This post was inspired by a Twitter post about ableism in veterinary medicine and how people treat disabled animals, so CWs for discussions of ableism, medical treatments of a pet, eyeballs.
For a little background, my dog Finn developed uveitis sometime between 2019 and 2020. Uveitis is inflammation of the interior chambers of the eye, and for most pets who develop it, there’s no known cause. At first we thought maybe he had allergies because his eye looked red. Then, we realized his eye was bulging, so we took him to our vet, who sent us to a veterinary ophthalmologist. He got drops, but they weren’t enough and the uveitis progressed into secondary glaucoma, which is basically high internal pressure inside the eyeball due to the eye not draining properly. Glaucoma can be very painful, and the vet gave us the option of removing Finn’s eye or trying to get it under control with drops. Finn is pretty old. He’s a rescue, so we aren’t really sure how old he is. He’s probably older than Edgar, who is now twelve, and we were hesitant for him to be under anesthesia if we could help it. I decided I would try the eye drop routine, and if it didn’t work, then we would discuss removing his affected eye. This kicked off the several month journey of sixteen eye drops a day. The only good thing about this was it happened during Covid, so I was home and able to give him drop four times a day and have them be fairly evenly spaced.
It was a lot of work. I understand why some people would have opted for the eye removal from the start, and I don’t begrudge them for that. I was lucky in that Finn is very cooperative about getting his eye drops (apart from flopping back to sleep mid drop), I was willing to shell out the money for all the drops and vet trips, and my job is such that I could do his eye drops on a regular basis. After many months and many not cheap trips to the ophthalmologist, Finn’s glaucoma went into remission and his uveitis is stable. He only gets steroid drops twice a day and we no longer need to visit the vet unless something changes (knock on wood it doesn’t).
What weirded me out the most during all of these vet trips is that during one of the final trips before the vet said we didn’t have to come back, he emphatically pointed out that Finn’s eye would never be normal. My partner and I were like, “Yes?? Okay.” An eyeball that’s been swollen with fluid to the point of losing some of its traditional structure isn’t going to magically fix itself. The vet repeated that his eye would never look normal and reminded us he would always be blind. The vet obviously doesn’t know that I have a degree in biology, so we just nodded along looking confused as to why this needed to be stressed to us.
In the car on the way home, my partner and I started talking about how weird it was. How many people were thoroughly convinced their dog’s eye would magically return to normal or that their sight would return after internal damage was done? How many people were mad that their dog’s eye was no longer perfect? Frankly, neither of us could care less what Finn’s eye looks like as long as it isn’t causing him pain. He’s totally blind in his right eye, and it looks a little recessed in the socket and cloudy as if he has cataracts. But he isn’t in pain, he’s happy, and he’s a (knock on wood) healthy senior dog, albeit toothless. I imagined our vet getting angry calls from pet owners who were now “stuck” with disabled or non-aesthetically pleasing pets due to various eye ailments. Looking at my sweet boy, I cannot imagine being mad or loving him less because his eye is a little messed up. It’s part of him, it adds character. As someone who has been an “unsightly” chronically ill person, it strikes a cord with me that people even think this way about their pets. So much so that people will actually get prosthetic eyes put into their dog’s sockets after an eye removal. Your dog doesn’t care it’s missing an eye. The other dogs don’t care. The only one who is upset is the owner, and that feels like something one should spend some time examining.
On top of all this, Finn is blind. His right eye is completely blind and his left eye has limited vision. We are fairly certain he can see about 2-3 feet in front of him, and he sees better when the sun is of middling brightness or not at a direct angle into his eye. Too bright or too dark and he can’t see well. Because of this, he bumps into stuff. He bounces off of things outside, he overshoots the patio and gets lost, he sits on his siblings, much to Katie’s dismay. To us, it isn’t a big deal. We always go out in the yard with the dogs, so someone always keeps an eye on Finn to make sure he doesn’t get hurt. We carry him down the deck stairs and follow him up them to make sure he doesn’t fall. Every accommodation we make for Finn to keep him safe is minimal effort on our parts. The scariest thing is going down the stairs with him when it’s icy because we’re always afraid of potentially falling and hurting him, so we go down on our butts with him in our lap. Once again, not a big deal.
It’s upsetting for me to think of how many people would think any of the minor accommodations we make for Finn are a burden or too much to deal with. He’s my dog, and when we got him, there was the implicit understanding that I would do everything in my power to keep him safe, happy, and healthy for as long as I could. Pets end up in the dubious category of living being and property, which I think is what leads to this weird brand of ableism with owners being upset that their pet is “defective” or not aesthetically pleasing. If my pet isn’t picture perfect, people will assume I’m a bad owner or that I don’t take care of them or that I bought a dog that was “defective.” I friggin hate the word defective. My dog has a medical condition. He isn’t defective because he’s blind in one eye, his eye isn’t a source of embarrassment or shame, and his smooshy little face has been and always will be Instagram worthy. Your disabled pet doesn’t have a design flaw and should never have the same language applied to them that you would a broken TV or ripped pair of pants.
In the back of my head, I always wonder what people who say these things about their pets would say about other people to their faces or behind their backs. If you call a creature who loves you unconditionally defective because they’re disabled, what do you say about disabled people or how would you treat people you know if they suddenly became disabled? The worst part is knowing that vets also perpetuate this language and attitude. I don’t think my vet brought it up for any reason other than to temper our expectations, but in the post I mentioned at the very beginning of the blog, this person’s vet said cruel things about their disabled cat and treated the non-disabled cat better. Vets and pet owners need to do better. The chronically ill and disabled people in your life hear what you say when you don’t think there’s anyone around to get offended, but not all issues are visible and we hear you.