Adjusting in the Dark

by Andrea Cordle, Columbus Messenger

Sometimes the eyes say it all. I never realized just how much I communicate with my dogs through eye contact. I didn’t realize this until it could no longer happen.

My 11-year-old dachshund, Frankie, went blind a couple months ago. He was diagnosed with SARDS, (Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome) or sudden blindness. He sees nothing, or so I was told by an ophthalmologist.

Frankie loved to sit outside in the sunshine, like it calls to him. I would go outside to call him in and he would turn his head and give me this look with his eyes that said, “Please! I’m busy. Go away.” Then he would turn his face back to the sun, effectively dismissing me.

We used to go for walks and he would walk way in front of me. Occasionally, he would turn around and make eye contact with me. His message was clear – hurry up!

Frankie challenged me with his eyes and showed annoyance. Of course he also conveyed joy and affection with his big, brown hound dog eyes. Most pet parents know that look. When human and animal make eye contact and convey one message – I love you.

All of this has been taken from me and Frankie because of this disease. Quite honestly, it greatly upsets me.

I have had to watch Frankie try to adjust to life in the dark. I have watched as my once lively, active and ornery dog has become a shell of his former self. I used to spend so much time trying to keep Frankie out of trouble. He got into everything. He always kept me on my toes and I struggled to keep up with his high energy.

Now, Frankie seems confused. I can only imagine. All of his life, he could see his world and all of the sudden, it’s gone. And there is nothing I can do about it, which is a hopeless feeling. Plus, anyone who knows anything about dachshunds know they are stubborn and set in their ways. This has not been easy for Frankie.

My dog spends most of his time in his safe space – the couch in the living room. He is able to find it. Frankie gets so easily disoriented and ends up butting his head in the corner. He is not confident going up or down stairs. He can no longer look at me in the face to let me know he has to go outside. Now, he whines and whimpers when he wants something. The most disturbing thing is that he has been having an occasional anxiety attack.

I cannot help but feel bad for him. I know I am supposed to be calm and confident so that he feels more confident and believe me, I try my best. But I am human and seeing Frankie struggle with this is heartbreaking. I find myself snuggling up to him and telling him how sorry I am that this happened.

It is also a challenge caring for a blind dog, which I learned quickly. I have put gates up so he cannot fall down the stairs, but I am his eyes. I have to guide him with my voice and my touch. Sounds easy, but it’s really not – not when you are used to a dog who could just see where he was going. Apparently, you are not just supposed to pick up a blind dog. This disorients him, so I have to get him to where he wants to be. This takes a lot of patience, which is something I sometimes lack. For example, to get Frankie up, outside and back in to eat breakfast takes about 20 to 30 minutes. I try to get him out for walks. What used to take us 15 minutes, now takes closer to an hour. He walks so slowly because he is not sure about where he is going.

However, I cannot help but be inspired by my little wiener dog. His life has been turned upside down, but he still tries. He still wants to go for a car ride and go to the park for a walk. He walks super slow, but he’s still going. The other day, my sister had Frankie and I was walking ahead with my other dog, Meeko. I called to Frankie and he tilted his head and looked at me. I know he could not see me, but for that moment, it looked as if he was looking in my eyes again. Luckily, I had on sunglasses so no one could see my tears. Yes, tears of sadness, but also of admiration. He is trying so hard to adjust to his new world.

And he still loves the sunshine. He will lay outside for hours and just feel the warm sun. That is comforting to know the darkness can never take away Frankie’s sunshine.

Andrea Cordle is editor of the Southwest and Westside Messenger.