Two-year-old Bear is losing his sight but not his spirit, as the staff at the RSPCA centre where he lives is working to teach him vocal cues that will help him navigate life and, hopefully, settle in a new home.
Bear arrived at Altham Animal Centre, in Accrington, in December 2020. He and three other Malamute and German shepherd types were signed over to the RSPCA’s inspectors as their owner struggled to care for them.
Jeanette Ainscough, centre manager for RSPCA Lancashire East Branch, said, “Bear and his three siblings all came into RSPCA care and it became clear quite quickly that three of them had health problems they’d been born with.
“Sadly, Bear’s brother and sister – Barney and Bella – had serious neurological problems. We’ve been able to manage Barney’s symptoms but, tragically, Bella’s were worsening and she was having severe seizures so vets decided that the kindest option was to put her to sleep. We were all heartbroken.”
“As for Bear, staff noticed that he was starting to react nervously to traffic and other dogs, and that he couldn’t always see the toys and treats he was offered,” Jeanette added. “so we had him checked by our vet who diagnosed him with progressive retinal atrophy (or PRA). Unfortunately this is degenerative and there’s no treatment so, eventually, Bear will go completely blind.
“It’s not surprising he was starting to find certain experiences and situations frightening so, to help his anxiety, our staff have started to follow a plan to help him adapt to his failing sight. We’re teaching him some new verbal cues that should help him deal with his failing sight and will be useful when his vision disappears.”
The team has been teaching him cues to prepare him for actions that may startle him, such as saying ‘stroke’ before touching him, as well as using commands such as ‘turn left’, ‘turn right’, ‘step up’ and ‘step down’. These will help him navigate the world once he’s blind.
“We hope that we can get him used to these cues and then pass these onto his new owners to help him cope as his sight worsens,” Jeanette said. “We’d love to find Bear a loving new home where he can settle and gain confidence before his eyesight worsens further.”
“He is absolutely adorable; he really is like a big, cuddly teddy bear and he adores people. He has a lovely nature and has lived happily with other dogs previously. He walks nicely on the lead, can be left home alone for short periods of time, and could live with older children as well as another dog.
“We’d like him to go to a home where the layout or furniture etc will remain constant so he can easily navigate around the home. He’s a big lad but he’s very gentle so we feel he’d be well-suited to a home with adults or older children, but he can’t live with cats.
“I really hope his sight problems won’t put potential adopters off. While it is something that needs to be taken into consideration, we want to assure any future owner that blind dogs can live wonderful lives and can adapt amazingly to relying on their other senses. Bear is such a wonderful boy and he really will make such an incredible addition to the right home.”