About five years ago, our canine mass of blonde spiral curls, Impulse, began having some trouble navigating the steps from outside into the house at night. When we took her to the vet at that time, tests indicated she had Progressive Retinal Atrophy. PRT is a progressive, likely hereditary disease with no known cure. Complete blindness was the prognosis; it would happen sooner than later we were told. At first I cried for her. I would walk around with my eyes closed just trying to fathom what a dark world might be like for her. My gut response was to thrust my human emotions on to this blissful spirit wrapped in a toy Poodle. It seemed devastating, sad news, and I just couldn’t get my head around what the vet was saying.
At the time of the diagnosis, Impulse was scaling twenty carpeted stairs to our bedroom, and then jumping up on the bed at least twice a day. She was navigating around the house without help. She routinely jumped onto her favorite sofa, then onto its back where she curled up like a cat, or sat up, alert, tracking with every movement made by anyone who entered the room. Within the year we were told her retinas were flat despite Impulse’s ability to get exactly where she needed to and happily so. If Impulse had been interviewed at that time she would have said, “What’s the big deal? This is why I have such a great nose!”
I learned very quickly to discard my pity for her. Less than two years after the diagnosis, cloudy white cataracts moved in on her clear dark eyes; it was as though one day they weren’t there and the next day they were-a magic trick gone wrong. Imp began to graze a wall when she walked into a room, gracefully trip over a misplaced shoe, or lightly bump her head on a drawer that was left open. She never stopped or cried. She continued doing everything she had ever done, but with a new grace. Today, she often walks through the house with the step of a Clydesdale pony; gently feeling her way as to not step on her older canine sister Legacy who doesn’t like those collisions. Certain times of the day she just likes to be held, and I am often at the computer with her on my lap, or other times we hear a high pitched bark from the back bedroom or from a couch- we call it her “stuck bark.” We scoop her up and put her down and watch as she heads into another room, or out the door, and down two steps to the grass to go to the bathroom. Our finger snaps accompanying the words: “this way, this way,” guide Imp many times daily to better help her in reaching her desired destination.
Most California mornings, Impulse can be found lying on a comfy mat on our side walk inside the front gate where the sun casts a familiar glow onto her relaxed little body. She relishes in its consistency and the abundance of the sounds and smells that are sharper than ever.
So, what have I learned from this experience, of loving so intensely a dog who was robbed of seeing my face years ago? You don’t break your stride. You stay in your own lane, and don’t worry about what others have, can do, or even what they think about you as long as you live the laws of kindness. You step thoughtfully and carefully, and if you bump yourself, shake it off. Look for the sun and lean into it with joy.