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Guest Blog #2 - Cathy Symons

We are very grateful to Cathy for giving her time and expertise to create this post for The Bloghouse. For those who may not have come across her work.....

Cathy Symons is the author of Blind Devotion: Enhancing the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired Dogs. She was inspired to write this book after her first pug, Booda, lost his sight at the age of seven. Several years later, Cathy adopted a blind pug named Digger and wrote a children’s book, Watching Out for Digger, which she uses as a teaching tool for young children to learn about living with a disabled dog.

After fifteen years of practice as a veterinary technician, Cathy went on to study canine rehabilitation at the University of Tennessee. In 2003, Cathy was one of the first thirty-six people in the world to become a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner. Shortly thereafter, Cathy was instrumental in establishing one of the foremost veterinary rehabilitation centers in the United States, the Sterling Impression Animal Rehabilitation Center of New England. She continues to follow the latest options in pet rehabilitation, including digital thermal imaging and laser therapy, and is currently working on her third book, Senior Dogs: Maintaining Mobility and Independence.

Here, Cathy offers her wisdom on a situation which all owners of disabled animals seem to face

How to handle insensitive comments!

If you have a blind dog, you may have gotten them. Hurtful comments such as: “oh that poor dog”, “You know there are plenty of healthy dogs in the shelter waiting for homes”, “You should put him/her down”, etc. I can only surmise that people make those comments because they are uneducated about disabled dogs and have some misconception that blind dogs aren’t happy, or that having them is unfair or cruel to the dog. I obviously disagree, since I have now owned two blind dogs. My dog’s blindness has not had a huge impact on his comfort level. I would say his quality of life ranks very high. My dog is blind; otherwise he is just like any other dog. Lack of vision is not a measurement of contentment, nor should it be. Having a sensory impairment does not equal suffering.

So, why respond to these comments? Yes, it is rude however, if we could educate or change even one person’s mind about living with visually impaired dog we could save a dog’s life. We need to dispel myth’s such as; blind dogs are not adoptable, that they will not have good quality of life, or that they cannot adjust to being blind.

Maybe this will help to change your mindset. If we could change this person’s view about disabled dogs, they may tell someone else about meeting a blind dog and how happy and well-adjusted he was. Take a deep breath, refrain from angry thoughts and educate.

I explain that my dog has been taught how to handle new experiences; he is well adjusted and trusts me to be his eyes. I have established my role as a leader in a positive manner. My dog walks, plays, and swims, he has a bed in every room, he is allowed on every piece of furniture and he also does nose work which he loves. This is what makes my dog content. We need to stop equating sensory impairments to suffering. Educating people instead of responding in anger might change someone’s mind about blind dogs. There are many dogs living full lives with some type of sensory impairment or physical impairments.

1. Although your defenses are up stay calm. Don’t argue with the person, educate them instead. Explain your dog’s condition. Sometimes, people are able to relate to diseases such as cataracts or glaucoma. Perhaps, they even know someone with these conditions.

2. Teach them something. A dog’s primary sense is smell and this is how they get information about the world. Hearing is likely their second most relied on sense and is very heightened to sound and the direction of sound. These senses help them navigate their environment even when they can’t see.

3. Show them something. A trick your dog can do or how your dog walks on a leash. I once had someone stop me because they were impressed my dog could go down stairs. Seeing a blind dog do dog things is impressive, so show it off. It also helps solidify what you have been stating all along that blind dogs can live happy well-adjusted lives.

4. In conclusion, if you are simply too angry, walk away and don’t engage. You don’t have to tolerate rude unsolicited comments. If the opportunity presents itself to educating someone great, if not, walk away.

More often I am approached with genuine questions, compliments and occasionally, people will thank me for adopting a blind dog. Be open to answering questions. Be proud of your dog’s accomplishments. Go out and have some fun with your dog.

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