Story by Jacqueline Rojas
Harvey is Shih Tzu living it up in Austin and San Antonio, Texas. He loves kayaking, dog parks, short hikes, and napping by the window. His favorite kind of toy is anything that squeaks and Nylabones. He lets out little growls when he’s happy and nuzzles himself under your hand for some pets. He is friendly towards children, other dogs and sometimes cats. He also only has one eye.
Harvey hasn’t always had one eye. I was fifteen when I got him and he was six weeks old. He had two perfectly functional, large, round eyes. When he was seven, I started to notice his eyes start to slightly turn grey in color. A few months into noticing the color change, his left eye started to look a little funny. I also started noticing how surprised he would be when I came up to him on his left side, or how he would miss his tennis ball if thrown from the left. It became apparent he had become blind at some point and I hadn’t even noticed when it happened because he remained his happy self. A couple months into knowing he was blind in his left eye, it’s appearance started dramatically changing. It looked larger, very grey, and extremely uncomfortable. A visit to the vet concluded he needed surgery to remove the eye. Glaucoma had caused him to go blind and the pressure that had built up made keeping it uncomfortable and even painful. His veterinarian, saw my concerned face as Harvey came out of surgery with a pressure wrap around his head and assured me I had done the right thing.
Having a one-eyed dog came with some obstacles. As his owner, I felt sad about his situation because I thought he was now at a disadvantage to other dogs that had two eyes. I also felt guilty that I couldn’t save his eye because it deteriorated so quickly. I hadn’t noticed the slow change in behavior in him that had been happening as his left eye kept getting more and more painful. I took his increased amount of sleeping, lack of interest in play and growing irritability as him just turning into a grumpy, aging dog. As Harvey recovered, I slowly saw how much more sorry I was feeling for him than he was for himself. Harvey did not seem care that he now had one eye. In fact, he was happier without it.
Harvey’s recovery was so smooth. He bounced back quickly and was back to his old self in no time. Actually, he was better. After the surgery, it was like Harvey could finally live again. He was playing fetch, enjoying the dog park, wrestling with his much larger dog friends and not in pain. He was beaming and other people that knew him kept telling me how much more active and engaged he seemed.
As much as his quality of life has improved, he is still missing an eye and his other eye is also slowly losing sight. With this comes challenges other dogs and dog owners might not face. Sunny days are the perfect kind of weather to spend some time in the backyard. But coming back into the much darker house from outside means Harvey takes a few minutes of standing by the door once he comes in so that his eye can adjust to the sudden change in light. It means he doesn’t catch most of the toys thrown his way and sometimes runs into things that end up in his way. He also sometimes runs up to jump on the couch, only to fall short of making it because his depth perception is off. It also means that eventually, he will most likely become blind in his remaining eye because that’s just how this condition works. This makes me a little sad but more than anything makes me appreciative of his good health at the moment. I often get told that he looks and acts like a puppy because he’s such a spunky pup. He’s thriving because he isn’t in any kind of pain and just wants to live life to the fullest.
There are many things I do as an owner to help him adjust to vision loss better. I look for things that are at his level that he may run into or he may not see. If he can’t find a toy or treat thrown his way, he’s trained to follow the sound of my tapping foot to find it. He’s also very dependent on me in these instances and we practice a lot of voice direction to lead him in the right path of where he needs to go. He knows the word “step” for when he needs to climb up things in dark spaces as well. Aside from that, his sense and smell and hearing are extremely important to him and help him “see” in instances when he can not physically see.
When I first got Harvey, I never imagined he’d end up having vision loss. When new people meet Harvey they often feel sorry for him but it is a great opportunity for me to explain just how happy he really is and just how much he doesn’t miss having his eye. I look forward to changing other’s perspectives of special needs pups and Harvey is such a great example of how amazing they can be as pets. Many people are hesitant in adopting animals with disabilities but living with one firsthand makes me see just how wrong misconceptions about animals with disabilities can be. Animals with disabilities need us and they could be so beneficial to our well being as well. Adopting a companion animal could be just as beneficial to us as it is to them. Afterall, who wouldn’t want unconditional love from a pet?
If you want to see more of Harvey, feel free to follow his adventures on Instagram at @oneeyedharvey!