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While a dog would surely choose smell over vision if forced to have one or the other, those dogs who serve us need to see to do their jobs. That’s obviously true of dogs who assist the visually disabled, but it’s just as true for working dogs of all kinds, from police and military dogs to search and rescue and all kinds of disability assistance dogs.
Many veterinary ophthalmologists have long donated or discounted services to these dogs, out of respect and support for the work they do. A few years ago, one of them, Dr. William Miller of Advanced Animal Eye Care in the Memphis area, thought he could help more service dogs and the people they work with by making free exams an official offering of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO).
His colleagues agreed, and the organization launched the National Service Dog Eye Exam program, with the sponsorship and support of Merial. This is the fifth year, and every year more handlers and owners bring their dogs in for the screening. (Registration is now open for the 2013 event.)
“I’ve been providing free exams to service animals since 1986, and I knew many of my colleagues did as well,” says Dr. Miller. “We launched the national program, and that first year our ACVO members provided exams to between 800 to 900 animals. Last year we helped 5,000 animals. In all we’ve seen close to 12,000 animals since we started the program."
The exam is a general one, meant not only to spot emergency or existing vision problems but also larger health problems such as tumors. In some cases what a veterinary ophthalmologist finds can save an animal’s life or lead to treatment that can extend his service.
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