Guest blog #4 - an owners perspective, from Isabella
Updated: Oct 8, 2021
However much expert advice we seek, the experience of others who have walked your path provides insights and reassurance like no other.
Here, then, is our final guest blog to tell the story of discovering your dog is blind - perhaps the most important blog of all!
Our thanks go to Isabella and Gandalf for sharing their story:
I will never forget that moment, hearing the words that my boy Gandalf would become completely blind. I was totally devastated. Last July 2020, he was diagnosed with SARDS, Sudden Acquired Regene
rative Disorder. A condition from which dogs permanently lose their sight within days.
Whilst trying to come to terms with the news, then the overwhelming worry of what is next, what do I do to help him meet the challenges of becoming blind. I was provided with one page from the vet about ‘’Living with a blind dog’’ which provided little help. More importantly, what was next for ‘’adapting’’ to a new life for both he and I.
During the early stages of his blindness, Gandalf was not his usual self and seemed depressed. He was not playful, or active and wouldn’t react to the doorbell or strangers like he used. This deeply saddened me. I worried that he would never be the same again and that blindness had stolen his happiness and the cheerful dog I once knew.
My worries grew ever more about all the things he normally did and lived with for his entire life. How will he lead his life now?
How he would go down the steps to yard like before, find the doggy door, navigate his way around the house, him jumping onto the bed or his favourite cosy spot on the couch. And his favourite things like chasing a ball, going on walks, and barking at strangers. Does he ponder on his blindness trying to understand it?
My concerns grew more thinking about Gandalf’s life, his visiting regular places again, such as his doggy sitter, would he be ok with other dogs now he is blind? Visiting the homes of family and friends? Will these places now be foreign and scary? Being groomed? Would he ever be ok with these things again?
My mission was to help Gandalf live with blindness and happily. But how exactly do I do this? The Internet was fraught with information about the do’s and don’ts of living with a blind dog. All very confusing and overwhelming.
Reading through all the content, unsure what was best for him. Posts on ‘’bump proofing’’ furniture, scent applications for ease of navigation, to doggy halos to assist him to avoid bumping into things and hurting his nose constantly.
A person on FB page suggested I reach out to BLIND DOGS ENABLED for guidance and insights.
The insights Barbara provided me with were incredible. She helped me create a mindset of empowering and enabling Gandalf. Initially my human instincts & nature kicked in, to help and protect, by coddling, but a very different approach was needed with a dog obviously not being able to communicate verbally.
With this mindset in view, my Gandalf lost his sight, not his intelligence. To help him, I needed to enable him to learn his world again…. but being blind. He will now use his other senses to guide him and live life, with scents and sounds.
Many ‘’new’’ behaviours have emerged from Gandalf through this transitional stage. It was imperative that I stayed calm and didn’t overly worry about these behaviours. I took the practical approach to everyday things as he built confidence around things being ‘’normal’’.
Start - Retraining: Gandalf has learnt lots of new cues, which help guide him and keep him safe. Commands such as “Watch Out”, “Step Up” & “Down”, “Around”, “Be careful”, to name a few. This is our daily dialogue, and he understands these instructions at home, on walks and at other people’s homes. Retraining was easy with Gandalf, he picked it up well and with positive reinforcements, built his confidence. He’s a foodie, so treats really helped too!
Adapting to new world:
Don’t change what they already know and feel safe with – this is important. Introducing new things only adds confusion and fear. I made this mistake, read online that it was highly recommended to assist your blind dog in finding their water, by replacing the water bowl with a ‘’water fountain bowl’’. This new sound scared him.
I didn’t move anything or introduce new things to his environment. I didn’t bump proof the home or apply scent applications for ease of navigation, nor give him doggy halo. Although I did place various guides on floors; different mats around key areas such his doggy door, near the lounge and applied a rough step edge on the deck steps. These additions have helped guide him around the home independently.
Gandalf can find his spot on the lounge, easily finds the doggy door and his water bowl (both inside and out). He takes himself outside to the sunny spot or to his kennel. Regarding play, instead of ball chasing, I replaced this with a tug of war toy, which he really enjoys. He returned to happily barking at strangers at door or out the front of the house.
As for his doggy sitter, he literally jumped out of the car with his tail wagging and the sitter said he knows his way around and loves a cuddle but does bump into things occasionally. Same with friends and family homes, he will walk around sniffing and will settle in a place to sit.
And the groomer? He was totally fine! And it wasn’t the same place or person, but he was familiar with whole process.
All these things I worried about, Gandalf already lived, breathed, and knew, he was now living these experiences blindly. He discovered his way of adapting to this new way of living.
Gandalf is still on his journey, learning and adapting but he’s certainly come long way. I have learnt to take each day as it comes and go with the flow. If he only feels like a 2-minute walk, then that’s what we do.
I’m so proud of my little boy, he’s my hero and I love his spirit. This experience has taught me patience and resilience.