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My One-Eyed Dog and Other Canine Stories

by

Paul Hord

phord@csisd.org


This is more of a story, not necessarily an essay, or it could be a little of both.  It's a true story.  I am the owner of a one-eyed dog.  In our family, we don't think anything of it when she cocks her head to the side so she can see out of her good eye when she hears something or someone call  her name.  She's just like any other dog.  There is a decent story behind why she has one eye.

 

Somewhere around the fall of 2010, a couple of months before Christmas, my daughter Emily decided to work on her Christmas wish list.  One of the things on her list was a puppy, specifically a Shih Tzu.  I'm sure that puppies are one of the more common items asked for by kids at Christmas and on their birthdays.  So, Roxane (my wife) and I decided to begin looking in the paper and on Craig's List for anyone that might be selling Shih Tzu puppies.  We were hoping to find a puppy that looked and appeared as if it came from a good home and not a puppy mill.  After weeks of searching, we finally found a puppy that we felt met our criteria.  We made a drive to Waco to meet the couple that we were planning to buy the puppy from and, of course, to take a look at the puppy.

 

Puppies by nature, regardless of the breed, are cute.  I think most would agree with this.  That's why we say
“Aaaaaawwwwwwww!” when we see or hold one.  Kids and adults alike are guilty of this.  We forget that they don't stay puppies their entire lives.  They grow older and then spend most of their days lying around and sleeping.  The mall in College Station has a store called the Puppy Place.  It's a tiny little store that you can walk into and they will let you hold as many puppies for as long as you want.  I've been there a gazillion times with my kids.  It's a fun activity to pass the time, especially when the weather is bad.  You could say that we're on a first name basis with the employees.  My kids know the boundaries.  They can pet and hold as much as they want, but we're not buying a puppy from the place.  They're really expensive there.  Anyway, I get a kick out of seeing how some kids and the puppies have a mob mentality effect on parents.  These are the parents that are sucked into the gushiness and cuteness and they become soft when their kids tell them, “I just have to have this puppy!  Pleeeeeaaaassse Mom?”  Some immediately leave and say something like, “Why don't we go get some ice cream!”  Or...they end up leaving with a puppy. 


So back to my one-eyed dog.  At this point in the story, she still had two eyes.  So we meet the people who are selling this puppy.  They appear normal, talk normal, and are friendly.  No dueling banjo music in the background.  They didn't appear to be running a puppy mill.  Their dog had a litter of puppies, and they couldn't keep all of them.  The price was right and, of course, when Emily saw and held the puppy, that's all it took.  We paid the nice folks, and Emily got her puppy.  Yes, it was Emily's puppy, but in reality she kind of belonged to the whole family.  That's the way it works with pets.

 

We were not new to the breed of the Shih Tzu.  We had owned one until she died about two years previous.  The previous Shih Tzu, whose name was Ali, was a little crazy.  She had all kinds of weird behaviors and was
not the friendliest of dogs.  Shih Tzus are house dogs.  Ali was crazy enough that she often ended up in the back yard with our Basset, Phoebe.  We had bought Ali from what was probably a puppy mill.  When we bought her, we told ourselves she was a rescue sort of dog because we could give her a better home than what she had.  My personal opinion is some of her problems were probably related to the conditions that she was raised in.

 

Shih Tzus, while cute and extremely social, are a high maintenance breed.  They have lots of hair which requires constant grooming.  The books say that their hair needs to be brushed daily, to avoid knots and mats.  They tend to be very social dogs.  They always have to have a person nearby.  They are also supposed to be very smart, although we wouldn't know that because our last one was not.  One benefit is that they do not shed.  It's amazing.  We've never found a trace of dog hair in our home.  We're not the type of Shih Tzu owners that let their hair grow long and put them in pony tails with bows and all of that frilly stuff.  Our Shih Tzu looks like a small sheep dog because we don't do all of the daily grooming.  We get to it when we get to it.


So we arrive home with Emily's new puppy.  Within a few weeks, it's very obvious that we had found a decent dog.  Emily named her Coco.  Within days, she was potty trained.  It took no time at all and we really didn't put much effort into it.  When she needed to go outside, she scratched at the door.  At night, we put her in our utility room.  That's where she would sleep at night.  She never really cried or barked at night.  When it was time to go to bed, we'd open up the utility room door, and she would walk in on her own.  And she was very smart and friendly.  We were pleased with our purchase and so was Emily.

 

A couple of months passed and one day we noticed a much less chipper Coco than normal.  When we came home from work and school, she wasn't running to greet us at the door.  She moped around all day long and would find places all over the house to hide and sleep.  One day, we noticed that one of her eyes was gray and looked a little icky.  So, we made a trip to a local veterinarian.


(Writers note:  vet will be used in place of veterinarian for the rest of the story.  It's much simpler plus that is the abbreviated term we all use anyway.)


We didn't really have a family vet, so to speak.  When we needed a vet, which wasn't often, we used the vet clinic in a nearby town that Roxane's mom uses.  The vet looked at the eye and said, “It looks like there has been some trauma.”  Okay, so what can be done?  He kind of got into a John Madden coaching stance and said, “Okay, here's what we're gonna do.  We're going to treat this thing aggressively and superficially.”  He withdrew some blood, put it in a machine that spins it around really fast, and then they put it in an eye dropper.  We needed to put the drops in her eye three times each day.  He said this was common practice.  And then he prescribed some pain medication.

  

We left the vet clinic and went home and followed the treatment that he had prescribed.  After several days, Coco perked up and was feeling better and the eye improved some as well.  But after a few weeks, the eye
began to look worse, and Coco began to feel worse.  I took her back to the vet clinic.  He prescribed the same thing and said it might improve.  He also said that it was possible that she was going to lose sight in the eye.  So I asked him about options for treatment.  He mentioned the possibility of surgery on the eye.  I asked about the cost of the surgery, and he said somewhere in the ballpark of $1500.  “Other options, please?”  He then talked about inoculation, which is removal of the eye.  Cost?  Around $800.  Okay.  It looks like Coco will have one good eye and one bad, really icky looking eye that she will have to learn how to live with.  In our family, we love and are good to our pets; however, we draw the line on how much we spend on their health care.  I did attempt to call around to other vet clinics in town to find out how much they charged for such procedures but I didn't find any places that were any less expensive.

 

Where is that line with pet owners and how much they invest in their healthcare?  I think everyone is a little different.  I have a friend who noticed that his dog had been limping around for several weeks.  He decided to take his dog to the vet clinic where they ran some x-rays and determined that the limp was the result of a torn ACL.  He had the surgery performed on his dog.  There was a rather lengthy rehab process as well.  The procedure cost over $2000 and that didn't include later rehab sessions, medications, etc.  Some would do this and some wouldn't.  When I was growing up, if we had pets that had a serious health issue, they suddenly disappeared.  “Dad, where's Snoopy.”  “I don't know.  Maybe he ran away.”  I would learn later on that Dad did the right thing with any of our suffering pets by putting them down.  The vet clinic was never even a consideration.


Here's a good one.  My sister-in-law, Sheila, and her family own several dogs, one of which is a Lab named Buddy.  Buddy began hacking and coughing one day.  She was worried that he might have choked on a bone or something.  A legitimate concern!  She took Buddy to the vet clinic where they diagnosed him with a cold.  He was prescribed an antibiotic and sent home.  Sheila's response:  “I paid $150 to find out that my dog has a cold.”


So we all have a different line that we draw when it comes to health care for our pets, which is fine by me.  I just don't plan to extend it that far with my own pets until the government provides all pet owners with free HMO's.

 

Our plan with Coco was to let her live with her bad eye.  We gave her pain medication if she looked as if she was not feeling well, and we had some ointment for the eye that we used when it really started to look bad.  This continued for a couple of months.  We got used to the way the eye looked, and Coco appeared to look as if she was doing okay.  There were days when she was super happy and then days when she looked like she wasn't feeling well.


One day during the summer, we had some friends over for dinner.  We were all sitting around in the back yard visiting.  Coco walked up to one of our friends and looked up at her.  Our friend's response was, “My God, you need to do something about your dog's eye!”  This led us into a discussion about veterinarians.  When we mentioned the expense of what all was involved, someone asked if we had called vet clinics in other towns.  We hadn't.  This person said we should because all of the vet clinics in College Station tend to be expensive.  I thought this was interesting.  You would think the prices would be cheaper with clinics everywhere, you know, the supply and demand thing.  And it's true: there are many vet clinics and small animal hospitals in College Station.  I'm sure it has something to do with the proximity of the A&M Vet School.  Anyway, this one person told a story of her dog having an abscessed tooth.  A vet in town gave her an estimate for $800.  She decided to call the vet from her hometown, somewhere in east Texas.  This was a tiny town.  Her hometown vet said the whole procedure would cost $120.  So that's who she took her dog to.  The whole procedure went well.  She thought the level of care was fine.

 

So we made sure to get the name and phone number of this friend's vet.  I called him the next day.  It sounded like this guy was also the receptionist and the vet technician all wrapped in one.  I explained the situation with Coco and asked him to give me a ballpark figure on the cost of removing it.  “Oh, removing the eye is easy.  Bring her here in the morning, we'll knock her out, remove the eye, and she'll be up and awake before the evening, and you can take her home.”  He made it sound a little too easy.  We wanted to at least make sure she received decent care.  I called the clinic in nearby Hearne.  They told me the total cost would be about $200, and it would require keeping her overnight.  That made us feel a little better, but after further thought, it was...well,  Hearne.  I then decided to call my hometown vet clinic in Clifton, Texas.  Dr. Kennedy has been the veterinarian in Clifton for years.  He's a really nice man, and people in the area have a lot of respect for him.  Dr. Kennedy told me the procedure would cost about $200, and that they would keep her overnight.  We felt like this was a bargain compared to having it done locally, and the level of care would be good as well.


So I made the drive to Clifton one day during the summer and dropped her off at the clinic in the morning.  When I met Dr. Kennedy, he took one look at her and said that it's probably a good idea to have it removed, but he also talked about how animals can adapt to certain injuries and medical conditions.  This reminds me of my daughter's elementary school teacher.  Her teacher, whose name is Mr. Landman, owns a whole lot of Dachshunds.  Every Thursday in Mr. Landman's class is Doggie Day.  He brings his herd of Dachshunds to school with him, and they all hang out in the classroom with the kids.  Throughout the day, the kids rotate to take them for walks outside.  The kids absolutely love it.  It works very well and isn't a distraction because the teacher and the kids manage it well.  Two of the dogs are both deaf and blind.  Their names are Stevie (after Stevie Wonder) and Helen (after Helen Keller).  Emily loves Doggie Day.  She invited me to come take a peek one day.  It was a comical sight with all of the dogs in the classroom.  I got to meet and pet Stevie and Helen.  Those two dogs seemed to be happier than the others.  It was really amazing.  The kids treat them the same as the other dogs, maybe with even more attention.  I can see some parallel life lessons there.  Emily says that both of the dogs run into things often but that they eventually figure out how to get from point A to point B.  So Dr. Kennedy was probably right.  Animals can adapt to their disabilities.

 

While Coco was getting her eye removed, I made a visit to my parents and stayed the night.  The vet clinic called me that evening and said the whole procedure had gone well and that she would be ready to pick u
p the next morning.  When I arrived at the clinic, the staff brought her out to me.  They had removed the eye and sewed up the hole.  It didn't look pretty but they said the stitches would fall out on their own and that the hair would grow back over it.  Coco was super perky and looked happy.  We all got used to her appearance, and over time, the hair grew back over the eye, and eventually, you couldn't even tell that she was missing an eye.  The best part was that she was a much happier dog than before because she was feeling better.  She likes to play fetch in the house with an assortment of items that are in her toy box.  When you throw something to her, it needs to be on the side with her eye or she won't see it.  She's learned to adapt very well with her one eye.  For Halloween we talked about dressing her up as a pirate, putting a patch over the spot where her bad eye used to be.

 

Coco is still a great dog.  She's super smart and learns rather quickly.  Our basset is a great dog as well, but intelligence is not in her genes.  Phoebe, the Basset, doesn't understand about negative consequences.  Coco does.  For a period of time, we had problems with Coco hopping on top of the dinner table when no one was looking, obviously looking for leftovers.  We always knew when she was on the table if we weren't in the kitchen because she would start whimpering, eventually leading to barking.  She could get on the table, but she couldn't figure out how to get off.  With one eye, I'm sure that her perception of depth was lost to some degree, and jumping off probably looked much further down to the floor than it actually was.  So she would bark for help and someone would put her down on the floor and say, “Bad dog.”  One evening, we were getting ready to leave the house for a few hours.  Before we left, we heard Coco whimpering, and there she was again, on top of the dinner table.  I started to go get her off, but Roxane told me not to.  She said, “Let's leave her there and see if she can figure out a way to get down while we’re gone.”  We were gone for four hours.  When we arrived back to the house, we all took bets on if she was still on the table.  And yes, she was still on the table.  Lesson learned.  We have not had a problem with her getting on the table since.

 

So yes, I am the proud owner of a one-eyed dog.  I think having only one eye has made her a better dog. 

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