May 2018 Worcester Telegram

Without the titanium patch under her skin behind one ear, a cochlear implant in her other ear and her hearing aids, Janet A. Martin is nearly totally deaf, but her service dog Della makes it possible for her to fully function and enjoy life.  Ms. Marin, 80, met with veterinary ophthalmologist Stephanie Pumphrey at the Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tufts University to have Della’s eyes examined – a free service Tufts is providing this month to people with service, emotional support and therapy dogs. “Della means everything to me,” Ms. Martin said of her 6-year-old black Labrador. “Without her, I would be at a total loss. She is the most helpful animal and was wonderfully trained by NEADS,” formerly known as National Education for Assistance Dog Services and Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans.

Della helps Ms. Martin with everyday tasks at her home in Leicester, such as alerting her when someone is at the door, the phone is ringing or the microwave or oven timer is going off. The dog also travels with her and comforts her, and helped her through the loss of her husband one year ago at age 81 from kidney failure after seven years of dialysis, Ms. Martin said. Della also helped comfort Mr. Martin when he was not feeling well, Ms. Martin said. Before her husband’s death, Ms. Martin lost her 14-year-old service dog Monte to lung cancer and was without a service dog for about 15 months. While she grieved the loss of Monte, she raised the $9,500 she needed to adopt Della. During her time without a dog for assistance, she said, she didn’t really feel secure.

“Assistance dogs are with you 24/7 and when you lose them, it is like you lost a part of yourself,” she said. “Della helps me with just about everything and is always by my side.”

Making sure Della is healthy is a priority, and she said she was grateful for the free exam that discovered Della had dry eye so she could treat her through her family vet. Ms. Martin said she was not sure if she could have afforded the exam for Della herself. “This is fantastic and they treated her so well,” she said. “It is so important to know that her eyes are OK and I don’t have to worry about that. It is just as important as if you were having eye problems yourself. I also came here one time with Monte because I thought he broke his leg and they got him walking again. They didn’t charge me for that.” 

Tufts Free Eye ExamTufts Veterinary Emergency Treatment & Specialties in Walpole has participated in the annual ACVO/StokesRx National Service Animal Eye Exam event for more than a decade, but this is the first time the free exams were provided at the small-animal hospital in Grafton. Both hospitals are part of Cummings Veterinary Medical Centre at Tufts University and will provide approximately 20 free appointments in May across both locations, Dr. Pumphrey said. Tufts at Tech Community Veterinary Clinic also offers affordable veterinary care to qualified clients in the greater Worcester area, she said.

Early detection of eye problems such as cataracts or retinal disease is key, she explained.

“We do see a lot of dogs who have lost their vision, and they are happy and have quality of life, but these dogs have a job to keep their owners safe, or they are meant to comfort people and provide support to people who are sick,” Dr. Pumphrey said. “Guide dogs need to see, and for therapy dogs, it is easier for them to have a deeper interaction if they can see.” Dogs’ eyes are similar to humans’, she said, and require the same medications and surgeries. “With early intervention, we can catch issues when they are small,” she said.

Dog owners should watch for changes in their dog’s behaviour that could mean there is a problem with their vision, she said, including not wanting to do something they normally do, or rubbing their eyes or squinting, or for changes to the appearance of the eyes such as redness or cloudiness. Without early intervention, she said, a serious enough problem could lead to a service dog no longer being able to provide assistance and becoming a pet. “Stokes has been doing this for 11 years and it is definitely something I look forward to doing every year,” she said. “It is really fun. I meet nice dogs, and it is a way to do something for these dogs because they do a lot for us.” She added that vets also examine other service animals during the event, including cats and horses.

Dennis Rich, 79, and his wife Karen  65, both retired nurses from Templeton, brought in golden retrievers Mya, 8 and Clancy 2, both therapy dogs that provide comfort and love to people in mental health units, nursing homes, addiction recovery centres and schools, and to cancer patients. Ms. Rich is a dog trainer working out of the Gardner Animal Care Centre, training and testing therapy dogs. “Last week we were at Mount Wachusett Community College with them to help decrease stress before final exams,” Ms. Rich said. “The students were laying on the floor with them hugging them, crying and laughing.”

The free exams were the couple’s “only compensation” for the volunteer work they do with the dogs, she said. “It’s fabulous,” Ms. Rich said. “We’re so appreciative. I don’t even know what a regular eye exam on a dog costs. This was our first time at Tufts because we wanted the best to check them. It was easy to get them in.” Mya and Clancy passed their exams with flying colours, she said. “Golden retrievers are prone to certain genetic and other eye problems,” she said. “Having a professional screen them and make sure nothing is going on is very valuable to us.”

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