Some people may not agree with the notion that there is a “right” person for everyone. But animal owners have no doubt that the maxim is true when it comes to pets. Recently, someone explained it to me this way: Every once in a while, an animal leaves a paw print on your heart.
That sums up what a black Labrador retriever named Jesse means to a Hartville family who found the dog so intuitive that members immediately realized she was the dog for them.
Bill and Kathy Speer knew it would be difficult to find a service dog to help Bill cope with the ravages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ALS is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. Bill was diagnosed with the disease five years ago. It has robbed him of the use of his body and the ability to speak.
Lakota, the first dog they received from Assistance Dogs of Toledo, based in Swanton, failed to understand commands from a computer that gives voice to commands from Bill Speer’s eyes.
But what confused Lakota was barely a blip on the screen for Jesse. It took her 15 minutes to catch on and accept commands from the computer, rather than directly from Bill. There is some advantage in accepting a “senior” dog into your home, the couple decided. Jesse, who is 8 years old, has been with the Speers for three years.
When Kathy Speer was diagnosed with autonomic dysfunction, a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system, Jesse became certified to help both her owners cope with day-to-day activities. Jesse is also a pal for the couple’s 9-year-old daughter, Abby.
“Our daughter has Down syndrome and Jesse is great with her. And [Abby] has someone to boss around,” she said.
Each May for several years, Kathy Speer has taken advantage of an eye-care program offered to service animals by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO). More than 200 board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico offer free eye exams during the National Service Dog Eye Exam Event each year.
Since the Service Dog Eye Exam program started in 2008, more than 10,500 service animals have been examined, including handicapped assistance dogs, detection dogs, search and rescue dogs, horses and even a donkey.
Jesse, who received her exam last month from veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Mark Bobofchak of Eye Care for Animals on Copley Road in Copley Township, passed with flying colors.
He did a complete ocular exam on Jesse, testing for redness, squinting, cloudy corneas, retinal disease, early cataracts and other abnormalities that could lead to serious health problems and vision loss.
Bobofchak said he performed about 15 free eye exams on service animals during May. He has participated with the ACVO/Merial National Service Dog Eye Exam Event for four years.
“I believe the program is very valuable,” he said.
To qualify for free exams, animals must be “active working animals” that were certified by a formal training program or organization or enrolled in a formal training program.
Obviously, good vision is imperative for a service animal.
“Many ocular conditions that can lead to pain or vision loss can go unnoticed for long periods of time,” Bobofchak said. “Early detection can be critical to help preserve vision and allow these wonderful dogs to continue their service.”
Jesse, who was trained for service by inmates at the Toledo Correctional Institute, opens doors, picks items up off the ground and helps with laundry.
Although Jesse didn’t quite fit in her first two placements, she immediately became an integral member of the Speer family.
“She brings me things and helps me with groceries. She’s the real deal,” Kathy Speer said.
The Speers take Jesse’s health as seriously as they do their own.
A thick notebook containing Jesse’s medical records accompanies her on all her appointments so Speer can pinpoint when and what tests the dog has undergone since coming to live with the family.
Bobofchak assured Speer that although retinal degeneration is common in Labs, Jesse appears to be free of the disease. “If she had the genetic degeneration, she would have shown signs of it by now,” she said.
Obviously, Jesse is the one dog to leave imaginary paw prints all over Kathy, Bill and Abby’s hearts.
Other animals in the news:
• The Summit County Health District is sponsoring a rabies vaccination clinic from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the Barberton Utility Garage, 175 Water St. SW. The entrance is at the Summit County Trail Head Park on Snyder Avenue near the railroad tracks. Animals can receive a one- or three-year vaccine (pets must be at least 3 months old) for $6. Other vaccines and services that will be available for cats include annual booster and feline leukemia shot for outdoor cats only. Services for dogs include annual booster shots and heart worm test. All pets must be caged or on a leash. Only cash or a check will be accepted for payment. 330-926-5600.
• The Akron Zoo is hosting World Ocean’s Day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday. The zoo will have special displays and activities throughout the park that will center on sea turtles and the challenges they face in oceans. Island music will be provided by Tom Todd, a one-man band. Everyone is encouraged to wear Hawaiian shirts.
• The Cleveland Chapter of the American Associations of Zookeepers is sponsoring a Bowling for Rhinos fundraiser at 6:30 p.m. June 23 at Cloverleaf Lanes, 5619 Brecksville Road, Independence. Registration is $15, or $35 at the door, subject to availability. Price includes three games of bowling, shoe rental, pizza, pop and snacks. The event will feature a silent auction, raffle, cash bar, refreshments and more. All proceeds will be donated to rhino sanctuaries in Kenya, Java and Sumatra. Registration forms are available at www.clemetzoo.com or at the Cleveland Zoo’s Administration Building. For information, call 216-661-6500, ext. 4452.
Kathy Antoniotti writes about pets for the Akron Beacon Journal. She is unable to help locate, place or provide medical attention for an individual animal. If you have an idea or question about pets, write her at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; call 330-996-3565; or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.