Tao the golden retriever looks like your usual, helpful guide dog. However, he’s actually blind and relies on a ‘guide human’ to help him on his day-to-day adventures.
He wasn’t born this way. Back in February 2019, Tao was suffering in immense agony. ‘If you can imagine a migraine and times it by a hundred – that was the pain he was in,’ his owner explained.
The poor pooch was suffering from glaucoma, and over the course of two operations – with the second happening just eight weeks ago – he had both eyes removed. But things are quickly improving for the 10-year-old – he’s even been let off the lead recently.
Glaucoma causes a build-up of fluid in the eye, with nowhere for it to drain away. His owner, Melanie Jackson (known as Mel), described the morning she realised something was wrong with Tao: ‘You know just when the dog is not his normal self.’
The 53-year-old, from Shepton Mallet, Somerset, added:
We had a normal morning. Everything was absolutely fine… by the night, he was in the most pain I have ever seen so we took him to the vets. He was scratching his face. I said: ‘You are going to think I’m mad – but Tao has lost his sight.’
The pressure was so high in his eye. We didn’t have any other choice but to have the eye removed. Then, after a through examination, I was made aware that he had it in his second eye. So we monitored it every day, but then he started going in and out of blindness. It wasn’t fair. He was in a lot of pain.
After being diagnosed with glaucoma and undergoing an operation, euthanasia was even discussed. However, Tao is a fighter, managing to keep his remaining eye for 11 months with eye drops. When Mel realised his vision was increasingly fading, he had it removed.
However, since the procedure in January this year, he has been thriving – adapting to his surroundings and using commands to navigate, even around busy areas.
He is amazing. He’s so well trained – he listens to every command. He can go off-lead and waits if you are by a road. If people are coming he gets close to me and if there’s other dogs off their lead he will be aware of that. He does everything that we have always done.
But because he’s a golden retriever and wears a sleeve on his lead saying ‘Blind K9’ people assume I must be the one that’s blind. They say: ‘He must be good for you’. I say: ‘No, I’m his guide human!’
Tao has ‘sensory mats made of hessian by the doors now, so he knows when he’s going out’ and ‘uses the textures to feel his way around the house’. While he may not be quite as rambunctious, ‘he has a good, happy life. He trusts his mum completely’.
And though he may be happy now, Mel is keen to point out that it’s ‘taken an immense amount of time and training to get him to this point,’ and urges those looking to buy puppies to ‘ask the question,’ as it is preventable if diagnosed early enough.
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