One good turn de­serves an­other

Ser­vice dogs in the United States get free eye check-ups.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Pets - By LINDA WIL­SON FUOCO

THE eyes of Lola and Yahtzee are more pre­cious than the eyes of most dogs; these Labrador re­triev­ers are the eyes and life­lines of their blind part­ners.

Lola, a two-year-old yel­low fe­male, and Yahtzee, a 10-yearold black male, were among the 100 to 150 “work­ing” dogs that re­ceived free eye screen­ing re­cently at Pittsburgh Vet­eri­nary Spe­cialty & Emer­gency Cen­ter (PVSEC) in Penn­syl­va­nia, the United States.

Re­cently, Lola came to the Ohio Town­ship fa­cil­ity with part­ner Mike Gravitt. His wife, Johna Gravitt, came with Yahtzee. Both dogs were trained by Guid­ing Eyes for the Blind in York­town Heights, New York.

The cou­ple and their dogs live in a Dor­mont apart­ment build­ing.

“At home, when their har­nesses come off, they are just dogs,” said Mike. The dogs get along well and en­joy play­ing with each other when they are off-duty, he said.

Di­lat­ing drops were ap­plied to the eyes of Lola and Yahtzee. Then both sat nicely in the wait­ing room for 20 min­utes. The ac­tual ex­ams took just a few min­utes.

Yahtzee’s reg­u­lar vet­eri­nar­ian thought he saw choles­terol de­posits in his eyes, Johna told Rachel Keller, a vet­eri­nary eye spe­cial­ist known as an oph­thal­mol­o­gist.

“I see cloudi­ness re­lated to his age. I do not see cataracts. For be­ing al­most 11 years old, Yahtzee looks ter­rific,” Keller said.

Young Lola passed with fly­ing colours.

Last year 7,400 an­i­mals that work and serve got free ex­ams from 290 vet­eri­nary eye spe­cial­ists in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The pro­gramme is called the an­nual ACVO/Stokes RX Na­tional Ser­vice An­i­mal Eye Exam Event.

This is the 10th an­niver­sary of the ex­ams, spon­sored by the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Vet­eri­nary Oph­thal­mol­o­gists and Stokes Phar­macy, a US com­pound­ing phar­macy.

Free eye ex­ams have been given to 52,000 an­i­mals since the pro­gramme be­gan in 2008. The vast ma­jor­ity are dogs, but other an­i­mals have ben­e­fited, too.

El­i­gi­ble are an­i­mals that lead the blind, as­sist peo­ple with med­i­cal or psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues, work with the mil­i­tary or po­lice, or work on search and res­cue. Cer­ti­fied ther­apy dogs are also cov­ered.

“We see more and more dogs each year,” Keller said. The four eye spe­cial­ists at PVSEC have not di­ag­nosed any life-threat­en­ing or work-end­ing eye ail­ments.

“Can I give them treats even though they are in their work­ing har­ness?” Keller asked. Per­mis­sion was granted, much to the de­light of the dogs.

The vests or har­nesses of many work­ing dogs say “do not pet”. Lola’s says, “Do not feed or flirt with me.”

This was Keller’s first visit with Lola, and her last with Yahtzee.

“Yahtzee seems to be los­ing his fo­cus and is some­times more in­ter­ested in sniff­ing than in guid­ing,” Johna said. “It’s time for him to re­tire, prob­a­bly at the end of the sum­mer.”

Keller asked Mike about his former part­ner, Rick, a 13-year-old Labrador re­triever she had seen ev­ery year since 2008. Rick re­tired last fall, and one day later Mike was teamed with Lola.

“Rick had some cysts around his eyes that the doc­tors watched over the years,” Mike said. “The cysts didn’t cause any prob­lems. But he had to re­tire be­cause of breath­ing prob­lems.”

“It’s re­ally hard when they re­tire,” Mike said. “But it’s good to know they will live the rest of their lives as pets. They must go to a home where peo­ple are with them all day be­cause that’s what they are used to.”

Rick was adopted by a vet­eri­nary tech­ni­cian at West Lib­erty An­i­mal Hospi­tal, where the cou­ple reg­u­larly take their dogs.

“Rick is very happy with his new guy,” Mike said, “and he goes to work with him ev­ery day.”

Yahtzee will move in with the fam­ily of an em­ployee at Ben­der Con­sult­ing Ser­vices Inc, where both Gravitts work.

The Guid­ing Eyes or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­vides vet­eri­nary care for their work­ing dogs, Mike said, in­clud­ing Rick’s suc­cess­ful can­cer treat­ments when he was eight years old.

“I’m toy­ing with the idea of start­ing a non-profit to raise money for the vet­eri­nary care of re­tired ser­vice dogs,” Mike said. “I’d like to give back to them for what they give to us.” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/ Tri­bune News Ser­vice


Vet­eri­nary oph­thal­mol­o­gist Keller ex­am­in­ing Lola’s eyes.

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