Basenji Companions

Devoted to Basenjis as Pets

The Princess, PRA & Me

By Sue Wilcox, Secretary of the Basenji Club of Canada (2001)

July 8, 1997 will always be PRA Day to me. This was the day Carita, our princess, was officially diagnosed as being afflicted with PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy). My suspicion that something was not quite right with her vision, was confirmed. I no longer had the luxury of hoping I was wrong. It was fact! Carita, our little princess, would in all likelihood end up blind! PRA, as the name implies, is progressive so now our feet would begin walking on a sadly dimming path. There is no treatment and there is no cure.

PRA can strike the young although generally it strikes the older dogs. Carita, our princess, is nine years old now but we’ve no idea for how long this may have been coming on before we became suspicious. Basenjis are marvelous at compensating for things!

Our first clue that there might be a visual problem came when the Princess stopped charging out the door to the yard but instead hesitated at the top of the three steps. Bird/squirrel alert or not, she hesitated but only in late afternoon or early evening. Difficulties with ‘night vision’ is a main indicator of PRA in Basenjis. Carita was ‘grumping’ at any dog that ventured near her, including her brother. Definitely, something wasn’t right in her world. Something wasn’t … she was going blind.

Notification of her breeders and others concerned was heartbreaking. PRA is genetically inherited so this sad news would affect a lot of folks. For Carita to be afflicted, both parents would have had to be involved so the repercussions on both bloodlines would be felt.

One year later, we’re still learning to cope. We’ve a bright, quartz halogen light for the backyard at night. We leave lights on in rooms the princess will likely be in and in the hallways. We talk to her a lot, to warn her of obstacles or the approach of another dog. She goes “walkies” on a brace lead with her brother in the hopes that when/if her vision deteriorates, she’ll be comfortable and secure enough to still enjoy “walkies.” We use simple words to clue her along such as “step up,” “step down,” “wait,” “left,” “right,” “careful,”etc. We take things one day at a time.

Carita has always been a rather intrepid little soul and loves her walks, she’s loves to sniff, sniff, sniff. Its said that dogs tell much more about their world from what they sniff then from what they actually see. I dearly hope so!

We don’t rearrange the furniture anymore, she knows where everything is. The grooming stand [the roost] stays home unless Carita is going with us, as it is one of her favorite spots to lay.

Our bushes are trimmed so she won’t get poked by a branch and the ruts will stay worn in the lawn. We won’t make the pages of “Better Homes and Gardens” but the Princess still has her kingdom to enjoy. We cope, one day at a time.

Dr. Aguirre and Dr. Acland of Canine Genetics & Reproduction, James A. Baker Institute for Animal Health, Cornell University in New York are working very hard to find the DNA marker so that a test for this devastating disease can be made available. With this type of test, breeders could better plan a strategy to breed away from this dread disease. Carita is part of this study as are her mother and brothers.

Article copyright © 2001 by Sue Wilcox. 
All rights reserved.

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