Sunday, May 06, 2001

Alive and Well

Guide dogs get free eye exams

        A variety of large dogs and their cheerful owners crowded into the waiting room of the All Animal Eye Clinic, 11913 Montgomery Road, last Sunday, for an annual event that generates one remarkable dose of good will.

        The owners were cheerful because none had come due to illness or injury, but simply for a routine check-up — and they knew there would be no charge for treatment.

        German shepherds, golden retrievers, Labradors, and even a poodle stayed curled at the feet of their owners, patiently allowing drops to be placed in their eyes, and waited their turn to head back to the exam area for a visit with Dr. Kerry Ketring, the clinic's proprietor. The only common denominator among these well-trained canines was the harness handle each wore on its back, alerting the public that they are certified guide dogs, trained specifically to guide a blind or visually impaired human through crowded rooms, around obstacles and across busy streets.

        It is the 15th year that Dr. Ketring, a veterinary ophthalmologist, with the joint sponsorship of the Cincinnati Veterinary Medical Association, has held an eye examination clinic for guide dogs throughout the Tristate. “One thing you don't want to see,” Dr. Ketring says, “is a blind guide dog.”

        And, astonishing though it may be, he has seen a few.

        While guide dog schools around the country are painstakingly thorough in assuring the good health of dogs when they are matched with their blind owners, dogs are susceptible to the same range of eye diseases and age-related vision loss as human beings. Routine medical check-ups with a general veterinarian cannot screen for specific eye conditions.

        In his brief exam of each dog, Dr. Ketring looks for glaucoma, retinal changes, cataracts, and age-related blindness. Guide dogs are susceptible, he says, to progressive retinal atrophy, PRA, and he has discovered blindness in one eye from this condition in a few guide dogs through the years.

        Simply opening his clinic once a year and providing free eye exams to guide dogs is in itself a noble act, but the co-sponsorship of the Cincinnati Veterinary Medical Association has taken the annual occasion several steps beyond the exam itself.

        Dr. Colleen Black, the association public relations chair, sent letters to previous patients and such agencies as the Clovernook Center for the Blind and the Cincinnati Association for the Blind several weeks before the clinic. Following the suggestion of patients attending in earlier years, Dr. Black said that all letters this year were sent in both print and Braille. Dr. Black scheduled all appointments at her own office, the Lakota Hills Animal Clinic in Westchester.

        Recognizing that transportation is often a major problem for people with disabilities, Dr. Black also arranged rides to and from the clinic for participants who requested them. The drivers were none other than three other veterinarians — Dr. Karina Valerius, Dr. Tara Hartke and Dr. Cassie Duggan, all members of the association.

        In addition, every dog who was not already “microchipped” (for easy computer identification if lost) received the “Home Again” microchip free.

        Microchips were donated by Schering Plough, a veterinary medical supply company.

        So, why does he do it? Years ago, Dr. Ketring recalls, he had a few guide dogs presented to him with eye problems. It just seemed to him that screening all of them routinely was the right thing to do.

        This year, there were no serious problems found among the 30 dogs examined. A few age-related vision changes were detected, confirming for the owners that dog retirement time was drawing near.

        “It's not like any other day here at the clinic,” said Tammie Wells, Dr. Ketring's veterinary technician who has worked the clinic for 12 years. “There are no dogs that have been hurt, no serious problems. It's fun to see people I recognize from year to year and to know that they recognize me.”
       Contact Deborah Kendrick at 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail: Cincinnati.Com keyword: Kendrick.


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