This afternoon, I spent a couple of hours sitting in my rocking chair on the back deck watching Lee-Lou wander around the yard checking things out and occasionally bouncing off the fence. She moves slowly so the bounces aren’t painful.
Lee-Lou is a rescue dog that I adopted on April 5. She came from Texas through the same rescue that supplied me with the one-eyed Professor, who died in January. Lee-Lou is totally blind. Before I said yes, I did some reading about blind dogs and thought that we were up to the challenge.
I already had Teddy, another rescue who arrived this past summer.
Getting Lee-Lou during the pandemic was kind of like ordering a pizza in that she was brought up from the Front Range and I met her at the curb wearing a mask. I brought her in to see if Teddy would tolerate her presence and it seemed to go well. So little Lee, who came with a bed, collar, leash and a big stuffed snake, became part of our household.
It hasn’t been what I expected.
I have talked with people and seen Facebook postings about their blind animals who apparently go through life smoothly, rapidly adjusting. The cats jump up on the kitchen counters and hang from the chandeliers and the dogs run through the woods without a care in the world. You’d never know that they were blind. (These may be the same people whose children accomplish only great things — according to Facebook.)
We haven’t reached that point yet. Lee-Lou was found as a stray — dirty, matted and emaciated, with infected eyes that no longer could see and some fatty tumors. She is 8 and had never been fixed. The Denver woman who rescued her, flew her back and had her eyes and tumors removed. She was also spayed. She was about a week out from these surgeries when she arrived in Leadville.
Since then she has been settling in.
Lee-Lou is a Shih Tzu. I wonder if she was in a puppy mill and then abandoned as she reached the end of her puppy-bearing years. She probably had beautiful pups, but she doesn’t seem to know how to play with Teddy, much to his despair. It is taking her time to warm up to me, to learn who I am. The tail wags are becoming more frequent as are the hand licks, so we’re getting somewhere.
She is housebroken (for which I’m grateful). When she has to go out, she barks and I carry her out. This is usually a lengthy process as site selection takes some time. But she has never had an accident in the house. She also barks when she wants a drink of water, and I’m torn between putting a bowl of water near her bed and hoping she can find the water bowl, which is in the kitchen. She hasn’t found it yet, but I carry her to it. She is very hesitant about wandering too far or going from one room to another. My house is on one level, but there is a low step between the front and the back. She wants no part of that step.
She also barks when I am in another room and she wants to be there as well. So I retrieve her. Teddy is my constant companion, and it seems Lee doesn’t want to be left out. She doesn’t actually get up and find me, but maybe some day.
So far she’s done a pretty good job of training me.
Her vocabulary is minimal. When I got her, I was told she was called Lee because she seemed to respond to “L” words. I changed it to Lee-Lou figuring two “Ls” are better than one. She perks up when I say her name. She also perks up when I say “treat.” Words like “sit,” “stay,” “walk” and “come” get no reaction.
Lee obviously has no experience on leash. Even though I have a fancy harness for her complete with a handle on the top, her reaction to having it on is to sit and stay seated. (I don’t think that counts as “sit” and “stay.”) I don’t want to drag her down the street, so we haven’t been taking walks. Yet.
Rescue dogs are always serious eaters, probably because they have had times in the past when food was hard to come by. Lee eats twice a day and always cleans her plate. Teddy likes to take his time eating, but little Lee manages to find his bowl on the other side of the kitchen and can polish off anything that’s in it. Now Teddy eats with one eye on her.
Her hearing is also kind of mixed up. When I call to her from across the yard, she turns in the opposite direction. I don’t take this personally.
At some point I’d like to consult a dog trainer about what more I might be doing. The short how-to lists on the internet are not helpful in this situation.
For now, I find myself watching her tour the yard in clockwise circles and I ponder what horrific things took place in her past. Who makes the decision which dogs get the designer beds and nightly treats and which are abandoned in the wilds of Texas? Why do some dogs end up alone and unloved?
Right now Lee is a good companion for the pandemic. We sit and converse. She’s a good listener.
“Tell me your story, Lee-Lou.” I might get a tail thump.
“You’re a beautiful girl. You’re such a good dog. I love you, Lee. You’re safe now.”
Martinek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.