Basenji Companions

Devoted to Basenjis as Pets

My Good Boy Corey is Blind

By Betsy Polglase, Massachusetts

Corey has been 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 only 7 years old.

I felt bad that I didn’t pick up on it earlier, but he had coped so well that I am 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 is 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:

  • I take him out in the front on the flexi-lead because he tends to head straight for the dog house in the back and not do anything. (He’s probably scared to get off the “known” path.)
  • We talk to him much more and identify folks who are near him
  • I’ve started working on blind-specific commands: “step up, step down,” “wait,” and “look out!” and “Come–come– come–come–come–sit front!” which guides him to us like a verbal beacon
  • I don’t move the furniture or leave stray things lying around.
  • I enrolled him in the PRA screening and blood-drawing clinic for PRA at the Basenji Club of America National Specialty on September 25 in Warwick, RI, to aid Cornell’s ongoing genetic marker research.

Corey has memorized the entire house and yard and seems to navigate them surprisingly well. However, he occasionally bumps things, gets disoriented and sometimes agitated when he misjudges distances. He seems to deliberately brush up against things occasionally to figure out where he is.

He has had a problem of attacking his running mate, Sheba, when she suddenly came up on him. I’m sure he can’t see her and suddenly goes into “defense” mode. I have 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 seems to have stopped most of the startle-snarking from Corey because of intrusive “run-ups” or bumping into each other.

Sometimes Corey follows Sheba out in the back yard from the sound of the bell–a “guide dog Basenji,” if you will. I’ve been taking the two of them across the street on a long coupler for a short walk in the tall grass so that they can smell the smells. Sheba tows him along like a little tugboat.

I may even wear a bell with a different timber to it around my ankle when we walk in unfamiliar places so that he will know where I am.

Corey seems to respond the best if I treat him normally and speak to him in the same voice that I speak to all the other dogs. I think I could turn him into an invalid if I babied him too much.

I got him a brand new cuddle bed, and he loves that (doesn’t want to come out of it…) I also got a couple of toys which work like a charm: a Goodie Gripper, which I ordered from New England Serum. (1-800-637-3786)—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’ve been loading Corey’s up and leaving it in different places in the front hall for Corey to find. He LOVES it, and finds it every time. In fact, he’s “on” to me, and every time I dig into the cookie box, he starts rooting around in the front hall trying to find his Goodie Gripper. I’ll have to get sneakier…

The other toy is the Buster Cube. You load it up with kibble (I use his Innova Senior dog food because he’s getting a bit porky). Corey has been bashing it all around the front hall to get at his “kibbies.”

Taking him out on the Flexi-lead out front of the house has 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 finds his way around sometimes by feeling–brushes up against things or feels them under foot. That’s how he follows the fence out back and finds his “pee tree.” He’s also found a “pee weed,” which we never cut, growing along the side of the tarmac out back. He follows the path to the tarmac square and turns right. There it is!

Corey found his second calling (his first calling is “family greeter” at the front door). He is now “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…

These 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.

Article copyright © 2001 by Betsy Polglase.
All rights reserved.

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