Looking For Love with All the Senses
By Elana Scherr | Photography By Brandon Lajoie
“She loves snacks,” Katrina says, giving Nala a chin scratch. “She can follow her nose to exactly where the food is.” It was snacks, actually, that first led Katrina to worry about Nala’s vision. When the pandemic sent everyone home from their offices, Katrina noticed Nala would occasionally trip over items left out of place. She wondered about her eyesight, and to test it, asked Nala to play one of their favorite games, throwing a treat up in the air for Nala to catch. Nala couldn’t do it like she used to, and after a vet visit and a referral to a dog optometrist, Nala was diagnosed with advanced glaucoma. In dogs, as in humans, glaucoma is a buildup of fluid behind the cornea. It can be caused by disease, injury, or genetics, and it can happen slowly, or almost overnight. It’s not easy to recognize the signs of oncoming blindness in dogs, because they are so skilled at navigating with their other senses.
Some viewers have questions about life with a dog who can’t see. Nala was unusually young when she lost her eyes, but some level of vision impairment is common as dogs age, and most dog owners will eventually deal with a dog who can’t see as well as they used to. Because Nala had been blind before her surgery, Katrina says her adjustment wasn’t difficult. They do pay attention to what they leave lying around on the floor, and because Nala likes to jump on furniture, if they make any big rearrangements, they’ll walk her through a couple times so she can learn the new layout. “At most it takes her a day to remember,” Joseph says, pointing out that Nala not only knows their home, but their in-laws’ as well. Katrina adds that she encourages visitors to make a little noise or hold their hand in front of Nala’s nose before petting her so as not to startle her, but that’s good advice for meeting any dog. “We let her set the pace, do her own thing,” says Katrina, who encourages anyone concerned about adopting a dog with impaired vision to go right ahead and enjoy it. “I wish I could rescue all the disabled and senior dogs. There’s no reason to overlook a dog with a vision problem, they aren’t any different than a sighted dog. They take patience and love and they respond to it and have a great life.”