Able To Love a Disabled Dog

Devoted families help disabled dogs lead fulfilling lives.

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Lady and Emma
Maneuvering through a maze of wires and tubes, 61⁄2-year-old Lady has no problem getting close to hospitalized people who need canine therapy. The Collie passed her qualification exam for animal-assisted therapy on the first try. She adores chasing balls, walking, and tackling agility courses.

Impressive, especially considering she cannot see.

Owned by Bill and Virginia Johnson of Hamilton Square, N.J., Lady was diagnosed with detached retinas as a puppy. Emma, from Collie Rescue of South Eastern Pennsylvania, is blind from unknown causes. The Johnsons didn't toss their furniture or build specialized ramps; Lady and Emma have no problem adapting to everyday life.

They have a sense we don't have, Virginia Johnson says.

From camping trips to hotel overnighters, Lady and Emma learn the lay of the land in short order. The Johnsons observe them closely for the first few minutes in any new environment to ensure they're adapting well.

We treat [them] like normal-sighted dogs, Bill Johnson says.

Obedience training is a must because obeying commands the first time and having confidence in their owner could save their lives. On walks, Virginia Johnson will call out instructions (left, right, sit) or barriers (curb up, incoming to signify dogs or people).

During agility classes, she slaps obstacles and says their names, watching with joy as Lady conquers the course. Both dogs play with the other Johnson dogs, Summer and Josey, in a happy heap that makes it hard to determine who can see and who can't. When around new dogs, the Johnsons watch Lady and Emma continuously because the physical condition of their eyes could cause other dogs to react aggressively, Bill Johnson says.

Above all, the connection between owner and dogs is palpable. There is a bond that's amazing, Virginia Johnson says. 

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