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Seeing three large Akitas romping through the yard or snuggled up on the floor in a heap of multi-colored fur isn’t that remarkable. Until you realize that one of the trio is blind, and the other two are her eyes on the world.
Meet Kiaya, the 10-year-old black-and-white Akita from Waterford, Michigan. When she was adopted at 6 months of age by Jessica VanHusen, Kiaya’s eyesight was not an issue. She was just a normal, loving pup then. Jessica didn’t know much about the breed, but she quickly fell in love with this sweet girl who needed a home due to her previous owners’ circumstance. “I never thought she would become my soul mate,” Jessica said.
But that she did. Throughout the years, Kiaya and Jessica bonded, and Jessica realized how much she enjoyed the breed. Along came Cass, a tricolor Akita who was adopted through a rescue group as a sickly pup at 12 weeks of age. He’s now 8. Then, about a year and a half ago, Keller came to live with the pack. This cream Akita was adopted at 8 weeks old.
The three always got along well, but it wasn’t until something began going wrong with Kiaya that the trio bonded as tightly as they did. In late 2012, Kiaya started showing signs of optic pain, and she was diagnosed with glaucoma and uveitis in her left eye. After months of dedicated medical therapy and treatment, the eye was eventually removed.
Jessica continued to treat the right eye in hopes that glaucoma would not affect it. But it did. In the winter of 2014, Kiaya lost sight in her remaining eye, experiencing pain and discomfort. That fall, the eye was removed, and it was only then that she began to exhibit signs of her old, happy self again. “[She was] blind as a bat but happy,” Jessica said.
Almost immediately upon Kiaya’s loss of sight in just one eye, Cass stepped up to the plate. He always appeared bonded to Kiaya, and it intensified once Kiaya needed help. “He would walk on her blind side in the backyard when it was just her first eye that was the problem,” Jessica said.
At mealtimes, Cass leads Kiaya to the bowl and waits for her to begin eating. He leans up against her in the car to keep her steady. He is never far from her side. “He is that kind of dog — always taking care of everyone else,” Jessica said.
Keller came into the fold after Kiaya already began going blind, but he also forged a unique bond with her. While he’s still a pup and enjoys playing, he instinctively knows how rough to play with Kiaya and when to snuggle instead, Jessica said. He gives her that love of life only pups can bring. Despite being blind, Kiaya still has lots of playtime in her, thanks in part to Keller.
In fact, it’s nearly impossible to see one of the dogs without the other. They seem to travel in a pack of three, always with Kiaya protected and able to continue experiencing life in a safe, yet sightless, way. How did it happen like this? Did Jessica train them to assist her beloved Kiaya once her health started to fail? Not at all. Jessica chalks it up to plain and simple respect. “These dogs are my children, and everyone who knows me knows there is never a lack of love in this house,” she said. “But there are also boundaries and expectations. I never let them get away with poor behavior. I praise them when things are done well. They took my training and went from there. Good energy blooms more good energy, and this is proof of that.”
Seeing her dogs react so compassionately and watching as that compassion helps Kiaya bloom, makes Jessica confident that these dogs are doing more than just performing seeing eye dog duties. They are helping to influence everyone they come in contact with. They are showing that rescue dogs are extraordinary creatures worthy of second (or third or fourth) chances because they have so much to give.
And Kiaya, too, is a walking, breathing example of how people can take what life throws at them and either give up or trade up. “Kiaya has made a big impact on a lot of people,” Jessica said. “She is strong and stoic and determined. She is proof that when you have a good soul, karma comes back to you. She is sunny — and she lives in a totally dark world. That’s a beautiful lesson for everyone.”
Helen Keller had the first Akita in the United States. She always wrote about how incredibly loyal and attentive the breed is. Jessica couldn’t agree more.
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About the author: Kyra Kirkwood writes for many pet-related, food-centered, and entertainment-themed publications. When this California-based freelance writer isn’t working, she’s teaching college journalism classes, writing books, or enjoying the company of her husband, two young children, and special-needs rescue dog Ralph. Visit her website at kyrakirkwood.com, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.