Three Things I Learned from a Blind Dog
Recently I had the honor of keeping my mother-in-law’s Jack Russell terrier while she took an extended trip to her childhood home in England. Most people who know me well enough know that I don’t particularly like small dogs, especially yappers. Enter Jasper. His sudden, spine-straightening, high decibel eruptions at the slightest noise are more than my nerves can tolerate. I have kept Jasper many times, but over the last year or so he has grown progressively more blind due to detached lenses until we’re convinced he can’t see through his cloudy blue eyes at all. Now he uses his nose as a bumper. He stands in front of various pieces of furniture or the wrong side of doors waiting for them to open and let him out. Where once he was a force of male canine self-importance, now he spends many of his dog days in boredom and lackluster enthusiasm for everything but licking plates.
When you want something, take a big bite of it and never let go until it’s yours.
As Jasper wandered around the yard one day he came across a big piece of bone one of the other dogs had dragged home and left in the grass. He thought he’d won the doggie lottery. He sat chewing on that nasty thing until I discovered him. I knew I had to get it away from him, as he has not digested bone fragments well in the past, and I wasn’t about to have a mess all over our new carpet. His growl warned me he wasn’t about to give it up with my nicey-nice request. I got tough. I got mean. I tried everything and he would not let it go. Jaws of steel had clamped down and dug in. There’s some instinct in human nature that loathes giving in to a stubborn little dog, but I had no choice. Jasper came out victorious until he chose to let it go for some reason. When he wandered around desperately sniffing for it again, my heart hurt for him, and the lesson of perseverance-to-success was not lost on me.
Confidence is born from repeatedly following the same course until it becomes second nature. Or in other words, practice makes perfect.
When Jasper is in his own home he knows where the furniture is. He knows where his food and water bowls are, and his bed. He gets around very well. He seldom falls down the steps. But in a new environment he does not fare so well. He has no stick he can swing from side to side. He goes slow and uses his nose and whiskers to tell him where doorways, stairs and obstacles are. But he courageously joins our two dogs as they romp outside and he feels a freedom in wide open spaces where he can run and enjoy nature. He has a sense out here in the country that certain areas are obstacle-free. Knowing his surroundings gives him courage.
Courage comes from within and gives one dignity in the face of hardship.
I find it difficult sometimes to not anthropomorphize with my canine buddies. When I want to attribute his actions to courage, maybe Jasper is just doing what one would reasonably expect an animal to do when confronted with blindness in middle age. But I swear he shows courage in the face of his handicap. If I were faced with the same situation, and I may be, since I am experiencing the first signs of macular degeneration, I’d have trouble facing each new day with a good attitude. The higher intelligence of humans may be detrimental in this kind of loss, but I can’t help but find it inspiring to watch Jasper cope. He eagerly runs to the car when invited to “go,” and does his best to hop in on his own. He tries to jump down out of the car or off furniture although it is obviously hard for him to trust that he won’t fall too far. He listens and relies on our voices or the tension of a leash to know where to go. Learning new skills in the face of fear and loss takes courage. Jasper has his days of moping, but overall he meets his life’s new challenge in a way I can only hope to emulate with my own losses, with tail-wagging enthusiasm for all the things I am still able to do.
Do the animals you know inspire you? Share your animal stories in the comments.