Lessons Learned From My Blind Dog

RA Guy Adventures of RA Guy

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