Gabby: How to Live With a Blind Dog

Meet Gabby. She’s looking for a very special home.

Gabby is an eleven year old Shih Tzu rescued from certain death in a shelter, as her injuries made her “unadoptable” by most shelters’ criteria. She came into rescue with one eye so badly damaged and infected that it had to be removed. She was still recovering when another dog in her foster home attacked her and badly damaged the remaining eye.

Veterinarians give Gabby a very slim chance of retaining sight in the eye, but we won’t know for a while how much she can see, if at all. Meanwhile, she is learning to navigate her world in the dark. She loves people, and is fine with other dogs and cats. The perfect person for Gabby will be someone who can be home with Gabby most of the time or take Gabby along, as she is still learning how to function without sight and is consequently very dependent on her human at the moment. She is housetrained, does well in the car, and loves to be held. (She does have a “bad” knee, but it causes her no pain.)

Many people make the mistake of thinking that a blind dog has no quality of life and should be euthanized – ie, “put out of her misery”.


Blind animals, just like blind humans, can adapt to their altered circumstances and lead full, happy lives. It does require a little patience and few adaptations from their humans, but really nothing drastic.

First Requirement: Safe Environment

A blind or even partially blind dog has to learn where everything is in a new environment. It’s our job to make sure that there is nothing potentially dangerous in that new environment. Get down on the dog’s level – in Gabby’s case, up to about 16 inches off the floor – and check all around for things she might run into. Sharp corners? Breakables? Lamps that could be easily knocked over? In my own home, I removed all the springs from behind doors, because they are exactly the same height as my mostly blind dog’s face. I can’t risk any injury to his remaining eye, as he doesn’t see all that well from it anyway.

Look for narrow spaces in which the dog might get stuck, like behind entertainment centers or sofas. Bumble started getting stuck between a pole lamp and a chair; I moved the lamp so that he had room to navigate. Problem solved.

Developing Independence

Start out confining your blind pet to one or two rooms until she learns to navigate comfortably. Baby gates work really well for this purpose. If your pet is in a new environment or is very needy, try keeping her on a leash so that she feels connected to you and thus more secure. As her confidence grows, lengthen the leash or leave it off for longer and longer periods of time. Talk to her constantly, as your voice is her connection to the world around her and her reassurance that she is safe to explore it.

As your pet gets more comfortable and more confident, slowly enlarge the space to which the dog has access. One caveat: make sure stairs are blocked off. Most blind pets can navigate one or two steps up or down, but there is no point to endangering a blind pet by allowing them access to a full flight of stairs.


Every pet is different, but the bottom line is that most pets are much more resilient than people. They do adapt to physical limitations, often much better than we expect them to. It takes time and patience, but the reward is immeasurable. Don’t give up if your pet loses his sight. Talk to vets or trainers about ways to help your pet adapt.

Meanwhile, Gabby is waiting…

If you think your home might be the right one for this sweet little girl, contact

Life With Bumble: Christmas 2010

Bumble, as most of you know, is my very special needs little dog: epileptic, blind in one eye, mostly deaf, joint and balance problems, some persistent behavioral issues.

When Bumble came to live with me, I had NO idea exactly how special needs he would turn out to be. I knew he was blind in one eye, I knew he had joint deformities (really bad hips and elbow dysplasia), and I suspected he didn’t hear very well. He was deeply traumatized by whatever events had led up to him being alone on the streets, and I found out very quickly that he did not deal well with change. Didn’t take long to find out that he was epileptic and had a very fragile digestive system.

The first Christmas he was with me, I had eleven people and three dogs in my normally quiet house. Bumble, who had only been with me for a few weeks, hid under the table. When we all sat down to dinner, he went completely berserk, spinning in circles and snarling at the feet coming toward him from all sides. When I reached under the table to get him, the poor little guy hid his face in my hand, trembling. I wore him like a sweater for the next two days.

By the next Christmas, I had a much better handle on his special needs. Stress brings on epileptic seizures, and he also struggles in the cold weather when the barometric pressure changes dramatically. So his vet and I decided that a small dose of diazepam to take the edge off his stress level was just what he needed for stressful occasions. It worked like a charm, and is now his own little Christmas Eve tradition. Plus he is much more accustomed to the family members who come over for Christmas Eve, and thus does not get as stressed and agitated to begin with.

People often comment on how lucky Bumble is to have found someone who was willing to handle his multitude of issues.

I don’t see it that way.

Yes, he takes some specialized care, and because of his medical and behavioral issues, there are things he cannot do. But he has an established routine, and he does well with it. Most special needs dogs are like that – once you find what works for them, taking care of them is not that much more challenging than caring for any other animal. (Although trying balance a laptop and a furry little dog while typing can present certain difficulties.)

I consider myself lucky to be the one he chose. When I pulled him out of the shelter for our rescue group, he made it very clear that no one but me would be allowed to handle him. There is something very special and rewarding about being the one human a traumatized animal chooses to trust. Several years later, I have convinced him that not all humans are bad, and he has developed a small group of people who can handle him without upsetting him.

Every pet takes patience and love…special needs pets teach us that we have more of both than we knew we were capable of.

(Check back on Wednesday, when I will feature a special needs pet named Gabby who is currently looking for just the right forever home.)

On Adopting Older Pets: Do It!

This time of year, people (as I may have mentioned) have a nasty habit of dumping “old” pets in order to get younger, cuter, new ones.

For example, there is a beautiful ten year old Labrador retriever in the Montgomery County animal shelter right now. She is sweet, docile, and well-behaved. The horrible excuse for a human that left her at the shelter claimed to be unable to handle her (a ridiculous claim, given this animal’s personality), but in the course of the conversation it came out that she was getting a cute new puppy. Meanwhile, a dog who has loved her for 10 years sits alone in a cage wondering when she’s coming back. And she is one of many in the same situation in shelters all over the country. This one is lucky, because her shelter director is determined to save her and find her a good, loving home in which to live out her life.

The older the pet, the worse his chances of surviving a shelter are. It’s a numbers game. People are reluctant to adopt older pets because they don’t have as many years left to live, or because they might develop health problems, or because “they won’t really be MY dog”. Even some rescues are unable to take older pets, because then they can’t find them forever homes; basically, their viewpoint is that they could save and place four or five young dogs in the time it would take them to save and place an older (and thus less adoptable) one. Many shelters, knowing these truths, are much more likely to euthanize these older pets, again because they are “less adoptable”.

Here’s the truth about adopting older pets.

Older pets are more likely to be housetrained. They’re usually calmer, and they are so very grateful to be loved. Often, these are pets that lived in someone’s home for years, and then find themselves thrown away in the shelter system when a newer, cuter puppy comes along. So when you, the adopter, rescue such a pet, that pet will love you and appreciate you forever. And you get the joy and the privilege of giving that animal a loving home for the rest if his life.

Yes, it’s true that they won’t be with you for as many years as a puppy. And it’s certainly true that puppies are just adorable. But on the flip side, you won’t have to housebreak a puppy, or teach an energetic young dog not to chew up your shoes. An older dog has a fully evolved and developed personality, so that you, the adopter, know exactly what kind of pet you’re getting. And an older dog will settle into your routine much more easily than a young puppy in need of constant supervision.

If you’re thinking of taking a new pet into your family, please, please, consider adopting an older pet.

Santa Paws

The favorite fundraiser du jour for dog lovers is taking your pet to have his photo taken with Santa – usually referred to as Santa Paws. Let me begin by saying that I LOVE this fundraiser, and run a Santa event every December.

But if you’re going to take your pet to see Santa, let’s review some important points.

    Will Santa see your pet?

If you have a cuddly puppy, a well-behaved kitty, or even a nice rabbit who walks on a leash, Santa will be happy to see him. If, however, you are the proud owner of a boa constrictor or a Gila monster, please, call ahead to see if your kind of pet is welcome. After the unfortunate lizard incident some years ago, our event has a strict no reptiles clause.

    Can your pet handle seeing Santa?

Some animals LOVE going to see Santa – the attention, the car ride, new people to pet them, the possibility of treats. Others are horrified by the fat guy in the red suit (think of all the sobbing children in Santa’s lap at the mall). Our biggest scaredy cat of the year was a two hundred pound Harlequin Dane who marched in, stepped onto the stage, took one look at Santa, and laid down and hid his face. We finally coaxed him to sit by Santa, but even in his picture, his ears are flattened out and his face says clearly, “What did I do to deserve this?”

    Can your pet handle all the other animals?

Dogs that go to the dog park regularly, for example, usually do just fine, because they are accustomed to being around new animals. Less social dogs can still handle this well, if you keep them well-controlled. Leave the biters at home (which is why Bumble will never get to have a picture with Santa), and for Santa’s sake, please don’t bring a pet that is prone to peeing when nervous. If you’re bringing a cat, make sure the cat is in a crate, and that you have a leash on him when he comes out of the crate.

    How are the crowd control measures?

The people running Santa’s workshop should have basic crowd control measures in place. Ideally, there should be designated waiting stations that keep the animals a respectful distance apart, and the elves should also have sense enough to keep the area right around Santa clear of extra humans or animals to avoid stressing or agitating any pets. For cats or other small furry things that don’t do well on leashes, the best situation is a closed room – just in case they decide to make a break for it.

    The two most important points are these:

Never put your pet in a potentially risky situation to get that picture, and never put people at risk in the process, as injury to people by your pet often has ugly legal consequences these days. That said, remember that Santa Paws events are almost always fundraisers for animal charities. Give generously, and enjoy the experience!

Of Dogfighters and Dimwits

Michael Vick and Wayne Pacelle???

Apparently, Michael Vick, the dogfighter we all love to hate, has announced that he would love to have a dog some day. And Wayne Pacelle, the president of Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), agrees that he would make a good pet owner.

On what planet?

I’ve never had much respect for Wayne Pacelle, who is known to openly admit that he does not believe humans should keep pets and that he himself is not really an animal person. But this is beyond ridiculous.

Michael Vick hung dogs. Electrocuted them. Killed them in a variety of unspeakable ways. He was convicted of it. And he admitted it.

I am glad that he was caught. I am glad that many of the dogs in his possession have been rehabilitated and placed in loving homes where they demonstrate every day that dogs, as a rule, are more loving, more forgiving, and more resilient than most humans.

And I am very, very glad that a judge prohibited the man who tortured them from owning a pet.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that people can change. It’s just that I also believe most people don’t.

If that makes me suspicious and cynical, that’s fine. I would rather be suspicious and cynical than put even one animal’s life in Michael Vick’s hands. Because he cannot be trusted. Giving a few speeches about how what he did was bad is nothing. We already know he’s a criminal, so why wouldn’t he lie to get what he wants? Writing checks to humane organizations may help the organizations, but it has done nothing to redeem Michael Vick, in my eyes.

And now, in addition to my profound contempt and distrust for Michael Vick, I have to wonder. How does HSUS justify placing their organizational reins and their tremendous public influence in the hands of a man dumb enough to state publically that Michael Vick would be a good pet owner?