Blind, but no pause: Rescued puppies travel from rural Alaska to Juneau

Southeast Organization For Animals makes special effort for disabled dogs

Every morning, Cathy Dobson walks into her kitchen to make breakfast. The moment she steps into the room, her slippers are covered in rollicking puppies.

 

“I love it,” she said.

From her home in the Mendenhall Valley, Dobson is one of the most reliable volunteers for Southeast Organization For Animals, a network that connects abandoned animals with new owners.

This week, she has some special guests: A litter of 6-week-old puppies from Prince of Wales Island. Most of them are blind. One is both blind and deaf.

For SOFA, as the network is better known, dealing with blind and deaf dogs is part of the mission.

“It’s pretty typical,” said SOFA president Briana Brint.

“Every litter or every animal that we get, we honestly have no idea how they’re going to be, health-wise, until they show up,” she added in a phone call.

In this case, a family on Prince of Wales Island was moving into an abandoned home when they found a mother dog and her litter of seven puppies. It wasn’t until the dogs were flown to Juneau and treated by Southeast Alaska Animal Medical Center that SOFA volunteers discovered that three of the puppies are blind. One of those, named Sid (or Sidrick), is also deaf.

Brint said it seems likely that the disabilities were caused by inbreeding. There’s no way to know what breed the puppies are, but from their coloring and their brilliant blue eyes, she and the veterinarian suspect they are some blend of husky and Australian shepherd.

When the Empire visited Dobson’s home Thursday, a collection of puppies was rolling around the kitchen, which had been barricaded with baby gates and plywood. Four of the seven puppies have already been adopted. Sid and another blind puppy, Lucy, are waiting for owners with a healthy puppy from their litter. They were playing at Dobson’s home alongside two puppies from another litter.

“It hasn’t slowed Sid down at all. He hasn’t a clue that he can’t see or hear,” Dobson said of the 6-week-old puppy, who was smaller than the rest and whose white fur stood out among the colors of the others.

“What I find funny is that these bigger ones are way gentler with him,” she said.

How do you care for a blind and deaf dog?

“I just spoil them. I don’t move — the table is always there, the bed is always there, the food is always there,” she said, pointing at each item in sequence.

Melanie Chamberlin, SOFA’s vice president, said Sid follows the other puppies and learns where obstacles are.

“If you adopted him, you’d never be able to move your furniture,” she said. “He’ll learn where it is, and then he can maneuver.”

This litter of blind puppies has capped a busy fall for SOFA, which is observing its fifth anniversary this month. Before Sid and his siblings arrived, SOFA rescued a litter of puppies infected by parvo, a particularly lethal canine virus.

“They all lived,” Brint noted, but it wasn’t a cheap effort.

Unlike Gastineau Humane Society, which receives support from the City and Borough of Juneau, SOFA operates entirely on donations. It hosts frequent fundraisers, accepts donations in kind (Harris Air frequently flies animals for free), and often solicits money through crowdfunding websites. According to IRS tax filings, it has never reported more than $50,000 in spending since its founding.

It typically collects animals from less-populated areas of Southeast and brings them to Juneau or Ketchikan for adoption, since those cities’ larger populations tend to have more demand for pets. Once, SOFA connected someone in Michigan with a dog from Southeast.

Brint said the group is perpetually looking for volunteers to host animals, since it doesn’t have a permanent building.

As for Sid, he’ll be in Dobson’s kitchen until the day that Brint gets the right call and says he can go home.

For more information, visit SOFA online at www.aksofa.org.

KNOW AND GO

From 1-4 p.m. each Saturday in December, SOFA will be holding a “Pictures with Santa” fundraiser at Petco, 8745 Glacier Highway. Pictures are $10 apiece, and all proceeds go to SOFA.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258. Disclosure note: This reporter has previously adopted a dog from SOFA.


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