When a dog is blind and left to fend for itself on the streets, the chances of survival are slim. If it’s placed in a kill shelter, then death is almost certain - as animals are euthanised after a period of time and disabled dogs are often the last to be chosen.
It’s a heartbreaking reality and one that Katy Orton, 37, couldn’t bear to let happen. So, the full-time veterinary nurse from Alderney in the channel islands launched Blind Dog Rescue UK (BDRUK), which involves liaising with and providing funding to rescuers across Europe to try and get blind and partially-sighted dogs off the streets or out of kill shelters and into permanent, loving UK homes.
“We have seen some awful things and in some cases we have been too late to help a dog we wanted to save,” says Katy, who orchestrates the rescues in her spare time. “It is hard work and very stressful. We know we can’t save them all, but that won’t stop us from trying.”
It’s a relatively small-scale operation consisting of Katy, three trustees, seven volunteers and dozens of foster carers dotted around the UK and Europe who take in the visually-impaired pooches until they find permanent homes.
The dogs have often faced abuse, neglect, disease or trauma. “The kinds of injuries we see are deliberate removal of eyes, beatings and prolapsed eyes, as well as road traffic accidents where they lose both eyes,” says Katy. “We have litters of puppies born out in the countryside and maggots infect their sockets and eat the eye tissue. We have had several litters of them.
“We get dogs with diseases like glaucoma, cataracts and retinal detachment of course, as well as age-related sight problems too.”
The veterinary nurse was inspired to set up the charity after adopting a blind dog called Peaches, who sadly passed away at the age of four. “She was my first experience of a blind dog and was truly incredible,” Katy recalls.
“I set the charity up in her memory to try and get more people to realise how amazing these dogs are and what they are capable of. I miss her every day but her legacy is something I am really proud of.”
BDRUK is rescuing dogs from places like Serbia, Spain and Greece - and thankfully, here in the UK, there’s no shortage of people to give them homes.
Retired nurse Jane Aireton, 69, who lives in Alderney, is one of them. Her dog Freddie, a blind Lancashire Heeler, was originally found abandoned on a landfill site in Bulgaria, cowering underneath some rubbish in the middle of a bitterly cold winter.
“A lot of people think blind dogs are going to be a problem, but they’re not,” says Jane. “He’s turned my life around. He makes me thankful for my own sight and I’m absolutely amazed with how he copes with anything.”
Discussing the delicacies of adopting a blind dog and whether it’s hard work, Katy says it’s largely down to the dog’s character and energy levels, rather than their sight. “They adapt so well and thrive in all different kinds of homes,” she says. “Some have super active lifestyles and are up for anything while others want a quiet life. We just try to find the right match for the dog and lifestyle.”
Jane knows how adaptive these dogs can be all too well, her pup Freddie has taken to following the other dogs around using scent and sound. He also uses a cat flap and ramp to get into the back garden, meaning he’s pretty independent.
Likewise one of the BDRUK dogs currently waiting for a home, called Patillas (pictured below) was born blind and, as such, has learnt to follow the sound of a human’s voice in order to know where to go.
While Katy’s work is overwhelmingly rewarding, it does have its moments of sadness. “We have had dogs who didn’t make it through their treatment or dogs who were so elderly they were rescued but didn’t survive long enough to make it over to their final, forever home,” she reflects.
“The saddest ones are those who have adoption offers and something terrible happens while they are going through their passport preparation: one dog was hit by a car, another one escaped out of the shelter and could never be found. They were so nearly safe - it is heartbreaking.”
The charity is providing a second chance to these dogs, many of whom have faced abuse, neglect, disease or trauma. Katy concludes: “It’s incredibly rewarding knowing we can make a difference to a blind dog stuck in a horrendous situation, even when we are hundreds of miles away.”
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