Puppy problems part I: Diagnosed with dog glaucoma

Columnist discusses the journey of his 1-year-old Samoyed, Ernie

Posted: Sunday, April 04, 2010

"I think Ernie's eye is bugging him a little bit." That was what my mom said to me back in late January when she noticed my puppy, a 1-year-old Samoyed named Ernie, was squinting with his left eye.

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Courtesy Of Chester Carson
Courtesy Of Chester Carson

When I got home that day, I saw she was correct. All dog-owners have been in this situation, probably more than once.

Your dog has something bothering him. Now what? Go to the vet immediately? Google it and see if you can do something on your own? Wait it out?

Ernie, as well as my 3-year-old Samoyed Emma, is my kid. I realize there are folks that roll their eyes at statements like that. That's my reality, though. Emma and Ernie are the only kids I have, and quite honestly, with the amount of stress I deal with when they have issues is any indication, I might not be cut out to be a "real" dad.

With Ernie's eye, I chose to wait a day and see how he was doing. Low and behold, arriving home from work the next day he looked like he had gotten over whatever was bothering him.

A few days went by and everything seemed normal. The next week, though, Ernie was squinting again - with both eyes now. I felt sick to my stomach. We got to the vet that afternoon; I was still hoping it was something they would be able to remedy quickly.

I was not expecting to hear my 1-year-old had glaucoma - an incurable disease that could very well leave him totally blind.

From that moment on, it has been an emotional roller coaster with Ernie, filled with lots of lows and only an occasional high. It was not something I was prepared for in the least.

But my hope is that sharing my experience, and Ernie's, from the past couple of months will be interesting and also useful. I know I have learned some important lessons, and I'm sure there are pet owners who will have their perspectives altered a bit by our story. You might disagree with the decisions I have made, or you might have done just as I have. Either way, I hope nobody has to make these decisions any time soon - especially with a puppy.

Glaucoma, as my untrained mind grasps it, boils down to one thing: increased pressure within the eye. That pressure, left unchecked, can very quickly lead to blindness.

There are two kinds of glaucoma, primary and secondary. Primary glaucoma is, I suppose, a little worse news for your dog than secondary, only because with secondary there's a chance the underlying cause can be treated and the glaucoma reversed. With primary, this is the awful reality I have had to accept: it is a losing battle, eventually, no matter what.

With Ernie, our first several trips to the vet had us hoping his would prove to be secondary. Ernie grew to despise the frequent vet trips, and I could not blame him. Every time we arrived he would disappear to "the back" with the doctors where they would take his eye pressure (while I wasn't privy to the procedure I have come to believe it was more than understandable for Ernie to hate those visits) and then we would adjust his collection of eye drops and pills. I soon had to use a spreadsheet with numbers designated for each medication after we passed six in total, all at varying frequencies throughout the day.

Things got better and I actually allowed myself to feel hope when his pressure miraculously returned to normal. Things then got worse, a lot worse, really quickly, and the talk at the vet started to center around removing the more severely affected eye.

That was about a month ago. Since then, we have switched vets, considered putting Ernie up for adoption, putting him down, looked into getting financial support from Samoyed rescue groups, and finally ... did what was likely inevitable from the moment this process started.

I spent the money to ease Ernie's pain and maximize his chances of having some sort of vision for at least a year or two - surgery. The ending, like Ernie's now permanently blind left eye, is still cloudy. And there are experiences, good and bad, I do want to share next week as I run out of room with this piece.

Until then, if you want to keep up to date on him (and me), please visit the usually-movie-related-blog at juneaublogger.com/movies. I'll share more next week.

• Chester Duke Carson was born and raised in Juneau. He graduated in 2004 from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., and is scheduled to wed his fiancée in Orange County (don't you dare call it. "L.A.") in 2011.

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