No one really knows when Clawdius went blind. Afflicted by a common medical condition to his bred, it slowly robbed him of his eyesight over the period of three years. Dogs are very adaptable and the condition did not really present itself until we moved. He walked into doors and walls, and moved cautiously through our new home with a perpetually distressed look upon his face. A trip to the vet confirmed Clawdius was completely blind and would need special care for the rest of his life.
Taking a blind dog into the outdoors has special challenges. Low hanging branches, mud, water, sharp changes in terrain, even a less than ideally placed tree all pose dangers for a blind four-legged companion. Clawdius needed to be kept on a short leash, and the obedience training he learned as a puppy became a life safer for him out on the trail.
Over the Memorial Day weekend we got a crazy idea to go paddling for the weekend. After a series of phone calls I was able to find a cabin and an outfitter to assist us with a launch location, and to assist us at the pull out. It was the best $10 I have spent in my life.
The days of tent camping with our dog are over if we intend to leave him at the campsite. Taking a blind dog onto a Class III river in an open canoe was not my idea of a good time, so we left him behind at the cabin and set off on our trip. The thirteen-mile journey was exhilarating on the river, which was swollen by late spring snowmelt and recent thunderstorms. The normally placid three to four mile an hour current was moving closer to six, and the river channel twisted and turned from the north bank to the south bank, creating a wild ride not normally experienced on this typically Class II- river (and in the hottest days of summer, a Class I trickle requiring a lot of patience).
Later that evening and 13 miles of paddling later we returned to our cabin with some bloody bits of steak for our companion, a reward for his patience while we were away. He was waiting for us at the screen door, his ears tuned into the unique sound of our van, which alerted him to our presence. He sat with anticipation as we approached the door and eagerly ate his special treat.
After he ate we decided to let him run on his own in a large field just to the north of where we were on the banks of the river. The field had recently been cut and was void of any obstacles. It was the perfect place for a blind dog to run free. Clawdius did run free and quickly forgot about his disability. Using his other senses, and with some gentle assistance by his human company, he ran in wild circles feeling liberated from the cabin, the leash, and from his loss of sight.
Suddenly Clawdius stopped. Standing erect he sniffed the air carefully. Then we noticed what caught his attention, two terrified rabbits less than fifteen-feet away from him were out in the open. They both stood there, motionless, aware of the dog�s presence, and probably aware of his sudden curiosity. Clawdius� strong suit is not tracking, and being visually impaired, he would have to rely on his sense of smell to find these two.
Clawdius sniffed the ground carefully and moved slowly in a zigzag pattern, closer to the two rabbits who sunk even lower to the ground, trembling in fear. Ten feet, eight feet, six feet, closer he came, but still not aware of their exact location. We watched, smiling, as we knew that Clawdius, at 17 pounds, could not possibly do anything to the rabbits and would probably turn running if he did stumble on one. Four feet, two feet, and then it happened. The larger of the two rabbits couldn�t take it anymore, and ran right across Clawdius� path passing no more than a couple of inches from his nose.
Clawdius rose his head up startled, his attention focused on probably the fuzzy blur that went past him and the sound of soft paws bounding across the fresh cut grass. He looked like he was going to run, but stood there motionless, trying to tune in on the heading and speed of this strange creature. The second rabbit then ran, passing just to the rear of Clawdius who was so tuned in to finding the first rabbit, didn�t even notice the second smaller one slipping away.
He came back to us, our clapping and calling, �hey, hey, hey, hey,� serving as his beacon in the strange field. He carried himself with a sense of pride of chasing away what ever it was, and we felt so happy that Clawdius was out being a dog, even if he was blind and only 17 pounds and represented everything a dog wasn�t. And as for the rabbits, I am sure they went back and told their rabbit friends about the dumbest dog they had every seen, and bragged about their get-a-way from the four-legged menace.
Clawdius slept well that night, with a belly full of smoky steak, a nose full of outside smells, and dreams of chasing rabbits. We can learn lessons from our four-legged companions about life. The one that I learned that spring evening is fate may take a part of you away, but only we can decide to let it remove that part of our spirit. If we strive to be our very best, and accept our faults, limitations, and shortcomings, we will be happier beings, and live fulfilled lives.