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Behind the Scenes at a Service Dog Eye Exam

We visited a veterinary ophthalmologist to see an uncommon breed of service dog get a free eye exam.

 |  May 21st 2012  |   4 Contributions


Service dogs need their eyes even more than standard pet dogs do. Vision may not be a dog's keenest sense, but for dogs with jobs -- like guide dogs, handicapped assistance dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, and military/police dogs -- having healthy eyes is crucial.

That's why this month, the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) is holding its fifth annual ACVO/Merial National Service Dog Eye Exam Event. All around the U.S. Canada, and Puerto Rico, thousands of eligible service animals are heading to veterinary eye specialists for free eye exams More than 10,000 dogs and other service animals have participated in the event since its inception.

Dogster caught up with a stunning service dog and his devoted owner, who were participating in the program for the first time. 

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Pierre Lessard puts dilating eyedrops in Echo's eyes in the waiting room. Most people let the staff do this, but Echo prefers letting Lessard handle this. (Lessard himself is a veterinarian, so he knows what he's doing!)

When I got to Veterinary Vision in San Francisco, I met Pierre Lessard, a smart, kind, engaging man who has been living with multiple sclerosis for more than a decade. It turns out he himself is a veterinarian, but does not specialize in eyes. He's working only on a part-time consulting basis because of his condition. A service dog adviser had recommended he bring his dog, Echo, in for an eye check.

Echo is an Alaskan Malamute, and a show stopper. He's huge, fluffy, gorgeous, and completely dedicated to Lessard -- looking at him frequently, leaning lightly against Lessard's leg when Lessard is sitting, often resting his head on Lessard's foot. To make it easier on his 17-month-old dog and staff, Lessard put the dilating eyedrops in Echo's eyes and we waited.

I lucked out meeting these two, and found out some fascinating things about them while the drops took effect. I'll be doing another story soon on them, and on an excellent organization Lessard has founded.

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Veterinary ophthalmologist Gwendolyn Lynch gets to know her four-legged patient.

In the exam room, veterinarian Gwendolyn Lynch made friends with Echo and then checked out the mellow Malamute's beautiful brown eyes for abnormalities.

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Echo is a young guy, but Lynch did a thorough check anyway.

Even when she shone a bright light from a special examination instrument into his dilated eyes, he just sat there, putting up with the odd sensation with the utmost of grace and patience.

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Echo's eyes were still dilated after his exam, but that didn't affect his ability to catch a quick snooze before heading home.

Back in the waiting room, Echo took a snooze before heading back to the car. His eyes had checked out perfectly.

Sadly, not all working dogs get a clean bill of eye health. And if problems are found, treatments are far from free. Of course it's good to know about eye problems, but many people with disabilities can't afford expensive vet bills. I wish there were a provision that would help alleviate some of the burden for these patients. Maybe next year?

For information on registering a qualified working dog for the exam next year (the application period has ended for this year), go to the ACVO eye exam website.

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