We adopted Ida Red in the spring of 2000. I fell in love with her the minute I met her in Boise with her foster Mom, Penny. She joined much older sister Sara and brother Sammy. When Sammy passed away in December 2000 (age 11), we adopted Bailey, a mixed Vizsla-Irish Setter in spring 2001. At first all seemed fine, but then Bailey developed some behavioral issues that are still with him today. While he loves humans, he really doesn't seem to like other dogs-at all. Working with an animal communicator, we learned that Bailey is insecure and always feels challenged for the top dog role, which he desperately wants to own. But we worked out a system, using both gates to separate him from the other dogs (inside & outside) and medication. After Sara died in November 2004 (age 16) we wondered how the relationship between Bailey & Ida Red may change - for better or worse. And then the unthinkable happened that has forever changed all of our inter-relationships.
On January 1, 2005, Ida Red started to bump into things - walls, furniture, people. It was a Saturday and we were both sick with colds. Everything seemed fine and normal on Friday, but then Ida seemed to literally go blind overnight. We got her into our local vet in Port Angeles on Monday and on Tuesday were driving to Seattle to take her to an animal ophthalmologist. The prognosis was not good from the start. She already appeared to be almost blind and we started a course of treatment and testing to try to determine the cause. About a week later it was confirmed that Ida Red was suffering from SARDS - Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome. She was 100% blind and there was no chance of her ever regaining any of her sight.
We were in shock and went through a pretty typical grieving process - just now, getting to acceptance. Ida went through an almost similar process and you could see her at first just continuing to act as though she could see, running headlong into things. She also had some fear and became extra needy. She gave out many deep sighs and showed a general lack of interest in anything except being close. We helped her through this process by first educating ourselves as quickly as we could about what it means to have a blind dog and how you can help them to adjust and learn to use their nose & ears to see. One thing Ida Red has going for her is that she is an incredibly intelligent dog and she is young (turning 5 in October 2004). While SARDS typically doesn't hit a dog this young, her age made it more likely she would adjust more quickly and successfully to being blind. We also tried to make sure she wasn't alone. She had always had Sara as a companion and now with her gone, and not being able to interact with Bailey due to his aggressive behavior with other dogs, you could sense the great loneliness she was experiencing. We slept with her and kept her with us pretty much all of the time. Always trying to talk to her and touch her, as she could no longer "see" that we were there.
It was really tough at first, I won't deny that. I remember the first night we got Ida back to our house in Seattle after the diagnosis. Don had left to pick up some groceries and while he was gone, Bailey growled and became aggressive towards Ida Red. Bailey was letting it be known that he was feeling pretty neglected and she was the cause - receiving what he figured was way too much attention. I started crying and told Bailey that he couldn't do that, that I really needed him to step up to the plate now and not act this way. Bailey went and lied down in his crate. I was still crying when Don got home. That was a tough few days for everyone.
But what we have learned is that even though a dog is blind, they can still lead a great doggie life and have a job. All of our dogs have always had, and needed, jobs. Ida's job now is one of cuddle-puppy. She's the cuddler, the lover, the licker, the hugger. And because her ears are becoming even more sensitive, she's also the listener and can still let us know if there is something unknown around (even airplanes flying overhead). And Bailey's job is changing and he seems to be accepting it well. He's the protector. He's always liked the role of being in charge and loves to just sit for hours on the deck, just watching, making sure everything is okay. And I know Bailey is smart enough that he can eventually take on the role of Dog Guide Dog to Ida Red. It won't happen overnight, that's for sure. But he has had good face to face play interactions with Ida both in the past and now and definitely notices she is not the same. We've tried to communicate to him that Ida Red can smell him, but only sees black. We try to visualize this to him as animals see and communicate through pictures or so the theory goes.
We have all changed as a result of Ida Red's blindness, but I think all for the better. And we know we all have enough love for each other that we're going to make it through this as a family. We're continuing to work with Ida Red, using scents to help her distinguish different things (orange is a doorway, lemon means you're about to bonk yourself on the gate, ginger means your toys are there). We are also planning to talk with the animal communicator who previously worked with Bailey to help us communicate to both what is happening and how we need to move forward - together - from this. And I'll be investigating Healing Touch for Animals for Bailey to address his aggressiveness. Don and I both practice Healing Touch on humans and know how powerful it can be and I know of others who have had great success using this with their animals, particularly ones that have aggressive tendencies.
Ida Red is starting to get back to some of her normal routine. She still loves a rousing game of rope pull and taking a nap on the couch after breakfast. Her good mood and nature have returned as she now again enjoys being goofy, "snorting" while flipping around on her back in her blanket. And we've even had fun coming up with additional nicknames for her. All of our dogs have always had nicknames. Ida Red being no exception and now she's picked up 'Blind Red Jefferson' and 'Little Red Keller.' I gave her both, the first because it just seemed to fit. Ida Red is the name of an old fiddle tune and Blind Lemon Jefferson was a famous blues recording artist from the 1920's which Jefferson Airplane used as the inspiration for their name. The second nickname is a result of her pestering behavior every time we eat (her nose has really kicked into gear). She sits to the side of the table, nose wiggling like crazy, trying to get closer. Ida has also become fascinated with wine corks, coming over to sniff and lick the cork when she hears one pop out of a bottle.
And we have all learned that even though we may change, we're all still the same. Ida Red is the same loving, beautiful Vizsla she has always been. She just doesn't see anymore. But she can hear, she can smell and she can continue to share her love with all of us in this life.
Written by Mutt Mom, Mary Kaye, with additional editing by Dog Dad, Don.
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