He’s 11 years old with brown hair, brown eyes, long eyelashes, an easygoing temperament that makes him love everyone he meets, and he’s always up for a good time. He is also blind.
His name is Celtic, and he’s a puggle. If that puzzles you, a puggle is a breed of dog that is part pug, part beagle, and 100% affection. Our neighbors acquired Celtic 11-plus years ago when he was so small that his short little legs had trouble going up the stairs to their deck. Now 11 years later, those same legs bound up the front stairs, but are a bit more unsure of how to navigate, for he has gone blind.
At first it was thought he had Cushings Disease, but now the diagnosis has been changed. Celtic has been afflicted with SARDS (Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome). A few weeks prior to the sudden blindness, he began to gain weight and develop an unquenchable thirst, all textbook symptoms of SARDS.
Because both of Celtic’s owners work away from the house during the day, and we do the majority of our toiling from a home office, we began to provide daily walks and treats when they first got him. To date, we have spent over a decade getting to know his every move, to realize that he’s a terrible watchdog, that he loves to dive into snowbanks, that he has a penchant for getting his leash totally tangled around trees, and that he’s lovable nevertheless. So we noticed right away when he was banging into our legs, hitting the rubbish can head first, and sometimes walking into walls in his own home.
Unlike humans, animals adapt so much more easily and don’t dwell on things. Now when Celtic goes headlong into a paper box, he stops, shakes it off, and looks in my direction as if to say, “I meant to do that.” And he has learned to navigate his own home with little trouble. The problem, then, is not with him, but with humans. I have had several people ask me, “Aren’t the owners going to put him down?” Rubbish! Why would you euthanize a perfectly wonderful family member who is not sick? He still eats with a voracious appetite, doesn’t foul the footpath indoors, still obeys only when he feels like it, and still takes great delight in sniffing every bush, tree, flower, trash can, and anything else we encounter on our walks. He especially gets a kick out of stopping frequently to do this when we’re in a hurry, when it’s pouring rain, or when it’s below zero. So, no, when a dog loses his sight, he does not lose his sense of humor.
All of us have a blind spot. It’s that thing that we often refuse to “see” or accept, but Celtic has no blind spot. Since losing his sight, he has taught me more than any human ever could. He has taught me to walk a bit more slowly, to take time to stop and smell not just the roses, but any damned thing he wants me to smell. He has taught me to cock my head and be aware of oncoming traffic still a distance away, airplanes overhead, or approaching animals or people.
Celtic has given me an appreciation for the other senses we have and has shown by example that if one doesn’t work so well anymore, there’s always another. Dogs do not have eyesight as sharp as humans to begin with; they generally rely more on what they can hear and smell, so this condition seems to only be a problem to humans, who somehow feel that he is no longer whole. Helen Keller opined that the only thing worse than being blind was to have sight, but no vision. It’s been more than 11 years that we have shared daily walks, and Celtic has never lost his vision of what a neat place our little piece of geography is.
He’s still that low-to-the-ground, brown dog with the stubby legs, the pot belly, and a real joy for living. So when we go out for our walk, there are still six legs ... my two tall, skinny ones, his four chubby, short ones, and he still insists on taking the lead, showing me his little piece of earth and begging me to stop walking into walls and take time to appreciate it.
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 17 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-539-7762.