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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Annual event offers free vision screenings for certified service animals in Michigan

There are plenty of animals in our community that have jobs: service dogs, certified therapy dogs, those that specialize in search and rescue (including horses) — and those that work in law enforcement and military.
Each have gone through extensive training, and although they use all of their senses to do their jobs, one in particular is essential — their sight. Even if smell is the predominant sense that is used, as in bomb or drug sniffing, these animals couldn't manage without good vision.
An annual event will help the handlers and families of these animals stay on top of things where their animal's ocular health is concerned. Board certified Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists and their staff have for the past several years, generously donated their time and services to provide free screening ocular exams to qualified service animals who are currently active.
Rue, a black Labrador trained as a Diabetic Alert Dog (DAD), is a testament to how vital vision is to a service animal. She's been with 16 year-old Katie Krampitz — who suffers from Type 1 Diabetes — for almost two years. Rue's most important job is to monitor Katie’s blood sugar level and alert her when it is too low or high. Optimal vision is key: the dog accompanies the teen wherever she goes, and responds to verbal and non-verbal cues. If her human's blood sugar level is not within normal limits, Rue will locate her testing kit and bring it to her. If Katie's blood sugar level drops too low, the dog can fetch a juice box for her.
“Amazingly, within eight months of receiving Rue, Katie’s A1C was the lowest it has ever been,” said Ed Krampitz, Katie’s father. 
(An A1C is the calculation of what numbers a diabetic is averaging for their blood sugar.)
"That’s just one of the reasons we were so pleased to hear that Rue’s eyes looked perfectly normal and healthy at her exam last year. Service animals require a significant investment, so having access to a free eye exam screening is a huge blessing. The screening itself was quick and stress-free. Thanks to ACVO and Stokes Pharmacy for making this service available!”
Rue is also being trained to call 911, if Katie becomes unresponsive. 
The ACVO/Merial National Service Animal Eye Exam Event takes place across the North America and includes Ann Arbor and other cities in Michigan.
The eye exams will be provided — free of charge — by ophthalmologists from Michigan Veterinary Specialists and BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Ann Arbor, Auburn Hills, Grand Rapids, Southfield as well as The Animal Opthalmology Center in Williamston.

I had the chance to catch up with Dr. Gwen Sila, DVM DACVO, veterinary ophthalmologist with BluePearl Veterinary Partners here in Michigan, about their 6 years participating in the event.

"This year, we have 3 board-certified ophthalmologists participating and are able to offer free exams for service dogs in our Ann Arbor, Southfield and Auburn Hills locations. All of us ophthalmologists look forward to the event and love the opportunity to make sure these incredible service dogs stay visual and can keep doing the jobs they love."
To qualify, service animals must be actively working and be certified by a formal training program or organization or are currently enrolled in a formal training program. The certifying organization can be national, regional or local (such as Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs, Inc. or International Association of Assistance Dog Partners).
Owners or handlers of the animal must register via an online form. (Available by clicking here.)
Once registration is completed, a registration number will be assigned, giving access to a list of participating doctors in the area. At that point, the owner/handler can reach out to a participating ophthalmologist to schedule an appointment.
All event appointments will take place during the month of May, and registration for the event ends April 30.
To date, more than 45,000 service animals have had these free screenings – over 7,000 took place in 2015.

Sila added, "I am really excited to be able to participate in this event again this year. I am so astounded by the tasks that these dogs so eagerly perform and very impressed by the incredible bond that develops between these dogs and their owners over the years of working together and relying on each other. Anything that we can contribute to keep these dogs able to do their job for as long as possible feels very rewarding."

Click here to go to the event website, and watch the video below for more on the annual event.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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