely have to pay him for yet another office visit. Sometimes I feel that he’s just in it for the money. His father originally opened the practice years ago and never charged unreasonable fees. Not so for his son who took over the practice when his dad retired, he charges too much in my opinion, but there is no one else close by – we live out in the country and have to drive quite a way to get to any real conveniences, like the vet’s office and real grocery stores. But I guess Baby is going to have to go back to the Vet and have tests for diabetes done – and not to the animal opthamologist who charges $95 just for the office visit, which does not include tests of any kind. Oy vey. Thanks, RA Guy, for posting this story. I’ll let you know what I find out about my Chi and if she does indeed have diabetes.

  2. Linda P. says:

    Rolling Dog Farm in New Hampshire often posts videos of their blind (and sometimes blind and deaf) dogs playing with each other. On their site, you can also find a page titled “Myths about Disabled Animals,” and it includes links to YouTube videos of the various dogs playing and thoroughly enjoying their lives.

  3. Lene says:

    “She just makes the appropriate adjustment, and keeps on moving forward.”

    Fantastic. The perfect line for describing adaptation. It really is about focusing on where we want to go, not how we get there. Coming from a social work background, I know we have to process the feelings before we can let them go, but there is much to learn here. If there was more focus on the goal and less angst about how we get there, chronic illness and disability might not be so hard.

  4. RA Guy says:

    @Bonnie I wish you and your chihuahua the best. Alva has some chihuahua herself (she is a rescue dog, we adopted her when she was only a few months old); her big ears and extra-sensitivity to noise will serve her well now!

    @Linda, thanks for the info, I’ll definitely go and take a look.

    @Lene, well said when you say: “If there was more focus on the goal and less angst about how we get there, chronic illness and disability might not be so hard.” I agree, working through and processing feelings is important, but so to is keeping sight on what our goals are. I think sometimes this is easy to forget; thanks for the reminder!

  5. Deb aka abcsofra says:

    Well I have always known that the four legged babies have alot over us as humans and this proves it. They just get up, dust themselves off a bit and go on. We humans on the other hand find every excuse in the world as to why we can’t do something. Sometimes having a bigger brain really doesn’t help at all. Give her an extra pat from Moomee and Mango :-)

  6. adrienne says:

    She is so cute! We have a three legged dog who runs and plays so well you would never know she had three legs! Animals are so adaptable. Give her a belly rub for me.

  7. Krista Stouder says:

    Wow, all I can say is thank you. I have RA and have been fighting blindness for 13 years and just YESTERDAY my cat was tested and today diagnosed with diabetes. We are starting twice a day insulin shots. I am crying reading you story partly sadness, relief, inspired and from the irony. Thank you.

  8. Marianna Paulson says:

    As I type this, Holly, our dobie, is curled up behind me, keeping me company in the office. Reading this post, I’m reminded of the wonderful gift our pets provide.

    “You don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog you need,” someone once said. I think you get both, at least that’s been my experience. (http://changeofheartstresssolutions.blogspot.com/2012/01/about-dog-training-stress-and-me.html)

    Animals have a marvelous way of adapting that we two-legged creatures can do well to emulate. The in-the-moment, I’ll deal with what-is lesson is vital, especially for those of us who live with a chronic disease.

    “In order to console myself a bit, before I got depressed and spiraled back into a flare . . . ” Making that connection between how you’re feeling emotionally is empowering, because then you can do something about it, as you have by making it an opportunity to learn some lessons. We are not just a joint, a heart or a ligament – everything is connected and interdependent.

    I think the trust you and Alva have for one another will help make the transition easier, for both of you. How fortunate that you are able to provide the care and comfort she needs. What she provides to you – priceless!

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