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No Vision? No Problem!

How does a blind dog earn a Rally Champion Extraordinaire title? By Brenna Fender


The APDT Rally Champion Extraordinaire (ARCHEX) title is a huge accomplishment. It requires a dog and handler team to earn the ARCHX and APDT Rally Level 3 (RL3) titles and then an additional 10 double qualifying scores of 195 or higher, at Levels 2B and 3B (with each set of QQs being earned at the same trial). For most dogs and handlers, finishing this title is a challenge. But for Jessica Tartof and her five-and-a-half-year-old Australian Shepherd, Piper, earning the ARCHEX seems to be almost a miracle. Why?

Piper is blind.

Piper. Photo courtesy of Jessica Tartof.

Tartof, who is a veterinarian, took Piper in when she was four-to-five months old. Her original family was unable to handle Piper's already-fading eyesight, so they handed her over to Tartof to rehome. It wasn't long before Tartof realized that Piper would eventually be blind, so Tartof decided to keep Piper instead. After that, things got really interesting.

Brenna Fender (BF): Tell me about how Piper lost her eyesight.

Jessica Tartof (JT): [When I took Piper in], she was visual/could see, although her vision was impaired. With the help of an ophthalmologist, we soon figured out she had several issues with her eyes with the most severe being glaucoma (high pressures due to buildup of fluid in the eye causing pain). When I got her, she knew nothing. So as I started to treat the eyes, I worked on basics, potty training, how to get up and down stairs, how to navigate the house, etcetera. My older girls were her babysitters of sort, helping her get around, and teaching her how to get around. The pressure in her eyes responded to the eye medications for a few months but her vision did deteriorate and each time she had to re-adjust to her environment. At nine months of age, with numerous eye medications throughout the day, her pressures were no longer controlled. The only option was surgery at this point, even though she was still visual, in order to make her comfortable. We didn't think she had much vision at this point. After surgery, I realized were wrong and she really relied on the little sight she had left. 

Piper had intrascleral prothesis; basically they scooped out the side parts of her eye, and put in a black ball. That is why her eyes look black. So she does still have her corneas, the front part of the eye. 

BF: You said that Piper really relied on what little sight she had. How long did it take her to adjust to her blindness? What accommodations did you make in order to make her daily life easier for her?

JT: It took her about three months to really adapt to losing her sight and to be able to get around on her own. But it took her longer to develop what we call her "supersonic skills," knowing where things are in a strange area before I can even say anything. At about six months after her surgery, I noticed her sense of smell and hearing sharply increased! She used to lick a lot of things in the beginning, building a scent library of sorts. Some things I did prior to her surgery hoping that she would get used to them before [losing her sight] was putting runners around the house in the main pathways so she could easily avoid furniture. Then there were different mats at each door. And her food bowel had a softer mat. These gave her some texture differences. Then [my other pets] and I all got different bells to help her know where we are to decrease the bumping or sometimes "running into" episodes. I also put a different scented candle in each room, not to light, but to have some scent in each room so that she would have an easi

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