17: Blind Faith

17: Blind Faith

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

Blind Faith

Not-so-fun fact: Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), an inherited disorder, causes degeneration of the retina and eventual blindness. It’s found in more than eighty-six dog breeds.

We are the proud owners of a snowy-white, twenty-three-pound Poodle mix named Curley. He’s an adorable rescue dog. He’s affectionate, playful, loyal, gentle, and happy. He loves absolutely everyone and is always by our sides. Did I say always? Yes, always. Turns out, Curley doesn’t like to be left alone — ever — probably as a result of being abandoned.

We discovered this early on when we would leave for a little bit. In our absence, he’d chew through doors, windows, window blinds, curtains, doorknobs, anything. Sometimes, he’d get out, dig a hole through the fence, and trot down the sidewalk searching for us. I considered adopting a companion for him, but he does not like other dogs, only people. We tried doggy kindergarten to get him socialized, but he flunked out twice.

It took me several months to piece together the puzzle that is Curley, so buoyantly happy in the presence of others, but hysterical and distraught on his own. It was my mission to help him heal. In retrospect, I should have known we were adopting a high-maintenance case. The shelter volunteer had whispered to me as we were putting Curley in the car, “Oh, yeah, I’m supposed to tell you that he’s been returned — twice. He might be a little bit, like, destructive.”

I read The Dog Whisperer and consulted blogs. I tried all sorts of security devices like toys, treats, blankets, and stuffed animals. Nothing worked. If we were going out to dinner, we had to first “Curley-proof” the house. Lock and block the windows and doors! Leave the TV on for some background noise. We’d hope for the best, but it was anyone’s guess what we’d come home to, and the thought of him being so worried broke our hearts. I can’t begin to list the doors, screens, windows, curtains, blinds and fences we ordered and reordered, but there was never any part of us that didn’t want Curley in our lives. His smile, his soulful eyes, and his willingness to be by our sides are all the qualities that melt our hearts.

Over time, Curley improved — not because of any toy, or treat, or doggy kindergarten, but because everything consistently stayed the same. He could finally trust that he was home and loved forever. His outbursts subsided, and sometimes we’d walk in the door and find him resting peacefully on the couch. It was a beautiful sight. Then came our next challenge.

One evening, as it was getting dark, my daughter and I were walking back from the park with Curley, and he sat down on the sidewalk, refusing to go any farther. This was highly unusual since he loved his walks. He wouldn’t budge. We finally had to carry him home. Once we were back in the house, he acted fine, but he refused to go outside that night before bedtime. We started seeing his behavior change whenever he was in dim light or darkness. He was tentative and would creep slowly along the ground. I took him to our vet, who referred us to an animal ophthalmologist.

The “doggy eye doctor” (as we liked to call her) ran several tests. She set up an obstacle course for Curley. With the lights on, he was okay. With the lights off, he failed. She had him track cotton balls, dropping them to see if he would track them as they soundlessly hit the ground, and he failed again miserably. She looked deep inside his eyes with her various instruments and then completed her diagnosis. “Your dog is going blind,” she told me bluntly. “He has progressive retinal atrophy, or PRA. There is no cure. He has maybe six months to a year left of sight, and then he will be completely blind.”

“But he’s only five years old,” I said. “Isn’t he too young for something like this?” The doctor explained that PRA happens at any age, and we would have to move forward from here. “Don’t move the furniture around. Keep encouraging him, and he’ll be fine,” she assured me. My heart broke. It just seemed so unfair. Curley had finally settled into a new life with a family that he could trust and he was so happy. Now this? I was devastated. “I’m sorry,” I told her. “This is so upsetting. He’s a very special dog, and I just don’t want to see him struggle through one more thing.”

The doctor broke out of her “clinical doctor mode” and actually got real. She looked at me with compassion and said, “Shawn, he does not know he is going blind. Even if he has less sight day after day, he will accept and adjust to his circumstances with your encouragement and support. Keep doing what you’ve been doing. Trust me. It will be okay.”

Curley has been blind for several years now, and not once has he ever responded to this challenge with any of the behaviors he presented upon adoption. He finds his way around the house with ease. He still “looks” out the car window with the breeze blowing in his hair, blissful and free. He follows me everywhere by tapping his little wet nose across the backs of my legs. As predicted, he adjusted.

I find it all so ironic. Once Curley had true, unfaltering, trusting, never-let-you-down love in his life, he went completely blind without even a whimper. I can’t help but wonder whether, had he been given the same sense of security as a puppy, he might have handled being alone now and then. I mean, could you survive being returned twice? It probably sounds a bit sappy, but Curley is my inspiration.

I experience an important truth when I think about his story: Love makes all the difference. He didn’t have love as a baby. He had no reason to believe that he’d be okay, but now he does and he moves forward in faith — blind faith — with a kind of enthusiasm and hope that reminds me every day that I should trust love, too.

Curley can see that.

~Shawn Lutz

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