About two weeks ago, I got a text from Cathy Bissell of the Bissell Pet Foundation. It was a photo of a blind, deaf, 14-year-old Boxer named Duke. His family had let him wander away from home, and now he was sitting in a kennel at Kent County Animal Shelter, confused and afraid.
Cathy wrote, “I thought of you.”
Friends, you can already guess how this story ends!
I get sent a LOT of adoptable dog photos. There’s not a Boxer up for adoption that doesn’t get sent my way. But there was something about Duke—the sadness in his face and the way his paws seem to be gripping the ground for stability—that made me write back, “I can take him.”
“He needs me,” I texted. “And I need him.”
A couple of hours later, Duke and I had each other.
I was not looking for a fourth dog. Three was more than enough. But there was just something about this particular moment in time and this particular dog that made me think, “I can do this.”
Of course, later that day—when a blind, intact, skinny, smelly, lumpy dog with diarrhea and one eyeball popping out of his head tumbled out of the car and onto my lawn—I panicked and thought, “I can’t dooooo this!”
I’ve never had a blind dog before, and I let this poor guy bump into everything I own for the first couple of days. He had this incessant drive to keep moving, and even when he smashed into something, he’d just turn his body a different direction and keep going. I had expected a 14-year-old blind dog to just…stay still. I mean, that’s what I would do if I were in a strange place and three other dogs were surrounding me, telling me I didn’t belong.
But he never stopped moving. He always had to be on leash because he would just walk toward the brightest light and keep on walking. After a few days, I learned how to keep him from bumping into things. He learned the house and the backyard. And we got the house Duke-proofed enough so that he could be safe.
It was only after a week or so, when he started slowing down, that I realized why he kept moving. He was trying to go home.
After living with his family for 10 years (and another family for four years before that), and giving them nothing but a dog’s love, he had been kicked to the streets for going blind and needing too much attention. His family knew he was picked up as a stray, they knew he was in a shelter, and they refused to come get him. They didn’t want Duke, but Duke still wanted them.
Despite all the attention and love I was pouring into Duke, he would have left me in a heartbeat that first week. I was not his person, and he wanted to go home. He was constantly trying to find the way out. It wasn’t until he stopped trying to walk away that I realized how much he missed his people. There came a day when he finally relaxed, when he seemed at ease, and when he stopped walking away. He slept deeply. He cuddled. And I saw more of his true personality than I’d seen before.
About the same time, I got him to his first vet appointments. For his age, he is remarkably healthy. (He seems more like a 10-year-old dog. If you’ve seen previous posts where I said he was 10, it’s because that’s what my vet and I thought. But his former family has since reiterated that they are certain he’s 14.) He has one eye with a severe cataract, and one eye that was extremely swollen. Everyone thought the swollen eye would have to be removed, but it turned out to be early-stage glaucoma and so far it has responded very well to treatment. That eye even has about 15% sight left, so I want to do what I can to keep it healthy and pain-free. Incredibly, all he needs right now is eye drops twice a day.
Eye drops twice a day. A neuter and a good dental would be helpful, too. But that is all such basic care. Just your basic level of health care if you’re going to commit to having a dog. For as much love as Duke gave his family, it makes me sad that he didn’t receive that love back. I don’t know their story and I have no doubt that he was treated well—he’s very trusting, loving and well-behaved, which is a testament to that—but I can’t wrap my head around the idea that senior dogs are somehow disposable. At his age, I don’t know if I’ll have Duke for days or for years, but I will be with him until the very end. And he’ll be in my heart for eternity after that. It just isn’t part of my operating manual to do anything less.
That’s not to say that I’m any type of hero or saint for adopting a blind, deaf, senior dog. I will be honest, I was a bit surprised by the reactions when I first posted about his adoption on Facebook and Instagram. What I expected is that people would say some form of “Are you CRAZY???” or just say nothing at all. But the world is sweeter than we sometimes give it credit it for, and the responses were overwhelmingly positive. There was a lot of “You have such a big heart!” and “You’re a wonderful person!”
But I want to be very clear: I needed Duke as much as Duke needed me. This was not a completely selfless act, even if I wasn’t exactly sure what I would be gaining from it. It was a very intuitive decision. As I said in the beginning, people send me Boxers up for adoption all the time. I knew in my gut, in an instant, that Duke was meant to be with me. I knew he had lessons to teach me, I knew he would help me grow as a person and as a dog mom, and I knew that this was the particular time in my life when I could do this.
I did do a quick reality check by crunching some numbers, thinking through the consequences, and getting the kids’ blessings and cooperation. But my intuition on this was very clear, and I am convinced that Duke is adding as much to my life as I can add to his. He is teaching me lessons about life, love, patience, intention, intuition and so much more. I will be writing a lot more about Duke as his personality unfolds and as he continues to teach me what I need to learn.
And here’s one of the BEST things I’ll be writing about: Duke has transformed Georgia! They either are in love, or she has become his seeing eye dog, or a little bit of both. She is a different dog since Duke has come home. She’s always had a lot of anxiety and was always kind of the odd dog out, since Tyler and Lily were totally bonded before she arrived. But now she has a job and a constant companion. This is absolutely fascinating to me, so get ready for lots of heart-bursting stories as this situation unfolds! I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Duke as much as we have.
In the meantime, if you are a blind-dog mom, tell me what I need to know! What are your favorite tips and tricks? Is there anything a blind dog can’t do? I’d love to have you leave a comment below or post on social @thehappydogmom.