Devoted to Basenjis as Pets
By Betsy Polglase, Massachusetts, (updated 2013)
Corey was diagnosed as being totally blind in both eyes from P.R.A. (Progressive Retinal Atrophy), one of our breeds’ “big baddies.” There is no treatment and no cure. He’s was only seven years old.
I felt bad that I didn’t pick up on it earlier, but he had coped so well that I was truly humbled by it. The thing which clued me in was that he came running through the kitchen heading out into the front hall and crashed into the kitchen gate which is normally left open. With sight he couldn’t have missed it.
I sat him down and did some simple things like bringing a cookie from side to side, and he didn’t follow it. I brought my finger up near his eyes, and he didn’t flinch. Immediately I made an appointment for a preliminary exam with my vet, who has all the proper equipment and is sharp as a tack on eye problems.
He was blind. My good boy Corey–Champion, Field Champion (fastest lure coursing Basenji I ever ran), and registered Therapy Dog who went to the hospital to visit Don when he was so ill a few years back. I was heartbroken.
We immediately started readjusting our lives to having a blind dog:
Corey memorized the entire house and yard and seemed to navigate them surprisingly well. However, he occasionally bumped into things, got disoriented and sometimes agitated when he misjudged distances. Occasionally, he seemed to deliberately brush up against things to figure out where he was.
He had a problem of attacking his running mate, Sheba, when she suddenly came up on him. I’m sure he couldn’t see her, and he suddenly went into “defense” mode. I put a breakaway cat collar on Sheba with a bell on it, and Nick Russell kindly made me a lovely velcro-closing collar to fit with a bell. This seemed to have stopped most of the startle-snarking from Corey because of intrusive “run-ups” or bumping into each other.
Sometimes Corey followed Sheba out in the back yard to the sound of the bell—she was a “guidedog Basenji,” if you will. I took the two of them across the street on a long coupler for a short walk in the tall grass so that they could smell the smells. Sheba towed him along like a little tugboat.
I considered wearing a bell with a different timber to it around my ankle when we walked in unfamiliar places so that he would know where I am, but I never really had to do that – he seemed to be able to identify me by my voice and the sound of my footsteps.
Corey seemed to respond the best if I treat him normally and spoke to him in the same voice that I spoke to all the other dogs. I think I could have turned him into an invalid if I had babied him too much.
I got him a brand new cuddle bed, and he loved that (didn’t want to come out of it…) I also got a couple of toys which work like a charm: a Goodie Gripper, a hard, nontoxic rubber toy that is shaped like a space ship. Depending on the model, it has one to three star-shaped holes in each side, and you can wedge dog cookies or munch liver treats into them, and the dog has to work like crazy to get them out. (It would also be good for dogs who have to be alone all day.)
I loaded Corey’s up and left it in different places in the front hall for Corey to find. He LOVED it, and found it every time. In fact, he’s began to be “on” to me, and every time I dug into the cookie box, he started rooting around in the front hall trying to find his Goodie Gripper. I had to get sneakier…
The other toy was a Buster Cube. You load it up with kibble (I used his Senior dog kibble because he was getting a bit porky). Corey bashed it all around the front hall with gay abandon to get at his “kibbies.”
Taking him out front on a Flexi-lead helped enormously. The security of the walkway out front and the confines of the attached flexi seem to allow him to troop all around and smell “his rabbit” and all the bushes, sniff the air, listen to the traffic and sounds of the Canadian Geese and the people across the way at the ice cream stand.
He found his way around sometimes by feeling–brushing up against things or feeling them under foot. That’s how he followed the fence out back and found his “pee tree.” He also found a “pee weed,” which we never cut, growing along the side of the tarmac out back. He followed the path to the tarmac square and turned right. There it was!
Speaking of weeds, we trimmed all of the ones at eye level which might poke him in the eye because he couldn’t see them
Corey found his second calling (his first calling was “family greeter” at the front door). He became “chief chaser of birds out of arborvitae bushes”. He got up on his hind legs and was very intent on chasing every last one of them out of HIS bushes! He was pretty successful, too. It is comforting to know that we will never be attacked by renegade sparrows…
Once he confronted a skunk out back and got sprayed in the face for his troubles. Did he come running in for comfort? Heck no – he went right after the skunk again and got sprayed again. Sigh.
These blind dogs are amazing to observe. Someone reminded me that in dogs the scent glands are far more acute than the visual centers anyway, so what makes a dog’s life rich is all the smells in the world. Some sage said, “The ground to a dog is like a big Gothic novel–they read it page after page…”
Speaking of scent–I got some free scratch and sniff stickers from a company who wanted me to subscribe to a kids’ magazine. I promptly stuck two of them on the corners of the chair in the kitchen at nose height. He hasn’t bumped into the chair since I put them on. I also put down mats on the kitchen floor to guide him to his food and water bowls.
Blind Corey lived with us another five years, crossing the Rainbow Bridge in June of 2002, just shy of his 12th (summer) birthday. I still miss him.