In September 2011, Silvie Bordeaux noticed something was different about her 11-year-old Toy Poodle, Muffin.
“He was starting to get the white, cloudy look in his eyes, and my vet said that was due to his aging,” Bordeaux said.
A few months later, she started to see the implications of what that really meant.
“I took him to an ophthalmologist who had him do an obstacle course covering one eye, which he did OK at,” Bordeaux said. “Then he covered Muffin’s other eye, and my dog was bumping all over the place, obviously blind.”
It was a heartbreaking revelation.
“At this point, he was blind in one eye and could maybe see shadows in the other eye, but that was going to go soon as well,” she said. “I was told when dogs have cataracts, it is a slow decline to blindness, like a sunset, and then the lights go out for good.”
Bordeaux, who makes her living as a publicist in Los Angeles, considered her options, but putting Muffin down was not one of them.
“There are eye surgeries that can be done for about $6,000 for both eyes, but since Muffin had a heart murmur, I did not elect to risk his life with surgery unless it was a life or death situation,” she said.
That life-and-death situation soon arrived. In February 2012, Muffin had to go through exploratory surgery for a mass in his stomach. The vet made an accidental laceration in Muffin during the surgery, and Bordeaux almost lost her baby.
“The night of his emergency surgery, I went home and gathered many of Muffin’s clothes and toys, and I kneeled on his bed, which was next to mine. I prayed and cried and pleaded all night to God, to please save my little guy,” she said. “I bargained; I would devote my life to help blind dogs.”
Muffin survived the surgery, even though his spleen had to be removed.
The dog improved after three weeks of critical care, and Bordeaux set about keeping her vow to become an advocate for blind dogs.
“Many blind dogs are dumped in shelters, because owners don’t know what to do with them,” she said. “Blind dogs are first on the to-kill list, which is so unnecessary. No dog needs to be put down due to blindness.”
In the effort to open the eyes of fellow dog owners, Bordeaux gave life to a new product: A doggie halo, which would give Muffin and other blind dogs a way to keep from bumping into things. Called Muffin’s Halo, it’s a three-piece lightweight device, custom-made made for each dog. They run $69.95 to $129.95, depending on the size and breed of dog.
It works like this: A harness is wrapped around a dog’s neck and torso, wings are attached to collar of the harness, and a halo is then attached to the wing, just above the dog’s eye level.
The halo acts as a buffer to protect the blind dog’s head, nose, face, and shoulders from bumping into hard surfaces.
“When the halo taps a hard surface, it sends a signal to the dog and they automatically go in a different direction,” said Bordeaux, who has two patents on the product.
Muffin was not only the inspiration but also the test subject. Bordeaux says the moment he first put it on was a highlight of her life.
“It was amazing to watch him get around with his confidence back, wagging his tail and getting redirected the minute his halo hit a hard surface,” she said. “I cried so much to see him come back to life and his happy self again. It was very emotional.”
Since then, he’s thrived with the halo.
“Whenever we are staying in a new hotel, he does his mapping with his halo,” she said. “He traces the room many times over to memorize the hard surfaces. After a few days, I can take his halo off and he will recognize a hard surface is close by and will slow down and proceed with caution versus banging hard into things.”
Getting the product made was a big challenge, one that Bordeaux was happy to undertake for Muffin.
“Getting the right manufacturing company [was tough],” she said. “I had taken it to many places but they did not come out as I wanted them to, so I started my own workshop/factory and have them made exactly as I need them to be.” In the process, she learned many new skills, including pattern making, fabric cutting, silk screening, and so on.
“What an education it has been for me,” she said.
Bordeaux has been test marketing the product since 2012 and has sold about 1,000 so far.
“I was at a Pet Expo this weekend and a stranger walked over and told me that one of her friend’s Chihuahua has a Muffin’s Halo, and cries whenever the owner takes it off!” she said. “The dogs feel protected with it, like it’s their super power.”
Besides Muffin’s Halo, Bordeaux has also started a nonprofit organization called Second Chances For Blind Dogs. It donates Muffin’s Halo to dogs in rescue homes or shelters to help make it easier to get them rescued or adopted and for them to adjust quickly in new surroundings.
“I am on a mission to take the blind stigma away, so they do not get euthanized,” she said. “I also get many seniors who approach me, whose companion pets and are now facing blindness. I assist them and try to keep them together with their pets.”
As for the dog who inspired his owner to create a product to improve his quality of life, Muffin is doing quite well now.
“His blindness does not get in the way of him leading a happy life. I love the way his blind eyes look. He is so adorable; when I talk to him he looks at me as if he can see me,” Bordeaux said.
“I know he can’t, but his whole spirit feels me, and then he smiles. It’s a beautiful, strong connection we have.”
Do you have a blind dog? Would you consider using something like this? Let us know in the comments!
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