Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Butch's Story

As I write this, Butch is nine years old, still strong and wonderful. Here's what I wrote about him two years ago:

Part 1: January 29, 2006
Butch, an incredibly sweet male dog of indeterminate (indiscriminate?) heritage, is blind.

The first sign of a problem came during the 2004 Christmas holidays. Butch had always had an amazing ability to snake his thick neck just enough to the right or left to catch whatever treat I tossed to him, but one morning I was tossing mini-marshmallows and he missed as many as he caught. That was odd. A few days later, a slice of cheese fell to the floor right in front of him, in plain sight, and he couldn’t find it.

At first I thought it was my imagination. Butch didn’t seem to have any difficulty at all moving around the house or the yard, going about his dog business, and his eyes weren’t watering or exhibiting any physical signs of a problem. I wondered if dogs’ eyes get worse with age the way humans’ eyes do.

Gradually, I started noticing that his eyes seemed to glow, not just outside in the dark, but almost all of the time, so I took him to the vet. The vet examined Butch’s eyes and measured the pressures in them and suspected glaucoma right away. He called a veterinary ophthalmologist at LSU, who said the symptoms did sound like glaucoma, but that with pressures as high as Butch’s were, he didn’t understand how Butch could see at all. He could see, though.

The vet prescribed eyedrops and made an appointment for Butch to see the ophthalmologist. My daughter went with us, and that appointment was frightening for all of us, with lots of bustling vet students and lots of tests, and ultimately a grim diagnosis of primary glaucoma. The ophthalmologist prescribed more drops and discussed the options available to us–all of which would only delay, not prevent, the inevitable enucleation (complete removal) of Butch’s eyes.

For the time being, we would try medication. Butch needed two kinds of hugely expensive eyedrops, three times a day each, and not to be taken at the same time. My daughter and I set up a written schedule of what drops were to be given when, and we made it work. I stayed up late and got up early to give him the morning and nighttime medications, and my daughter came over every single day for months to give him the drops he needed while I was at work. We took him to the vet every two or three weeks to have his eye pressure measured.

I bought books and a DVD and read everything I could find online about living with blind dogs. I looked at pictures of post-surgery dogs and studied the hollow places in their faces where their eyes had been. I worried about my dog and worried about the money, got angry because I had to worry about the money, and prayed to God that I would make the right decision.

After a few months, it became obvious that Butch was seeing less and less of his surroundings and was becoming sad. He stumbled sometimes and bumped into things, which seemed to frighten and confuse him. He slept more and sighed a lot, and I slept little and cried a lot, and decided, with the vet’s help, that all we were waiting for was for me to be ready, and then it would be time.

Part 2: January 30, 2006
While Butch was rapidly losing his eyesight, which made the world look pretty gloomy to us, one thing happened that gave us a light moment in spite of our sympathy for our "boy."

My neighbor got a new dog, a male fox terrier named Sparky. He was a black and white bundle of energy, leaping at my dogs through the fence and bounding around the yard like a bouncing ball, accompanying all the motion with a high-pitched bark. Butch didn’t much like the young whippersnapper and never failed to voice his displeasure with low-pitched, warning growls.

One day we let Butch out into the backyard, and as he angled across the patio he whirled suddenly to face the fence, then crouched down, puffing out his chest, growling and barking, pawing the ground like an angry bull. We didn’t hear anything other than Butch, but we figured from his posturing that Sparky must be outside, so we moved around to where we could see into the neighbor’s yard. There, about six feet beyond the fence and all alone, sat a brand-new black and white soccer ball.

Part 3: February 1, 2006
Butch lost his eyes in August of 2005. The surgery went beautifully from a technical standpoint, but waking up with no vision at all was traumatic for him. One of the vet techs said that she had held him in her arms after surgery for a long, long time, cuddling all 55 pounds of him to ease his panic as much as she could. The vet acknowledged that it was a difficult experience for Butch and for everybody, and all of them were relieved as the day went on and Butch calmed down. Then, on the second day after surgery, the vet noticed Butch pacing in his kennel and wondered what had made him so agitated again. Finally, he realized that Butch was trying to find the water dish. Once they pointed him in the right direction, he drank his fill and relaxed again.

They let us pick up Butch at the end of the second day, a Friday, so he could get back into familiar surroundings as soon as possible. He walked haltingly and nervously as the vet led him into the room where we waited. His face had been shaved from behind his ears all the way down to his muzzle, and the visible skin was mottled, pink and gray. Because nature designed eyelids specifically not to grow together, even with stitches, his eyelids had also been surgically removed, the edges sewn together with heavy black sutures that resembled eyelashes. He looked pitiful, but when he heard our voices, his whole back end began wagging, and his joy and relief were palpable.

When we were ready to leave, I tried to get Butch to follow me out of the clinic on his leash, but he insisted on going first, his nose to the ground, sniffing for all he was worth, and he led me outside without bumping into a single thing. That turned out to be a fluke. The vet had warned me that Butch obviously had been able to see better before the surgery than any of us had realized, and he said that I would be shocked to find out how much he would have to struggle at first. Still, I wasn’t prepared.

When we got home, Butch charged ahead, crashing and banging into end tables, doorframes, and other obstacles that seemed to multiply in his path. We opened the door to let him outside and he stumbled down the one step, then dashed out into the backyard, running ahead at full speed until he crashed into the fence and bounced off of it, again and again. The surgical bruising on his face was joined by other scrapes and bruises before we could stop him. For several days afterward, we took him outside only on a leash, gradually lengthening it until we were sure he had a healthy respect for his limitations.

Butch learned amazingly quickly how to navigate around the house and the yard. What a relief! And his joyous personality helped immensely to assuage the guilt I felt about putting him through so much trauma. He positively bloomed! In the absence of the pain that must have been worse than we knew, he became livelier than we had seen him in a long time--frisky, playful, affectionate--a thoroughly happy dog.

Part 4: February 3, 2006
It’s been nearly six months now since Butch’s eye surgery, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the way things have turned out. Who knew his life as a blind dog would be so normal?

Only a day or two after coming home from surgery, Butch jumped onto the sofa. I fretted that he would fall, but he just rested awhile and then eased himself back to the floor. Now he jumps on and off of the sofa all the time and sleeps wherever he wants.

He still bumps into things every now and then, especially when he first wakes up (I, myself, am disoriented under those conditions and have been known to bump into walls). It hurts to see him bump his nose, but he takes it in stride, just corrects his course and goes on about his business.

And he has a lot of business. There are quite a few dogs in the neighborhood, and Butch monitors their behavior and their barking very closely. Many times he will grab my hand in his mouth and "grrrff" to signal that he needs to go outside–now! And when I open the back door, he crouches down into his best "let’s-play-attack-dog" position and runs hard, down the step, around the patio furniture and out into the yard, snarling and barking, in the direction of the offending neighbor dog. Somehow he manages to stop just inches short of the fence.

If Butch has been outside for a while, or if he’s been running, he may lose track of exactly where he is. It isn’t a problem, though. He has landmarks. He walks the fence line, or he heads across the middle of the yard until his feet touch the stepping stones or until he can smell the bird feeder or the gardenia bush, and then he turns toward the house, makes his way to the back door and scratches to be let in. If the door is already being held open for him, he doesn’t stop, just turns at exactly the right place, steps up the step and into the house without ever touching the doorframe.

We still try to be vigilant about keeping all the furniture in exactly the same place and keeping other obstacles out of his path, but with three other dogs around most of the time, dog toys get left where they shouldn’t be. Butch doesn’t sweat it.

The biggest obstacle test came a few weeks after his surgery, when Hurricane Rita brought my East Texas relatives over for a week or so. We had a house full of people, six extra adults, three extra kids, two extra dogs and a guinea pig, and luggage and air mattresses all over the floor. Kadi, my yellow lab, was stressed about the mess, but Butch had the time of his life. One of the kids was a two-year-old, and he and Butch must have walked a hundred miles through my house that week, each on the opposite end of a tug toy, one giggling and the other wagging his tail. Another visitor, my 10-year-old grand-nephew, fought boredom by playing hide and seek with Butch. The boy would hide, and Butch, wagging his tail enthusiastically, would always find him.

Part 5: February 5, 2006
You know, when you catch yourself laughing at something your beloved pet does because he is blind, a part of you feels really bad about it. But when the funny thing that happens doesn’t seem to make your pet feel bad at all, then you have to just go with it. And the visual enormity of this particular miscalculation had a room full of people rolling with laughter.

Now that Butch is blind, he sniffs along the sofa before he jumps on it so he can find a spot with no human or dog or newspaper in his way. That system worked fine for him until the visit from all my Texas relatives. During that week, there were no vacant spots on the sofa.

One evening we were all packed into the living room, just visiting, and Butch was a little wired, having just finished a vigorous wrestling session with my niece’s husband. We didn’t think much of it as he made his way across everybody’s feet, sniffing knees until he stood facing the empty corner between the two sofas. He stood there for a moment, "staring" intently into the empty space, then suddenly bunched up his hindquarters and did a magnificent, balletic leap into mid-air, a leap that would have landed him well above the sofa, had a sofa existed in that spot. He crashed abruptly to the floor, fortunately landing on all four feet. He turned around cautiously, gave his tail a few wags, held his chin up high, then proceeded around the room with his dignity totally intact, as if that had been his plan all along.

I can assure you he hasn’t made that mistake again.

Part 6: February 7, 2006
Some things have changed since Butch’s blindness and some haven’t. When he hears noises outside now, he still goes to stand at the window and "look out." Sometimes, if the blinds are closed, he scratches them with his paw, turns his face in my direction and waits for me to open them for him–which I do. Then he lies on the floor with his head on the windowsill and "watches" with his ears and his nose.

His ears and nose have taken up the slack for his missing eyes and are much more sensitive now than before he had to rely on them. He can hear a soft whisper across the room, and he can smell food before the refrigerator door is fully open. I hand him his treats now, instead of tossing them to him, but if a treat happens to hit the floor, he’s usually the first dog to get to it.

Butch is cuddlier than he was when he had eyes, probably because he likes to be close to his people so he can keep up with what’s going on. He likes to sleep with his head on my lap, one paw planted on my arm or my chest, and I like it, too. But he can also be a little overbearing when he sits beside me on the sofa, wide awake and drooling, his ears cocked and his nose two inches from my mouth, listening and sniffing for every subtle change in my breathing pattern. I’m learning patience, and Butch is learning to back off a little bit when he hears me say, "Butch, you’re in my personal space."

With all the hair grown back on his face, he is once again a handsome dog. He has neat black lines where his eyes used to be (the vet did an outstanding job). The empty spaces behind the lines are a little sunken in, but not much. I expected Butch’s face to be less animated without his eyes, but it isn’t. Maybe it's the muscles around the eyes, not the eyes themselves, that create the "window to the soul."

Even though Butch’s eyes don’t open now, he still blinks, and he can furrow his brow and twitch his face to display his whole range of doggy emotions. More than anything else, he looks like he’s sleeping. And the best thing, the thing that warms my heart and makes me want to just hold him and squeeze him tight, is that his eyes still move when he dreams.


maxngabbie said...

I love Butch. Aren't our dogs just wonderful people? I do believe God gave us dogs for a reason.

CreekHiker said...

Velvet, what a wonderful resource you've created here! I'm always amazed at the stories you tell of this sweet boy! I'm sure your story - Butch's story will be a blessing to others!

Velvet Sacks said...

Maxngabbie, Butch is quite a trouper. The vet told me he'd used Butch as a positive example recently when he was with a friend who was complaining endlessly. ;-)

Creekhiker, I hope it'll be a good resource when I get it like I want it. There are a number of good websites that helped me when I was dealing with Butch's impending blindness. I need to find all of them again and post links to them.

clairz said...

Velvet, I believe that your blog is going to make a big difference for people trying to make decisions about the lives of their animals. Hope you don't mind, but I am featuring Blind Dog Running on my blog, The Zees Go West, on 9/3/08 so that at least a few more people can find out about this wonderful story and great resource. Thank you for sharing Butch's life with us all.

Velvet Sacks said...

Clairz, I'm honored that you've linked to Blind Dog Running on your blog. The more we can spread the word that a blind dog is still a wonderful pet, the more blind dogs will find homes with loving families.

Thank you.

Dog's Corner said...

A wonderful site and a great story about Butch. We would love you to visit out facebook fan page and get your opinion on our Optivizor for dogs. We have great feedback from people with Blind dogs. If it is OK with you Velvet we would like to post a link to your blog, like we have for Bassethound town. Kind Regards. John


Anonymous said...

Wonderful, truly wonderful. I so wish I'd found your blog when agonising over having one of my girl's eyes removed following an accident. We spent so much money trying to save the eye, even though we knew the sight was gone - now it's out, we sincerely wish we'd just done that on the day it happened! lol I know she only lost one eye, and your handsome has lost both - but the similarities are amazing.....they really DO just get on with it! She too 'watches with her ears', and the one above her no-eye is always up like a radar now! To anyone else facing this seemingly traumatic decision, I'd urge you to just go ahead and do it. the sooner you do, the sooner life can get back to normal. If EVER I'm faced with a similar predicament, I will not hesitate to request enucleation :)xxx