I write a regular private newsletter and one of the biggest requests I receive is for photographs of Priscilla, our darling little Maltese. Prissy went blind in 2015 over a four day period. Excellent eyesight on the Sunday when our dear nephew Lachlan visited and totally blind by the following Thursday as she ran after me up the long hallway and crashed into my legs. That anxious staring, rather vacant look told us there was something seriously wrong. A visit to the vet and specialist vet confirmed that Prissy had contracted SARDS; Suddenly Acquired Retinal Disintegration Syndrome. The specialist vet was shocked as he declared he had never seen such a young dog with this condition. A five year old Maltese with no sight was a shock for us all. Blindness was now the permanent state for our lovely and extremely happy little dog. All the photographs on this blog show Prissy as a blind dog. However, there is a real joy in her eyes, regardless of her loss of vision. That little black nose has twitched into sensory overdrive since the onset of SARDS.
For around four weeks we watched Priscilla slowly creeping around the house, touching the floor with her nose every step of the way. The sudden blindness trauma was huge for this brave little dog who had spent the year prior to this event in leading our other Shih Tzu Bella around the back garden with constant, loyal confidence. Bella had developed cataracts and Priscilla just knew that Bella could not see. Prissy would lead Bella down the back decking ramp into the garden and keep close by Bella, encouraging her around the garden. After Bella’s demise from a sudden stroke one morning, there was no more support for Priscilla. Old Ralph our Maltese cross was a very old boy and not up to the job at all.
We received a very condescending information sheet from the vet in South Australia. The information was scant. Not good enough for me. I spent considerable time online and found Muffin’s Halo, a device for blind dogs that is made by a California woman who had cared enough for her little dog to sit down and design a device to improve her beloved dog’s quality of life. There is no way I was going to permit Priscilla to have such a traumatic quality of life due to blindness. We have always had concern for the quality of life of the animals in our care. I personally make no distinction between two legged and four legged animals. Never have and never will. Dogs in particular, “speak” to me in their silent language.
I purchased a Halo online and it came in the mail a couple of weeks later; along with a simple link to a Youtube video on how to put the Halo together. In one simple step, the flat pack packaged Halo turned into a useful device. I wrote a small blog about the Halo and its effect on Priscilla here. Prissy took to her Halo almost immediately with that almost universal incentive – treats. I held the treat just in front of Prissy and she took a step forward and accepted her treat. In no time at all, Prissy was tap tapping her way around the house and even outside, playing with Teddy, a rather silly (and completely adorable) young Shih Tzu we acquired to be her companion friend. Teddy is always ready for a game but must wait for Priscilla to start the game simply because Prissy cannot see Teddy’s physical “play with me” body language at all. Teddy has not worked out that Priscilla is blind at all but knows there is something wrong with her. Prissy’s eyes remained a beautiful dark brown until recently with the onset of cataracts. The photo below left shows Teddy asking Prissy to play in our orchard this week past. Of course, Priscilla did not realise what was going on and just wandered off, leaving Teddy rather dejected.
We have spent the past three years slowly educating veterinary doctors and specialists alike about the immense benefits in Muffin’s Halo for blind dogs. All the veterinary people we have encountered here back in our home state of Victoria have not heard of the device. We have dispensed information sheets left, right and centre ever since, in the hope that the many blind dogs in the community will be fortunate enough to receive the device and have a vastly improved quality of life as a result. Several vets have now recommended Muffin’s Halo for their blind four legged clients, after seeing how Prissy negotiates her way in the world with this marvellous device. Vets down at the veterinary hospital in Hallam have shown a particular interest in this device after seeing Priscilla working her way around the small exercise yard during her day long stays there for medical treatment. Essentially, the Halo is made just a tad longer than Priscilla’s nose and sits on Prissy’s body with an easily removable vest. When Prissy approaches a hard object, the Halo will make contact. Prissy with then decide to move either left or right and the Halo slides off the object. Simple as that. If Prissy gets caught on fencing wire, she pulls backwards and slips the device off entirely. Sometimes Jonathan and I have to look for the pink vest in the garden. An ingenious device. Oftentimes we can hear Prissy tapping her way up the hallway as the Halo slides off the walls.
Living with a blind dog does have issues. We moved from South Australia back to Victoria two years ago. Priscilla settled into our current house very quickly. We use rugs around the house and Priscilla has become used to where they are located to work out where she is in the house. If we have to go out for a short while, I close off all doors to spare rooms to ensure that Priscilla does not find herself in the walk in robe, for instance. Furniture is not moved around at all so Prissy has become used to where things are in the house. Shoes are always picked up and nothing extra is left lying around the place as every out of place item is a tripping hazard and confidence basher.
The water bowl is centrally located in the lounge room, against the television cabinet. I placed a folded in half towel underneath the bowl so Prissy can understand where the bowl is when looking for water. Prissy finds her way to the doggie baskets that line up against the big picture window. When she hits the soft bedding, she makes a right hand turn and moves along to the television cabinet. As soon as Prissy steps on the towel, she bobs her head down, knowing the big water bowl is there for her. The towel is an excellent tactile indicator for Prissy. The path to the water bowl never changes. Teddy’s collar has two small bells on it. When Teddy rushes into the orchard to chase away rabbits, Prissy follows the sound of the bell. We placed some gravel underneath the orchard gate so this is yet another tactile reminder for Prissy that she is near the gateway and must slow down going through. I have taught Prissy the word, “slow” and she now responds to this command.
The Halo ensures that Prissy does not smack her nose against anything; unless she is racing at speed that is. Every time a blind dog hurts their face, the process hurts their confidence along with their face. The Halo has changed Prissy from a scared little blind dog to a relatively happy dog with confidence; a dog who can wander around our property, as long as we let her know where we are. If we say nothing and work outside, Prissy thinks she has been abandoned and will squeal. That is why I keep a running commentary with Prissy when I am working in the vegetable garden and Prissy is safe and secure in the knowledge she has not been abandoned. For any dog, their biggest fear is abandonment. We never leave our dogs outside and alone as I would not forgive myself if a large Wedge Tailed eagle swooped down and grabbed Prissy who looks like a small spring lamb. This nearly happened in South Australia when two overhead soaring eagles suddenly dropped down and eyeballed Prissy with a view to swooping her up for their next meal. I ran towards the eagles just in time. Never again.
A couple of times a day we take Prissy into the big front garden. I sneak off some distance away, making sure there is nothing between Prissy and myself. I hiss the word, “mousie” and Prissy responds by running towards me to catch her intended quarry. As Prissy approaches me, I keep a running commentary of the word to Prissy so she quickly arcs towards me and stops right next to me. The commentary is crucial to ensure Prissy does not crash into anything, including my legs. Prissy loves these “free” runs. Sometimes we take the Halo off for these runs and Prissy may even gallop towards us with freedom and extreme joy. I have taken to stamping my feet and this helps Prissy work out where I am. Prissy’s hearing has improved a lot since her blindness as has her sense of smell.
New tactile sensations are a bit of a challenge. I recently purchased some inexpensive front door mats for the front verandah. I placed one mat on the edge of the verandah and two mats on the concrete step. I thought that having a mat on the edge of the verandah would be a good training aid for Priscilla to teach her where the edge of the verandah is situated. This latest mat process has been a challenge though as Prissy is reluctant to step back up onto the verandah. As you can see, Prissy waits with her feet on the verandah but won’t move back up again. Words of encouragement have not worked. We can no longer provide the bonus incentive of a treat because Priscilla has Cushings Syndrome which was not treated at all by the interstate vet and this beast of a disease developed into diabetes. No snacks at all during the day so that incentive has gone. Prissy has medication for the Cushings and a twice a day insulin injection which must accompany food. We will persist with Prissy’s training using lots of pleasant words and encouragement and most of all, a lot of patience. Prissy’s illness situation was the reason we moved back to our home state where we knew Prissy would receive quality health care and she certainly has; much to our relief. We now pick up the pieces of neglected health care on behalf of the former interstate vet for this lovely, fey creature and make the best of every day.
Blindness or not, Prissy enjoys her forays into the garden and positively demands her morning walk with Teddy
We leave the Halo off for Prissy and Teddy’s morning walk as I have better control over this tiny impetuous creature with a lead. I find the lead an important way of guiding Prissy up the road. I have to keep a short lead on Prissy as we go through the farm gate. The short lead stops Prissy banging her face. I use an extendable lead for Prissy and use this device as a gentle assistant in helping Prissy negotiate her way up the road. When Prissy is feeling on top of the world, I let Prissy extend her lead ahead of me. Only where there is nothing Prissy can crash into, mind you. On a really good day, Prissy waits for Teddy and Jonathan to catch up, carefully listening for Teddy’s bell. Prissy then pounces towards Teddy with an almighty growl and a grab of his hocks for good measure. Such joy. Teddy just laughs off Priscilla’s “attack” as he knows it is all play. Prissy prefers to walk between Jonathan and myself, where she can hear both our footsteps. Prissy’s nose goes into overdrive on our walks. Such happiness from such a tiny little dog. Teddy, Jonathan and myself have become used to feeling a Muffin’s Halo bashing into the back of our legs. Teddy is very accommodating with his beloved Priscilla. The household cats have found a new “respect” for Priscilla as she pushes them out of the way with the Halo.
Prissy enjoys catching up with our other pet “sheep dog”, Bertie, a lovely Merino/Border Leicester cross sheep we rescued as a two day old lamb from the abattoir. Bertie believes that we are her flock and has a fondness for the dogs. My husband Jonathan can’t do any work in Bertie’s paddock without having this woolly naughty girl shoving her head up against his leg and chewing his jeans. Sheep or not, Bertie loves to have a cuddle every day.
I have just added this thought. I never just grab Priscilla or pat her without giving her warning. To do so to a blind dog can give them a jump as they do not expect the contact. I always talk to Prissy and may even lightly touch the front of her Halo. The light touch always gives Prissy warning that I am there so she is “prepared” to be patted. I also tell Prissy, “I’m going to pat you” and she positively laughs in her own way, waiting for the human contact. Remember, a blind dog needs reassurance so the power of patting cannot be underestimated at all.
In all, I think that having a brave little dog like Priscilla with her health challenges has brought us closer to our animals. We never take any day fore granted at all; especially with Priscilla’s diabetic situation. I will always think that we can learn a lot from the wisdom of dogs as they truly are creatures of the moment. Prissy has joy every day, despite her blindness and this is all we can ask for our furry little friend. It’s a pity indeed that humans cannot live by the canine credo and make the best of every single day in their lives, rather than living in the past with past regrets or expressing constant anxiety about the future. Live for the moment.
We receive no financial incentive at all from the maker of Muffin’s Halo. I write about this product because it works and gives quality of life to blind dogs. Please pass on this blog to someone you might know who has a blind dog.