As a young mother I had many of the same worries that we each have when we begin to raise a family. One of my main concerns was did I have what it would take to raise a disabled child. I feared I would fall short of the necessary skills to help a child of special needs meet their goals and live a happy life. God blessed me with two healthy children, and I am grateful each and every day that I was not faced with the challenge of raising a child that had extra obstacles to conquer. But when we began to rescue senior and special needs Dachshunds my ability to help these priceless creatures placed in my care was challenged every day. I learned very quickly to take each day as it comes. I tried not to worry so much about the long-term outlook but to concentrate on what I could do for my babies today.
Xera (blind and deaf double dapple) provided the first real test of my abilities to deal with afflictions that were life altering for her. She came to us from a background where her inabilities proved more than the former owners could overcome. Those of you who have read my book will recall the harrowing first twenty-four hours where my endeavors failed to comfort her. But as time passed, and we began to get to know this little spit-fire, our practices began to produce positive outcomes for her life. We taught her to go thru the doggie door by blowing on her thru the opening. Once she realized she could push that flap up there was no keeping her inside. Soon after that we discovered her love of plastic bottles. Before long she could run full force toward the doggie door with a gallon jug in her mouth and clear both sides of the opening as she took her new toy out to play.
Xera’s nose took the place of her eyes and once we began to contour our reactions to her needs by her olfactory prowess, we found very few things that we could not teach her. Her deafness was much more of an obstacle, and even after she had been with us for years I would still once in awhile call her out to stop an undesirable activity. Most of our special needs babies that are deaf did not live their entire lives with this affliction. Most of them could tell when we spoke to them thru the eye contact. Because Xera could not respond to the eye contact with us, many situations with her depended on physical touch. The lessons we learned from her helped to prepare us for the many challenges we were to face with other disabled babies.
Lexi came to us as a senior who had already lost her vision. Once she realized that her name was Lexi she responded quickly to our vocal commands. We had no way of knowing how long Lexi had been without her sight, but we soon discovered that her intellectual capacity is exceptional. She learned where the doggie door is by listening to the other babies use it. She learned when it was time to eat by the excitement and noise from the rest of the pack. Teaching Lexi has been a breeze.
But many of the babies I am asked to give advice for have just recently lost their sight, and some will no doubt try to shut down. They fear what was once familiar. That trepidation often causes inactivity to a level that is detrimental to their overall physical and emotional health. As doggie parents we try to compensate for the loss of one of our babies’ senses by doing more for them. We carry them more, we make sure that nothing is ever out of place for them, and we try to keep them from any situation that might expose them to difficulty. We take away the bewilderment, the contemplation, the need to study and discover new aspects of their lives.
Let’s stop and think for a minute what makes our healthy dogs happy. They love new sounds to bark at, they love new smells to sniff, they love new textures to roll in, and they love new environments with clues to the past that only they can decipher. When the variety of their lives is absent, their desire to live wanes.
My advice to all dog lovers who deal with a baby who has lost their eyesight is to continue to make their lives full of mystery. If they must be confined more to keep them safe, put an old shoe or a t-shirt that came from a friend in their pen with them. Confine them in an exercise pen rather than a crate. The pen can be moved to different areas to add to the variety of their days. In nice weather they might even be placed in a pen in a shaded area of the yard where they will still hear the birds, smell the grass, and bark when an ant farts! Hide their treats under another toy or a blanket. Put them in the car with the window down a bit and drive thru the countryside or around the dog park. Take them to the pet store and let them wander the isles where they will no doubt be flooded with smells of many other dogs that have walked those floors. Expose them to something new as often as possible
Bottom line is you have to work a little harder to fill their days with contrast. They will discover that the thrill of detection is still present in their world. They will unearth new reasons to be excited by their environment. They will learn that they have not lost their ability to be happy, active, and fulfilled. The old adage that a tired dog is a happy dog is so very true, and it especially applies to one who has suffered the loss of their eyesight. By adding variety to their lives we will see that their happiness truly will be an inside job.