Special Needs Dogs – Early Age Cataracts

Molly’s Story – Partially Sighted Puppy Farm Dog

    Molly is an English Cocker Spaniel who was born in August 2002 in a Welsh puppy farm.  When the puppies’ eyes opened it was apparent that three of the litter had eye problems and the puppy farmer decided to dispose of them.  It was from here that fortunately three little pups found their way to a rescuer and made the journey to Devon for rehoming.  The three pups were reared from 4 weeks old in a foster home, near to the rescue centre (Animals in Distress, Ipplepen).
    The puppies had cataracts that are common in cockers and particularly common in puppy farmed dogs where the mothers have not been cared for properly during pregnancy and when feeding and caring for their pups in an unsanitary environment.  Molly had one underdeveloped eye and there is white scarring on the inside of both her eyes (as opposed to lens clouding cataracts) – it looks like white paint has been splattered on her pupils and iris.  In addition, Molly’s front paws are not correctly formed and she only has three full toes, the fourth is shrivelled and her claw grows into her foot if not trimmed frequently.
    Molly’s eye problems were the most severe of the three puppies, so she was the last to be rehomed.  I met her with my dad at the foster home, our previous and much-loved springer spaniel had sadly died in September 2002 of heart disease and we were considering a new dog member of the family.  Upon meeting Molly, you would never have guessed there was anything wrong with her – she bounded over to us, grabbed my trouser leg and gave it a good tug!   When I picked her up (she was tiny) she grabbed my woolly hat off my head, then ran off with it when I put her down and gave it a good ragging – a sign of things to come.  My dad and I were smitten and resolved to convince the rest of the family she was the dog for us.
    The rescue went through Molly’s condition with us, as she was so young it was impossible to know how bad her eyes would be as she grew – we were told to prepare for total blindness and to read up on living with a blind dog.  My dad had actually owned blind dogs before, so we felt we could cope and went about setting up the house safely for her – with no jutting objects to crash into and nowhere she could fall off.  We were told she may never be able to go off the lead on walks and that she might always need a level of guidance.
    We brought her home after she’d had all her injections at 16 weeks old, from day one she was definitely not nervous and was a little tornado in the house! She was a normal, bouncy pup.
    As Molly grew there were only a few times when her poor eyesight was noticeable, she occasionally bumped into things and she could only follow a ball if it was rolled along the ground a short distance – but she could grab a stuffed toy and tug it pretty well.  It is estimated that she ended up with about 10-15% vision in the ‘good’ eye, the other is totally useless, but dogs have such good noses and ears that she could compensate.
    Molly has lived her entire life in Devon, with daily walks across Dartmoor.  She has run free on most walks from a young age, has run 10miles alongside a bicycle, loves to swim and play tuggy and is to all intents and purposes, totally normal.  She is a confident, happy dog who has been a dream to own and has absolutely stacks of character.  She grew into a trustworthy, well behaved little dog who is pretty bombproof with everything – she is not fazed by much at all and has even gone along to fireworks displays and not batted an eyelid. Nobody has ever guessed she is disabled and most people are shocked when we tell them she is almost blind, in fact we usually forget that too.
    Her eyesight problems do show in a few issues such as:
    • She can’t always see how other dogs approach her, so if she is startled she will sometimes react with a warning bark to tell the other dog to leave her alone.
    • She likes to jump on people for a good sniff – she can’t see them so she uses her nose to investigate!
    • She has had a couple of eyesight related accidents.  She misjudged a jump off a rock (not a high one) once and hurt her shoulder and she also got bitten by an Adder when she trod on one without seeing it.
    • When she was younger she had a bit of an obsession with chasing her own shadow in low sunlight, we are told this is because that was when she could probably see the most as dark/light was very defined.
    • She can’t play fetch or anything that involves her needing to see a moving object – but she loves a good scent game! She’s got pretty good at identifying where a ball is when thrown into water just by its splash!
    • She can suffer with eye soreness, especially in her underdeveloped eye, so occasionally she needs a bit of extra help with her eyes – viscose tears eye drops are kept in for her and if her eyes begin to look pink she is given some eye drops.
    Unfortunately now Molly is getting a bit older, we think her hearing is going a bit too.  She has recently been getting a bit confused after wandering ahead on a walk and will follow the wrong people – we have found that by putting our hands down for her to sniff, she knows who ‘her’ humans are and she can follow us.
    The costs of Molly’s problems have not been huge, her cataracts were inoperable so we have just lived with her problems – the main costs have been dealing with her occasional eye infections, and buying viscose tear eye drops to keep her eyes moistened.  Insurance however, would not cover eye problems she was born with.  Apart from injuries and accidents that can befall any dog, Molly has been pretty robust and needed little veterinary attention beyond the basics in the 10 years she has lived with us.
    Would we do it again? Absolutely. Dogs are remarkably resilient at coping with a disability, especially if they’ve never known any other way.  Molly is proof that dogs really don’t need good eyesight to have a happy, fulfilling life. It has not affected her quality of life nor the pleasure she has provided an entire family as a pet.
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