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Sight isn’t necessary for love

Sweet Penny was relinquished to the Dumb Friends League when her human became ill and was unable to care for the puppy. Staff learned Penny was house trained and loved to go on walks, and at the shelter, the gorgeous Cavalier Spaniel mix was known to crawl into laps and make herself at home. Who doesn’t like a bit of comfort?

When Carmella moved to Denver, she learned about the League and what the organization did for pets and the community. In April 2013, when she was ready to adopt a dog, Carmella checked the website daily to see who was ready for adoption—and, as fate would have it, she saw Penny almost minutes after she became available.

“I honestly can’t tell you what it was about Penny that made me want to adopt her,” said Carmella. “It was as if she was calling to me from her photo (so cheesy, right?!). I had seen many other dogs and really wasn’t looking for a puppy. I wanted an older dog because I knew it was a lot harder for older dogs to get homes. But, as soon as I saw her picture, my heart just knew she was the one. Something about her eyes and her sweet expression in the picture. I rushed down to be sure I was the first in line, and luckily I was. Not more than 10 minutes after I got there, another couple was hoping to meet her. But after our meet and greet, I said ‘Sorry, she’s taken.’” (And, for the record, we don’t think it’s cheesy at all to have that reaction to a picture—especially when such soulful eyes are meeting yours.)

Laughter and love filled their days with the sweet pup enjoying every adventure and person she met. “Overall, Penny just had this independence about her, like she was an old soul,” said Carmella.

It was right after Thanksgiving 2019 when Carmella noticed Penny wasn’t as confident on her feet as she usually was. “Penny was having a hard time on the stairs and couldn’t see a toy when I threw it in the house, which obviously scared me,” said Carmella. Penny’s veterinarian confirmed the pup was going blind. After visiting a specialist, Carmella learned that Penny had Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome (SARDS), a rare autoimmune disease that attacks the eyes. There is no treatment for SARDS, and the disease happens quickly and is permanent.

“Shock. Sadness. Then anger followed,” said Carmella. “Why did this have to happen to HER? Why to MY little adventurous, goofy, fun-loving girl? I think I was in denial at first; every time she did something where it seemed she could see my heart said, ‘Wait, she’s fine!’ Then five minutes later, she would run into the garbage can … heartbreak again. To say that month was a roller coaster of emotions is accurate.”

Carmella learned that Penny would adjust to her lack of sight, and that is exactly what happened.

“As I learn to reimagine what our future will look like, I know that we will still be a team and that now I will need to be her support, just as she has been for me for the last seven years,” said Carmella. “I still laugh at the times when she is being a goofball, and I am still constantly trying to get snuggles, and there are also times where I worry when she’s learning to do something new, like walking up stairs or trying to navigate by herself. Anyone who has a dog knows that they are your heart and soul, and they give you love that comes without conditions. Sometimes we have to return the favor. And I’m happy to do so.”

Penny is more mellow, calm, sleepy and cautious now, but Carmella can’t tell if she understands that she could see once, and now she can’t. Penny’s veterinarian said dogs “don’t look back,” meaning they adjust easily to their new normal. “So now when she hears a squirrel and wants to chase it, she runs a little more slowly toward the tree,” said Carmella. “And she used to love the water; now it makes her nervous. But, she still has to stick her head out the window in the car!! Some things never change!”

When Carmella and Penny are out and about, Penny wears a “blind dog” vest, and Carmella is happy to share their story and educate people. “One of the reasons I got the vest is so people could see a blind dog doing ‘regular’ dog stuff—walking, playing, jumping in the snow,” said Carmella. “I think that talking to them erases the fear of having a dog who is blind or the thinking of ‘it must be so hard! I could never have a dog who has a disability.’ People see she is a great dog with a lot of zest! Sometimes people tell me their stories of the blind dogs they’ve had or dogs with other disabilities and gush that they were/are the best dogs! The common thread is how it broke our hearts at first, but then we became inspired by them and their resilience. Funny enough, some people thought that I was blind, and she was my ‘blind dog’ like a guide dog. Once I tell them she’s blind, they go ‘aawww, what a brave girl!’ And she is!”

Penny learned to navigate her home to the point where Carmella sometimes thinks she can still see. Her bravery and resilience shines every day and teaches Carmella that she can be brave, too.

“Penny may be blind, but she is not broken. I hope this will inspire others to see that a blind dog can still be a great dog. They just need a little more patience and support. Maybe someone reading this will adopt a dog with a disability, knowing they still bring all the joy and happiness as any other dog,” said Carmella. We hope that, as well!

Visit our adoptions page or call 303.751.5772 to learn about pets in need of loving homes. All adoptions include spay or neuter surgeries, age-appropriate vaccinations, a microchip ID and a free wellness visit with a participating veterinarian.

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