With the overwhelmingly large number of dogs who come into shelters every day all over North America, it’s no surprise that it does not take much for many of these dogs to be deemed “unadoptable” and euthanized immediately. Dogs who are ill, injured, old, or suffering from any sort of handicap top the list of unadoptables, and their fate is usually sealed within days or even hours of arriving at animal control.
Fortunately, there are more and more rescue groups being created to try and save the unadoptables.
Rescue groups like Blind Dog Rescue Alliance (BDRA) a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) which was created after Karen Belfi adopted a blind husky mix, Ray Charles, off of Petfinder and realized just how many other blind dogs were out there that would fall through the cracks of breed specific rescues. She joined an email list for blind dog owners, and then with the help of others on the list, started BDRA in August of 2009.
Since its creation, BDRA has rescued more than 300 dogs and the volunteer network has grown to more than 100 people all over the United States and Canada (and even one in New Zealand). It is also one of the only rescues in North America specialized in fostering, rehabilitating and rehome blind and visually impaired dogs.
Regardless of how these dogs find themselves in shelters — as strays, owner abandons, or victims of abuse and neglect — they are almost always euthanized before ever being placed up for adoption, to leave room for dogs that are seen as more easily adoptable.
But Belfi is quick to defend blind dogs and believes they are far from being unadoptable and make wonderful pets.
“People have a lot of preconceived notions, I think, about blind dogs,” she says. “They think they can’t adopt one because they have stairs, or they will be an only dog, or because they don’t have a fenced-in yard. But you can’t make any assumption; they are just as individual as any other dog.”
And while any dog can be affected by blindness or visual impairement, certain breeds such as the Siberian Husky are more prone to such issues.
“Siberian Huskies can have an eye disorder called PRA — progressive retinol atrophy,” Belfi explains. “Poor breeding does cause more blind dogs as [irresponsible and backyard breeders] are not concerned about passing on inherited disease.”
Like any rescue group, BDRA has its share of successes and challenges. For Belfi, the fact that BDRA has grown so much and has been able to help so many dogs is really motivating.
“When we first formed,” she says, “we thought maybe we’d help 10 or so dogs a year. I think we took in about 30 dogs in the first four months.”
And because of just how many blind dogs are out there that need rescuing and fostering, Belfi is always faced with the challenge of never having enough volunteers or money in order to help as many as she’d like.
But in an effort to help make life even easier for some of the blind dogs who need new homes, BDRA will also work with willing owners who can no longer care for their pet by keeping the dog with the owners until a new permanent home has been found. “We try to do this when the owners are able to do so,” says Belfi. “It prevents the dog from moving first to a foster home, then to the forever home.”
Belfi herself adopted Pete, one of the blind dogs she had been fostering, and despite the happy ending to his story, the beginning is heart-breaking.
“Pete was found along a highway in South Carolina, afraid to move,” Belfi explains. “The Good Samaritans that found him thought that he had been hit by a car, but when they brought him to the shelter, they found out that he had been buckshot in the face and his eyes were so badly damaged that they needed to be removed.”
But today, Pete is healthy and happy and thriving at Belfi’s house.
“He has no idea he can’t see, and doesn’t let it slow him down for a second,” she says. “He can hear ANYTHING — just try opening the cheese drawer in the refrigerator without him hearing!”
And as a testament to just how well many blind dogs can adapt to different environments, when Belfi moved into a new house, Pete learned the entire layout — including the steps and the large backyard — in a matter of hours.
As BDRA continues to expand, Belfi says that they would love to one day have kennel space in order to house several blind dogs at once. The group would also like to keep getting the word out that blind dogs make great companions who are far from “unadoptable.”
Blind Dog Rescue Alliance’s motto says it: Blind Dogs See With Their Hearts.
All photos courtesy of Karen Belfi and Blind Dog Rescue Alliance’s Facebook page.
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About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix, a Garfield look-alike, and two needy Sphynx cats. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found blogging over at Crystal Goes to Europe.