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Written by Janet Goodman, BT Contributor   
January 2018

Veterinary opththalmology and guide devices help vision-impaired dogs

TPix_A_PetTalk_1-18hey say necessity is the mother of invention. That’s been Sylvie Bordeaux’s experience.

The Sherman Oaks, California, woman was the owner of a toy poodle named Muffin. In 2012 he lost his sight in both eyes from cataracts. Bumping into walls and furniture led to inactivity and depression, says Bordeaux.

She fought back by creating a worn device that improved Muffin’s mobility, got him quickly acquainted with new surroundings, and helped him regain confidence.

Bordeaux’s patented invention is the Muffin’s Halo Guide for Blind Dogs, which is manufactured, packaged, and shipped globally out of an L.A. facility. In addition to Muffin, who died in 2015, it has helped thousands of blind dogs.

Muffin’s Halo consists of three parts: wing, halo, and harness. Each adjustable halo is constructed of lightweight, flexible PVC (plastic) tubing and is threaded through the wing and held in place by Velcro straps. Wing and harness are made of polyester/cotton twill fabric. The wing is fitted onto Velcro located on the neck of the harness.

A combination of wing and halo protects the blind dog’s head, face, neck, and shoulders from injury. Directly in front of the dog, the halo arcs just above the eyes in a visor-like manner. “When they walk around, the tubing hits the hard surface,” says Bordeaux in one of dozens of YouTube videos showing her product in action. “It’s like a buffer, a bumper car, that redirects him,” she adds. The blind dog learns to navigate, and thus achieves a better quality of life.

Practice runs with the Halo help dogs perfect movement and build confidence by safely mapping out the terrain. At first they stop cold when they hit obstructions, but they quickly catch on to a bump and then move away. Blind dogs often keep their heads down and are less active than sighted ones, but with the Halo, they start to raise their heads again and navigate freely without fear. Bordeaux notes that her device empowers blind dogs to explore; they can eat, drink, sleep, and play while wearing it, and the snug-fitting harness eases anxiety.

Pix_B_PetTalk_1-18Miramar residents Suzana Blake and her husband, Eric, have a 13-year-old dachshund named Hank who has gone blind from glaucoma. In a BT e-mail exchange, Suzana writes that an eye specialist has treated Hank to relieve eye pressure and recommended seeing if he qualifies for surgery. But the couple finds the high cost prohibitive. “Just the diagnosis and initial medication were close to $1000,” she writes.

She explains her heartache at watching the change in her pet. “It’s been sad to see Hank withdraw so much. Unfortunately, he has very little active time. Around breakfast and dinner he stands up and walks around the kitchen; the rest of the time he is in his bed.” A Muffin’s Halo now makes Hank’s forays safer: “He’s not hitting his head when he walks around.”

Veterinarian Teresa Tucci is an ophthalmologist with Veterinary Specialists Inc. in Homestead, which treats large, small, and exotic animals. Tucci tells the BT that the top three causes of blindness in dogs she treats in South Florida are: corneal trauma, and secondary infection and inflammation; cataracts; and glaucoma.

“Glaucoma is very difficult to treat once there’s been an intraocular pressure spike,” she explains. “Commonly, the first eye is blinded, but if therapy is sought early, many times vision in the second eye can be saved for a period of time. Typically, primary glaucoma is blinding in most cases. Very sad to see, difficult to treat, because most [require] expensive medications and many visits to check intraocular pressures. We have amazing owners who truly care and do excellent jobs. Even in these cases, vision may be lost.”

Tucci adds that many dog breeds have genetic susceptibilities to blindness, especially terriers, Siberian Huskies, and Shar-Peis. She’s familiar with the Muffin’s Halo and has clients who use the device to help their dogs.

Anyone living with a vision-impaired dog should “blind-proof” the home and yard. Bordeaux advises not to move furniture because the dog already has a mental map of where things are. Block stairways with gates, or use different carpet textures to mark the top and bottom of steps. Remove low-hanging branches, and fence in the pool. Wood chips around trees and bushes can signal obstacles to a blind dog; scents and sounds are also good markers. When unsupervised, leave the dog in a safe, more confined space.

Bordeaux advocates for adoption of vision-impaired dogs through her Second Chances for Blind Dogs non-profit, which offers free Halos to blind dogs in shelters and rescues, with the hope of helping them find forever homes. Her halo for cats is launching in 2018. Learn more at www.muffinshalo.com.

 

Janet Goodman is a Miami Shores-based dog trainer and principal of Good Dog Bad Dog Inc. Contact her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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