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glaucoma

Blind Dog Living: 90 Days In

When Rosie lost her right eye to glaucoma and became a pirate pup in 2015, our doctor said it would only be a matter of time until the illness took her other eye. They said most glaucoma dogs lose their second eye within a year of the first one.

Rosie made it 3 years and 9 months.

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Day 1: Sudden Blindness

Monday, November 19, 2018 (the Monday before Thanksgiving): Rosie woke up blind. When we went for our morning walk, she stumbled when the surface of the ground changed from sidewalk, to gravel, to grass. That’s what tipped me off that she wasn’t just tired. Not that she could see much before then – between the glaucoma and her eye drops, Rosie’s view of the world was like looking through a straw after her first eye surgery.

I called our puppy ophthalmologist’s emergency number (it was before 6 a.m.). The doctor gave the go-ahead to give Rosie’s emergency meds and told me to make an appointment with our regular vet. I mixed glycerin with milk and slowly poured down Rosie’s throat with a big syringe. This dehydrated her and hopefully brought down the pressure in her eye.

How About Today?

I got an appointment with our vet just before noon where they confirmed what I already suspected: Rosie was blind. Her glaucoma had spread and the pressure in her right eye was too high. It needed to be removed.

I asked our vet if they had availability on the schedule to do Rosie’s surgery the next day. She went to the back to check the surgeon’s schedule. When the vet returned, she said, “How about today?”

At 12:30 that afternoon, I left Rosie in the trusted care of our vet where the same surgeon who did her first enucleation would be performing her second one. The hardest part was not being able to explain to Rosie what was about to happen. I couldn’t tell her, “These nice people are going to put you to sleep, and when you wake up, your head isn’t going to hurt anymore, but you’ll never see again.”

Support from the Blind Basset Community

One of the first people I reached out to after leaving Rosie was Daisy the Blind Snowflake – an all-white blind basset I knew from Instagram. Her mom told me that adapting to blindness is harder on the human than the dog and gave me some tips. That was reassuring.

Sarah and Thomas to the Rescue

I picked up Rosie from the vet at 8 that night. The vet tech was very sweet. She told me while Rosie was in recovery, it was just her and another dog in that area, neither one in a kennel or cages. At one point, Rosie randomly walked over to the other dog and gently bumped her head into them.

I snapped Rosie’s protective cone from her first surgery around her head, loaded her into the car, and drove her home. Newly blind and still groggy from surgery, she didn’t want to move much. When I unloaded her from the car, she refused to walk, even with a gentle tug on the leash.

I had a moment of mild panic. What was I going to do? I can lift my 68-pound dog, but I can’t carry her the 100ish feet from my parking spot to our condo. I immediately called my neighbors, Sarah and Thomas, who bolted over to help. Thomas scooped up my potato sack of a dog and carried her all the way to her bed.

It turned out, Rosie was freaked out by the cone. As soon as I unsnapped it, she was fine. I made her a deal that she could have breaks from it while I home, nearby, and awake, if she didn’t scratch at her stitches.

Day 2: Surreal

The day after surgery was surreal for me as I looked at my beautiful dog with her swollen purple eye and thought, “My dog is really blind. This isn’t going to change.”

She can’t see shapes. She can’t even see light. She literally has no eyeballs. Her world is dark.

There were some sad moments for me that day, but I found comfort in reminding myself that adapting is harder for me than Rosie. As I was experiencing these thoughts, she was comfortably relaxing on the lawn.

Day 5: You’re Killing Mommy

I often participate in Buy Nothing Day on Black Friday, but I had to make an exception. I was working in my home office, and Rosie was crashing around the living room in her cone.

Bang bang bang bang bang!

I try to be patient with Rosie, especially in times like this where she can’t help it, but the noise was making me insane. I think at one point I actually said, “Rosie, you’re killing Mommy.”

A quick run to Ryan’s Pet Supplies saved my sanity. I got Rosie a soft inflatable doughnut to replace her plastic cone. I think we were both happier for it.

Imperfect Navigation

Basset hounds are scent hounds. I figured navigating as a blind dog would be easy for Rosie. I was surprised to see her that she couldn’t beeline toward a scent.

For example, Rosie’s bowls are in the kitchen. You have to go around the counter to get to them. When she walks to meals, I have to watch to make sure she doesn’t walk into a chair that’s under the dining table. There’s plenty of navigation space. Sometimes she sniffs at her water bowl before realizing that her food bowl is next to it. Even though she has a top-notch sniffer, she’s still navigating in the dark.

Going for walks is a daily adventure for us. We switched to walking with her car harness after her second surgery – a suggestion from the vet tech. At first, it was like walking a marionette. I always have to be on the lookout to make sure she doesn’t inadvertently walk off a curb. When I let Rosie lead, she frequently walks in ovals in the parking lot. I’m not sure why she does that.

I learned that other owners taught their glaucoma dogs verbal commands for “right,” “left,” “slow down,” and “hard stop” while they still had some vision. Yeah . . . Rosie and I didn’t do that. She spent the last 4 years mostly being self-directed on our walks and often walked off-leash. Going back to wearing a leash has been quite the adjustment for her.

One thing I do during our walks is I let her bump into things. Not hard. When we’re approaching a car or a wall, if she wants to keep walking toward the solid object, I’ll slow her down and let her gently bump it. I figure she’s not going to learn how close things are without experiencing it.

Rules for Blind Dog Living

Here are some of the rules I’ve learned for living with a blind dog:

  1. Don’t move the furniture. (I’m not one of them, but apparently there are people who recreationally rearrange their furniture.)
  2. No clutter on the floor. Don’t leave things like shoes out where your dog can trip on them.
  3. Open doors slowly. You never know where your blind dog is on the other side. Your dog cannot tell how fast the door is moving and get out of the way.
  4. You can help your dog navigate by tapping on the floor or wall near where you want them to go.
  5. Protect your blind dog from approaching dogs. During our first week of blind living, a rambunctious dog came up too fast on Rosie. (He just wanted to play.) That was the moment I learned to step in front of Rosie to physically block her from fast approaching dogs. 
  6. Use a harness to walk your blind dog. You don’t want to pull at their neck.
  7. Use a “blind dog” leash.* Rosie has the leash and collar.* This way, anyone approaching us will see that she’s blind and be more thoughtful.
  8. Use scent-based play. We like to play hide-the-treat where I’ll hide pieces of dog treats in shoes, in her bed, behind doors, etc., where she has to sniff them out. Rosie also loves pushing around her Kong treat ball.*
  9. Give all other treats directly to the dog’s mouth. For dental sticks,* bully slices,* and Milkbones,* I hold one side of the treat near her face, and let her grab it with her mouth.

Day 90: Getting the Hang of It

I’m still getting used to having a blind dog. I’ve seen a big improvement in how well she navigates our condo and our complex. She’s gained a lot more confidence in the last few weeks.

She often sticks close to walls and furniture both when walking and laying down. Whenever she lays down at home or in the office, her butt or side is usually touching something. I think this gives her a sense of security about where she is. Whenever I’m looking for her, I scan the edges of the room.

One of the things that gives me the warm fuzzies is seeing her recognize familiar people and dogs. Her tail wags like crazy when she realizes she’s found a friend, sometimes followed by happy whines.

Over the last 90 days, Rosie and my lives have changed a lot. She doesn’t need eye drops anymore. We walk slower. I have to get out of her way, because she’s not getting out of mine. I try to be careful about scary noises like the food processor and vacuum.

On the flip side, a lot of things have stayed the same. Rosie is still my baby. She’s still as stubborn as ever, and probably now even more spoiled (as she should be).  

Paying it Forward to the Hounds

I adopted Rosie from the Arizona Basset Hound Rescue in 2012. Having this dog completely changed my life. I am beyond grateful to this rescue organization for saving her. Now we’re paying it forward to other hounds.

Rosie and I at the AZBHR Picnic 2014

Ruth and Rosie at the AZBHR Picnic – October 2014

Before they rescued her, Rosie was in rough shape. She had neglectful owners who didn’t notice that she had growths in her mouth that had to be surgically removed. I doubt they ever trimmed her nails because they got so long they curled under and were digging into the pads of her paws. Somewhere along the way, someone or something took a notch out of one of her floppy ears. How could anyone treat this dog so badly?

The Rescue got her out of that situation, provided the medical care she needed, and placed her with a foster family who showered her with love. I remember the day of our meet and greet. I took one look at Rosie and thought, “We’re done. That’s my dog.” It was love at first sight.

The Arizona Basset Hound Rescue cares for and places dozens of dogs every year. They even have “Angel Hounds” that are on adoptable due to medical reasons or other issues, but that the Rescue places with a foster family and cares for them for the rest of their lives.

Pirate Pup - March 2015

Pirate Pup – March 2015

I’m so grateful to this organization for taking care of Rosie, and I feel lucky that I haven’t had to flinch any time she’s needed medical attention. She’s been a bit of million dollar dog with a getting valley fever in 2013 and then glaucoma last year. I’m fortunate to be in a position that I can provide for all of her needs.  I feel that it’s the least we can do to help this Rescue care for other dogs in the same way.

Rosie and I will be walking with the Arizona Basset Hound Rescue in the Phoenix St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 12th to raise money for this organization. The rescue calls this event Waddle O’ the Green. This name is perfect because basset hounds’ spines are so long that their butts sway back and forth when they walk. One of Rosie’s nicknames is “Waddles.” We are well on our way to reaching our fundraising goal, and we would love it if everybody in our extended circle of loved ones could contribute to this cause.

Rosie has brought so much joy to my and other people’s lives. I feel this is the least we can do to pay it forward to the next hound that needs rescuing.

Dedicated to Making Rosie’s Life Awesome

Pirate Puppy - March 2015

Pirate Puppy – March 2015

Rosie and I had a follow up appointment with her doggie ophthalmologist a few days ago. It was mostly good news. On the upside, the pressure in Rosie’s remaining eye is well within normal range. Rosie will still be on 3 medications but we were able to reduce the frequency of some of her doses. I was encouraging; Rosie is such a trooper when it comes to taking her medications.

On the down side, our doctor reiterated that it will only be a matter of time until Rosie gets glaucoma in her left eye and she will go completely blind. I also learned that the medication that keeps the pressure in her eye down also gives her tunnel vision. The vet tech said the way Rosie views the world is like looking through a straw.

I didn’t realize Rosie’s vision was so limited, but that makes certain things make more sense. When my friend came over a few weeks ago, Rosie took longer than I expected to react to his presence. It wasn’t just that she had to see him with her good eye, she also had to get him within her limited field of vision.

Knowing that Rosie has limited vision and that she will eventually go blind makes me want to dedicate more energy towards making her life awesome. Staying within familiar places and making sure people and things are in front of her good eye probably gives her security but I also want to make sure she can experience all she can while she can. I hope I get the chance in the near-ish future to take her on a trip to the west coast so she can go to a dog beach.

I suspect if I knew I was going blind, that I would make it a priority to see and do certain things. I don’t know if Rosie knows she is going blind and she can’t tell me what’s on her “visual bucket list,” so the only things I can do is love her, be mindful of her limitations, and do my best to guess at what a basset hound would enjoy.

Rosie’s Schedule is My Schedule

Rosie my Beautiful Pirate Pup

Rosie my Beautiful Pirate Pup

For those of you who haven’t been following recent events, my basset hound Rosie was recently diagnosed with glaucoma in her right eye. Apparently it’s a common problem for this breed, particularly female bassets around age 6 or 7. (Rosie turned 7 in October.) When we couldn’t get the pressure in that eye to go down, we were forced to surgically remove it. She had already gone permanently blind in that eye so the surgery eliminated the pain caused by the glaucoma.

The surgery was a success and now I am the proud owner of a “Pirate Pup” as I like to call her. She’s been doing great since the stitches came out last week. Now that we’ve taken care of her right eye, our focus has shifted to making sure she maintains the vision in her left eye as long as possible.

Rosie is currently on 4 different eye drops. Two of them are available as a combination drug so we will be dropping down to 3 medications soon. Three of Rosie’s medications have to be administered every 8 hours. The other medication is a little more complicated – she has to get it every 12 hours, the second dose of the day has to be given by 6pm (according to her doctor glaucoma attacks are most likely to hit between 6pm and 10pm), and it has to be stored in the refrigerator. She also has an emergency glycerin kit. If she ever goes completely blind, I have to mix 50mL of glycerin with milk and pour it down her throat.

Footnote for my fellow science geeks: Potassium permanganate (KMnO4) + Gylcerin = Spontaneous purple flames. Neat Stuff!

So now Rosie’s schedule is my schedule. It’s pretty easy to stick to her medication schedule on the day she comes to work with me but I have obligations where she can’t come with me so for now she has morning medications at 6am and 8am before I head off to work, and then she gets medications at 4pm, by 6pm, and before I go to bed. If I ever want to go to bed early, I’ll have to set an alarm to wake me up at midnight for her last doses.

Did I mention each eye drop has to be given at least five minutes apart? Otherwise each medication won’t be absorbed properly. Lucky for me, Rosie is much better about getting eye drops than taking pills.

From what I can tell, this is going to be our schedule for the rest of her life or until better medication comes out or she loses the vision in her left eye. It’s an adjustment but I’m ok with that. I think we’re all on board with the program of making sure she can see for as long as possible.

Pirate Pup

Ruth & Rosie - October 2014; Photo by Julia Kolsrud

Ruth & Rosie – October 2014; Photo by Julia Kolsrud

A few weeks ago Rosie’s droopy basset eyes were droopier than usual – so much that the skin above her eyes covered her eyes completely and she seemed to be in pain. We went to the vet and her first concern was that Rosie’s valley fever was back. She drew blood and sent us home with some pain meds. Two days later when Rosie’s eyes weren’t better, the vet called us back in and determined that Rosie didn’t have a recurrence of valley fever. She had glaucoma. Rosie was completely and permanently blind in her right eye and the pressure in that eye was 90. (20 and below is normal; anything above 40 is painful.)

The vet put her on heavy duty IV medication that started to bring her eye pressure down. She sent us home with five new medications – one for pain, two for her right eye pressure, and two to maintain her sight in her left eye. We went back for a follow-up two days later, and when they checked her right eye pressure, it was back up to 80. At that point, I accepted that Rosie’s right eye served no function and was only causing her pain, so I scheduled surgery to remove it.

Rosie’s surgery day was pretty uneventful as surgery days go. I dropped her off at the vet early in the morning and headed to my office where I had scheduled myself a full day of meetings to keep my mind occupied. The vet called at 3pm to say the surgery was a success and that I could pick her up in an hour when she was a little less groggy.

Rosie is so cute when she’s gorked. They had to shave the hair around her right eye and put her in a cone to keep her from scratching at her stitches or bumping things with her sealed eye while it was healing. The cone makes Rosie’s head about three times its usual size. It’s so big she couldn’t jump into a car so I had to lift her 65-pound body into the backseat. She has to wear the cone until the stitches come out.

Rosie's First Night After Surgery

Rosie’s First Night After Surgery

Rosie is adjusting well to navigating the world in her cone. She learned the hard way the first night that when the cone bumps into something, stop walking. Poor thing yelped when she bumped her eye on a door frame. It took a few days for her to learn how to eat and drink with the cone – to drop the front edge low enough that she can reach the bowl with her mouth – and how to lift her head and cone when stepping up onto a curb. With her little legs, she often bumps the cone against the ground and she’s taken to using a scoop motion so she can smell the grass on our walks without getting stuck.

Thankfully she was allowed to come to work every day during the initial healing stage. She has medications that need to be administered every eight hours. It’s been interesting to watch the skin around her right eye turn dark purple-red with bruising.

Except for the stitches and the cone, Rosie has mostly returned to her old self. She wags her tail like mad when anyone gives her attention or when we go on our daily walks. She’s super alert and interested in the neighborhood dogs, though I have to keep them away from her face. It’s funny to watch her try to scratch her ear through the cone. (Yes, I scratch it for her.)

It’s been wonderful to see how concerned and loving everyone’s been during this time – both in real life and online. I was very touched when Rosie and I woke up on Saturday morning and saw that are neighbors had left a get well card and a bag of dog treats on our door. They have an American bulldog/Shar Pei mix that adores Rosie.

What’s next? The glaucoma will likely take the vision in Rosie’s left eye someday, and she is on medication to delay that. Her stitches will come out and she’ll be out of the cone in the middle of the month and then she’ll be my happy One-eyed Pirate Pup.

Rosie’s Seeing-Eye Person

I have a new job – being Rosie’s right eye.

Rosie Peacefully Snoozing - March 1, 2015

Rosie Peacefully Snoozing – March 1, 2015

Last week Rosie started showing signs of being in distress – panting, lethargy, and excessively droopy eyes (even by basset hound standards). Her eyes were so droopy that sometimes the upper skin hung over her eyeballs, essentially blinding her and making her look like a zombie. I had to be careful to make sure she didn’t accidentally step off curbs or walk into walls.

We went to the vet and their first thought was she was relapsing on valley fever. They took an x-ray, drew blood, gave us some pain meds, and sent us home. The x-ray didn’t show anything was obviously wrong. When Rosie didn’t bounce back after 36 hours, we headed back to the vet. During this visit, it was obvious to our vet that Rosie’s right eye appeared to be bulging out. She checked the pressure in that eye and it was 90 (normal is below 20). She started Rosie on IV medication to reduce the pressure and sent me to the pharmacy down the street to get prescriptions filled for various eye drops.

When I dropped off Rosie’s new medications, my vet told me that Rosie has glaucoma in her right eye. She is completely and permanently blind on her right side. The glaucoma hasn’t spread to her left eye yet, and hopefully the medication will prolong Rosie’s vision in her left eye and allow her to keep her right eye. Rosie is currently on 6 medications (4 eye drops and 2 pills) taken at 8-hour and 12-hour intervals – so I can’t be away from her for too long.

For now, my job is to be Rosie’s right eye, especially while she’s adjusting to her changed vision. I try to keep her on my left side when we’re taking a walk so her blind side is closest to me and I try to be extra careful when were near gravel or uneven walkways. Being partially blind puts Rosie at a disadvantage, but I hope she never feels that way. I try to keep her alert to what’s on her right side that she may not notice unless she turns her head.

Rosie’s pain seems to be much more manageable than it was a few days ago. My beautiful brown-eyed girl is sleeping soundly in my reading chair as I write this post, occasionally sighing and stretching in her sleep. All I want is for her to be comfortable and to know that she is loved. And that will never change even as her vision gets progressively worse.