One of the unexpected joys and great pleasures I've stumbled upon when I started working for The Ann Arbor Animal Hospital almost a year ago is in meeting patients and clients and hearing some truly amazing stories of companionship and healing-for both owner and pet. Kristina and Lacie's story is one such tale.
Kristina had been looking for a dog to adopt for a while and found Lacie and her brother, Leo, listed on Rescue One Fenton's website. The rescue insisted the dogs be adopted together because Lacie, who is sight impaired, used Leo to be her “eyes” in unfamiliar surroundings. Kristina is a social worker and has a heart for the marginalized, the ones that are often overlooked or deemed too difficult, so she agreed to meet the two dogs and bring her cats to see if they would all get along. The cats didn't seem to mind the dogs, so she adopted Lacie and Leo and they immediately fell in love with their new home, preferring the couch or chair to the new dog bed Kristina had bought them. Their very favorite place to sleep is with Kristina on her bed! The cats took full advantage of the empty dog bed and used it as their own.
I asked Kristina what Lacie's personality is like:
"Lacie was very friendly and outgoing right from the first day. She depended on Leo to guide her around unfamiliar areas. She loves to snuggle and will sit straight up on your lap and loves to be held just like a baby. She is very gentle and very loving and freely gives kisses in response to me telling her how pretty she is and that I love her. Apparently she speaks “heart.” She is very determined and self-sufficient. If I go outside to set her in the house when she has difficulty finding her way back in, she will go back outside and come in on her own. She ABSOLUTELY hates rain and will not go outside if she smells rain, even in a raincoat and boots."
Eventually, Lacie and Leo became certified therapy dogs. Unfortunately, the cataracts causing Lacie's visual impairment would continue to cause further visual decline. Lacie was also experiencing pain from time to time from untreated glaucoma. During those times, Lacie received comfort from being held and snuggled but her cataracts continued to progress to the point where she began bumping into objects in her surroundings. The glaucoma responded well to eye drops for a while but the problem gradually became worse and her eyes would become red and swollen, causing Lacie to squint and whimper in pain.
This winter Lacie's eyes would become swollen when she was outside in the subzero temperature and windy weather. She was unable to squint or close her eyes and the corneas became damaged. Kristina contacted Dr. Critchfield who advised that Lacie be brought in right away. It was important to Kristina that Lacie's eyes remain intact but, Kristina says, “the look on Dr. Critchfield’s face told another story. After checking the pressure in both eyes, it was suggested both eyes be removed to prevent further injury and pain.” This came as a shock to Kristina and she turned to her friends for advice. She received mixed responses: she was advised by a family member to put Lacie down; she was called inhumane to consider removing the dogs eyes. But not all of the people she talked to were unsupportive. One of her friends started a fund for Lacie's surgery but the money raised wouldn't arrive soon enough. Kristina was desperate— she had been laid off of work and money was tight. Dr. Critchfield informed her that she would check with the hospital to see if anything could be done. The hospital came to an arrangement with Kristina that if she allowed one of the DVMs to learn the procedure while under direct supervision from the other doctors, the hospital would waive the surgery fees. The hospital also contributed funds from the “Fixed Income Family Fund” to bring the cost down even more. (Please note: because funds are limited, the Fixed Income Family Fund is, with few exceptions, for existing clients only; see the FIFF page for details.) The day of surgery Kristina explains, "Staff kept in contact with me the day of the surgery and didn’t seem to mind when I called at 3 in the morning to check on her. Lacie had been outside walking around and was doing well."
Since the operation Lacie's life has changed dramatically:
"Lacie has had a MAJOR reduction in pain which has become obvious as the only time she now whines is when she is being held and needs to relieve herself or when I am eating and she wants some of the food. This is usually connected with chicken, beef, pork, or fish, but occasionally vegetables, crackers or bread. While she was wearing the E-Collar, I hand fed her as it was difficult to get the food and water bowls up to her mouth. My princess LOVES chicken and salmon! She is doing well getting around the house and is still able to jump up on the couch or the chair and goes in and out of the doggie door ad lib."
Lacie was fortunate enough to have a device called a “Muffin's Halo” donated to her from an organization for sight-impaired dogs. The Halo has a vest that fits around Lacie's torso and attaches behind her shoulders with a hook and loop fastener. Attached to this vest is a “wing-like” arm that circles around her head and has a similar function to a white cane for a human, keeping Lacie from bumping into objects in her surroundings and damaging her eye sockets or hurting her face. The vest comes in a variety of colors and they even have a butterfly or angel wings option; Lacie's is a red angel wings motif. Lacie has gained confidence through wearing this device and can manage her surroundings better every day. When I asked Kristina what her hopes were for Lacie's future, she replied:
"Both Lacie and her brother Leo are therapy dogs. With her being totally blind now, hopefully her confidence in her ability to get around will inspire others with special needs to reach their full potential. In the mean time, I look forward to having a snuggle buddy and get many loving kisses for many years to come. This would not be possible were it not for the help of the staff at Ann Arbor Animal Hospital."
We are grateful that we had the opportunity to assist Lacie and Kristina and wish them many long and joy-filled years in the future.