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Overcoming Medical Issues to Compete Again

In follow up to Dr. Shaffer's article yesterday, Deb Harpur describes the changes she made to still compete with Rickie Roo.

Like Rickie Roo, I too am visually impaired, so I understand her frustration when you just don't see something correctly. I have no peripheral vision on my left side. So, together we help each other through the courses.

As referenced in Dr. Lisa's article yesterday, testing for Primary Lens Luxation (or any predisposed genetic disorder) is REALLY important. Had I not known Roo was at risk, I would have NEVER caught this issue in time and she'd be blind or without eyes today. Unfortunately, this is the case for many of the rat terriers we have met over the years.

PLL can affect many different breeds, including mixed breeds. Knowing if your dog is at risk could be the difference between impaired vision and losing their vision entirely.

Most often people do not know their dogs are at risk for PLL. When they see something wrong with their dogs eye, they are treated at the veterinarian for a scratched cornea. In reality, the lens has dropped in front of or in back of the eye. A few days later without proper treatment, the pressure in the eye becomes so intense the dog, unfortunately, ends up losing their vision.

The beginning stages of PLL with Rickie Roo.

Saving the eye requires years of medication and significant costs. Since I caught Roo's luxation very early in the process, my veterinarian was able to remove the lens and save her vision. Two weeks later, the same thing happened to her other eye.

Because Rickie Roo's vision is now compromised in certain situations, I am now more vigilant about the conditions we compete under. She is far sighted now with no depth perception.

I also made some changes during training and competitions too. For example, when we're training double or triple jumps I now say, "BIG jump" so she knows to give some extra effort. This is a different verbal cue than what I used before her eye surgery. Current pictures of her during competitions show her jumping about 20" from the ground and she's a 12" jumper, so she really is giving it more effort. 

Since we are now competing in USDAA Performance, these jumps are no longer an issue for us, but there is still the long jump to navigate. Thankfully, she has not had a problem navigating the long jump yet.

Dark tunnels are also a challenge for her. Obviously, this makes it more difficult for her to see where she is going. Roo typically dives into tunnels and keeps running, so I stop and make sure to watch her come out OK. That affects my timing for the next obstacle.

At the 2014 Cynosport World Games in Morgan Hill, we competed on Astroturf with permanent lines painted on it in several of the rings. In one of our first runs on that surface, Rickie Roo thought that each of the painted lines was a jump bar on the ground. It took me half the course to figure out what was going on because that particular ring had a LOT of lines.

Luckily, friends like Marq Cheek who also has a dog with vision issues, suggested I take her to a section of the field by the practice jump to run over the lines to help her adjust to the new conditions. I ended up having her chase a rolling ball over the lines. This helped immensely since she didn't jump any bonus lines for the rest of the event. We had a fast and happy semi-final run in Performance Speed Jumping and made it into Performance Versatility Pairs finals. 

Indoor lighting or artificial lighting can be a big deal for us too. The indoor lighting usually slows her down a bit and I really need to watch her closely to see that she knows where to go. I know when she can't see because as she approaches an obstacle she'll tilt her head to the side like she's trying to focus or adjust her angle to clearly see whats ahead of her. When this happens, I support her all the way through the obstacle.

Other challenges we face on course from lighting conditions are seeing Roo jump the wrong side of a wing jump or jumping over nothing instead of jumping over the bar. Whenever this happens, I know she can't see well enough to compete so I say, "WHOO HOO! Lets GO!" and make an exit for her safety. If I can tell from the practice jump that she can't see the bars due to the light conditions, I will scratch that run. 

Another thing I have to watch for is obstacles set up OUTSIDE the ring. Because of her sight issues and if there is lightweight fencing around the rings, it's hard for her distinguish if an obstacle is in the ring or not. So, I always look to for equipment that she could perceive as being in the ring and ask permission to lay it flat or change the angle of it so that we don't incur an injury. So far no one has ever declined that request.

It's been almost 2 years now (Oct 2013) and Rickie Roo is back to competing and running almost as fast as before. She will never be as fast as she was, but were now getting our contacts!

The bottom line is, this little dog lives to run agility and it doesn't matter to me how we end up on the results page. It's about letting her do the one thing that brings her joy, as long as she can do it safely.

She is a tough little terrier and I am so thankful we had her genetically tested, have a good relationship with a board certified eye specialist and that we have great friends who worked with us to ensure she would be safe when competing. For that, I thank everyone.

Photos courtesy of Deborah Davidson Harpur, Robert Moray and Mike Lifer Photography.

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