My Dog Can't See, But She Isn't Blind ... To Our Love: Cleo's Story

by Sharon Castellanos

My dog Cleo has always been clumsy. 

Starting the day we brought her home from our San Francisco SPCA she has rushed into closed doors, bumped her head into tables, stumbled off curbs, tripped over shoes, and generally got into as much clumsy mischief as an 85 lb. Husky-Shepherd dog could.

She chased a squirrel up a tree once, and couldn’t figure out how to get down. There was a moment on a beach excursion when Cleo didn’t see a wave coming and found herself under water for a few seconds. A few years ago at a friend’s house, her interest in the bathroom trash can pulled Cleo into a space that was so narrow and awkward for her big body that when she turned around to leave, her butt and tail closed the door. She silently and patiently stayed behind the bathroom door waiting for them to find her. Cleo has a deep ability to trust her caregivers.

Today, my senior dog still gets into much of the same mischief as before only at a slower pace, and without most of her vision.

Cleo was diagnosed with diabetes over two years ago. 

We have managed it well with daily insulin injections and a balanced diet, but it caused her develop cataracts quickly. We’ve considered taking her to an ophthalmologist to see if she’d be a good candidate for cataract surgery but we have not. I’m concerned about her going through the surgery and the recovery, besides being wary of whether the results would have enough of a positive impact on the quality of her life to be worth the stress on us both. We don’t know her exact age but she is definitely close to 13 years old — which is elderly for a big dog.

If the ophthalmologist thought she’d do well with the surgery, would her being able to see that chair, or that corner of the couch, or the stairs, significantly increase the quality of her life? Would she bump into objects any less? Would her confidence increase? Who can really say. We certainly know any increase in vision will not reverse the ache in her aging joints from arthritis.

Our holistic approach

Instead we choose to focus more on what we know she enjoys, and give her a good life — each day we have together. We’re celebrating what we have with her, and accepting her as she is, an aging dog who is still sweet natured, loving to all, food motivated and curious about the smells that surround her.

We cope on a practical scale with Cleo’s blindness by not moving furniture. 

We’ve taught her useful words such as “step” to use negotiating stairs or sidewalk curb. We praise all of her excursions along the hallway leading from the front of the house to the back. We also have modified our schedules so someone is always at home with her.

Pets, in my book, whether they are cats, bunnies, fish or a cute dog, are a gift to human-kind. They make wonderful teachers, if you just stop for a second, and let them. If they happen to be blind, or without a complete set of legs, or whatever, it just means you are in for a treat. You know why?

Because they use their ability to problem solve in really unique and joyful ways!

These skills can be very translatable to humans too. We’re often learning something new about ourselves from life with Cleo. I’ve become much more compassionate towards my father’s own struggles managing his diabetes. So the next time you feel sorry for a disabled dog, don't.

They don't want our pity, they’re social creatures and want our attention. And probably a treat.

Though our dog Cleo doesn't see much with her eyes, she isn’t blind to our affectionate gestures. She can hear love in our tone of voice. I know she can feel my parental attention when I groom her and check her over for any new lumps or hotspots.

I believe Cleo copes well with her vision loss because of our holistic approach to her quality of life — and that is what I care about the most.


With her dog Cleo as her muse, Sharon Castellanos is inspired to share through Grouchy Puppy how dogs give fearlessly and positively influence our lives. Demonstrations by dogs and the people who love them are everywhere proving the human-animal bond is real. Grouchy Puppy is focused on highlighting them.

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