I Think of You  by Rodriguez


Bella is a neurotic diva, the byproduct of would-be show dog training. Happily, six years after we rescued her from rejection she has settled into a typical sunny golden who loves to frolic on the hillsides, roll in cow patties on the trails, and carry slippers around on our heels.

And then there’s Edgar.

Eddie is a soulful retriever who howls at the Downton Abbey theme song and croons along with Rodriguez and Eddie Vedder ballads. He’s a conundrum, the Benjamin Button of canines, a wizened old man who suddenly found himself in a puppy’s body saying, “What the hell – I’m a dog?” At times he romps around like a goofy pup sporting a red rocket and other times he frumps along a la Eeyore. He charges into the dog park with relish, then proceeds to stand on the sidelines, a wallflower curiously eyeing the frivolous dog play. Eddie is certainly not an alpha dog, but neither is he submissive. You’ll never see him roll over to expose his belly, except when he thinks no one is watching him scratch his back on a sunny patch of grass. He’s a bit cautious and slightly aloof, unless a treat-bearing human is within sniffing distance, at which he turns on his “I’m a good boy” charm. He’s always been a perfectly healthy, quirky old-soul-of -a-dog.

But now that our kids are grown and the coast should be clear for freedom, Eddie has become the bane of our nighttime existence and travel dreams. Our seven-year-old goldie is suddenly going blind on us. In truth, his blindness wasn’t sudden at all. For a few years we noticed that he had trouble seeing in dim light. We started leaving on a chandelier in the hall so he could find his way upstairs at night. Then we flipped on the light outside the kitchen door every night so he could wander in and out of the doggie door. We felt slightly sheepish when we bought a little lamp for his downstairs bedside and named it Eduardo’s Light, but hey – anything for a good night’s sleep. We’ve finally resorted to leaving on the kitchen lights when we go to bed to give him a little extra oomph. The neighbors must think we’re paranoid insomniacs with our house lit up like the Las Vegas strip all night long.

Looking back on Eddie’s quirkiness, it’s apparent that much of it can be attributed to his waning vision. His depth perception was one of the first things to go, so stairs and inclines have long been daunting for him. What looked like sheer laziness on hilly hikes was actually his way of maneuvering along the trails with limited eyesight. The comical gait that he’s always run with – a bit like a prancing filly – developed into a head-wagging toddle up the driveway with the morning newspaper in his mouth as his peripheral vision narrowed.

And then the dogshit hit the windmill in a hurricane.

Eddie banged his head into a hard, rough obstacle that gave him an infected lump on his snout. A week later he accompanied me to friend’s party but had to be carried out at the end by my friend and I because he was immobilized in the darkness, whimpering with the emasculating shame of it all. Two days later we were out of town and received the following text at 3:00 am from our daughter who was house sitting for us:



Problem is, Eddie hates the pool – a most unretrieverish trait – and never so much as pokes a paw in the water. Sammi heard his frantic barks in the middle of the night and found him poolside, soaking wet and shaking with fear. It was somewhat comforting to discover that he actually knows how to swim and more importantly can find his way out of the pool. But something drastic would need to be done to prevent a tragic outcome the next time.

Shortly after that stormy week, I ran into our trusty dog sitter on a walk and was bemoaning how unhelpful the vet had been in figuring out what Eddie’s problem was. “You know there’s a good animal ophthalmologist about 7 miles away,” she said. “Whoa – doggie eye doctors? I never heard of such a thing except in Doctor Doolittle. How does that even work?” I wondered.

Pretty simply as it turns out. I took Eddie to see Dr. Deborah Friedman, a veterinary ophthalmologist at Animal Eye Care in Pleasant Hill. After setting Eddie at ease, she explained how dogs’ eyes work. There are many facets of vision: perception of light and color, visual acuity, depth perception, the ability to detect motion, and the visual field of view. Dr. Friedman tested his side vision startle reaction and found there was virtually no response. She checked his visual tracking by dropping cotton balls in front of his face – again, no response. The pupillary reflex test to measure his pupils’ responses to light indicated a limited change. Finally, the vet conducted a visual inspection of Eddie’s eyes using a direct ophthalmoscope, a hand-held instrument that magnifies the eye up to fifteen times to evaluate the structures of the eye, and an indirect scope to give a wider view of the eye, enabling her to see deep in the posterior inner portion of the eye.

The diagnosis: Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

PRA is an inherited disease that causes degeneration of the retina  and leads to blindness. The retina is located in the back of the eye and is lined with photoreceptors, which are nerve cells that respond to light – hence, the loss of night vision is the first indication of the disease. The retina is like the film in the camera of the eye – the photos will be faulty if the film is damaged.

The prognosis: No Cure

Those two words incite tears and a brave face. “What can be done?” I asked with a trembly chin. “There’s always something to do, right? Does it hurt? How will Eddie feel? Do dogs get depressed? Can he still go for walks?” So many questions.

“Unfortunately, there is no treatment for any form of retinal degeneration,” Dr. Friedman informed me. “But I can assure you that this condition is painless and usually gradual, so dogs adjust to this handicap quite well.” We discussed how animals feel emotion, and she gently teased me that I will probably feel more depressed about this than Eddie. Dogs pick up on our emotions, so I didn’t want to get all weepy and dramatic about his encroaching blindness. Since pets are already dependent on their owners, loss of vision for them is not as much of a hindrance as it is for us humans. The best thing we can do as Eddie’s family is to make his living environment as safe as possible and help him live the same quality of life as his vision fades.

But I wanted specifics! After many conversations and much research, our game plan began to unfold.

  • Slow the progression of the disease. All the vet could recommend was Ocu-Glo, a canine supplement targeting eye health. But Sammi works for a holistic health company and was able to give us some other valuable directives. First thing she said is that Eddie needs to get raw. What? Most dog food has been baked over 500 degrees, which saps the nutrients. Instead, choose grain-free organic kibble that is prepared at a lower heat. Better yet, put our dogs on a raw, whole-food diet full of hormone-free antibiotic-free animal  proteins, fresh organic fruits and vegetables, cod liver oil, coconut oil, flaxseed, kelp and sea salt – formed and quick-frozen into patties and nuggets. Primal Pet Foods and Steve’s Real Food are two great raw diet dog food companies. For simplicity sake (and because they are dogs, for god sakes) we chose Acana dry dog food with lamb and apple. Standard Process offers hundreds of organic, plant-based whole food supplements for humans with amazing results, and many of them work wonders for canines too. We started Eddie on Canine Whole Body Support and I-Plex to enhance his eye health. These nutritious powders make a rich gravy when mixed into the kibble with warm water. And instead of prescribing anti-anxiety drugs for a dog who is stressed by failing eyesight, there is an SP supplement with calming properties that are highly effective for canines as well as humans. Lucky for us, Eddie is already pretty chill – aside from the barking he insists on using to communicate with us.
  • Keep Eddie away from the pool. We enjoy our backyard too much to erect a kiddie fence around the pool and hot tub, so we needed to get creative. Because our goldies aren’t jumpers or diggers, we were able to block off the pool with low, unobstrusive pet fencing. A portion of the fence is free-standing, so we can remove it in 5 seconds. We’re also teaching Eddie to hug the house and grass as he mosies around the yard.
  • Guard Eddie’s safety. The long walks we have been taking for years are now fraught with unseen perils, so we’re training ourselves to be Eddie’s seeing eye humans to help him navigate curbs and dodge potholes, sewer grates and light poles. Verbal cues are key: Step Up – Step Down for curbs, Up Up Up – Down Down Down for stairs, Right – Left, Back, Slow, Ready, Come, All Clear, and Leave It have become the commanding words that work for us. It’s all about teaching Eddie to completely trust us and to tap into his own natural instincts. But keeping him on-leash in unfamiliar surroundings is vital.
  • Protect others’ safety. Fortunately Eddie is The Duardo, the chillest dog in the world. I simply can’t imagine him attacking a person or another dog, but what if he is startled by sudden contact in his blindness? Someone recommended tying an “I AM BLIND” bandana around his neck to warn strangers, but that seems superfluous to our unflappable Eduardo. We’ll just have to be conscious of telling those around him about his eyesight before they approach him.
  • Preserve Eddie’s dignity. Our first inclination was to get rid of the doggie door to limit his mobility for safety’s safe, but we ultimately decided to keep it to maintain his sense of freedom and independence. Wandering around the yard is one of Eddie’s favorite things in life, and we’d hate to deprive him. Eddie also loves to be upstairs with us, but since the stairs are daunting, we have resorted to pushing his booty upstairs in a most undignifying manner – yet his wildly wagging tail shows us that he feels pride in making it up. Another inclination is to treat him with extra goodies out of sympathy, or use treats as a blind training tool. But he is far too food driven, so that would just be scurrilous with Eddie. He’d be blind AND fat.
  • Learn a new way of communicating. With a blind dog, it’s all about touch and sound. I’ve always been a crazy dog lady who talks to her dogs like they’re people, but now it’s justified. Our voices help him keep his bearings, and snapping fingers is a good technique for pointing him in the right direction. Touch is vital – not only to show him where to go but also to reassure him and share the love.
  • Create a comfortable home life for Eddie. They say scented oils help blind dogs find their way around – lemon for their food and water dishes, eucalyptus for the stairs, lavender for their dog bed, pine for the doggie door – although there hasn’t been a real need since Eddie seems to have mapped out his territory pretty well. They also say that aromatherapy can positively affect dogs’ moods. Doterra makes a great little diffuser that lightly emits a calming lavender scent. Another thing I learned is that music is great therapy for canine  anxiety (felines too, but Gilbert the Cat is a whole different story). “Through a Dog’s Ears” has created BioAcoustic music: psychoacoustically designed classical arrangements with simple sounds that appeal to animals and sooth their nerves. iCalmDog 2.0 is a portable blue tooth player that provides up to 45 hours of continuous tranquil music. Maybe we’ll just turn our downstairs into a doggie spa.
  • Restore our sleep and our freedom. Life with Eddie these days is like having a baby – up every few hours, not for feeding but for reassurance and a boost upstairs. I suspect that he has been training US – but we are finally turning the tables. He’s down to once a night now, around a civilized 5:00 am wakeup call. Life with a blind dog is a work in progress and a celebration of ordinary things often taken for granted.

While seeking bright spots in a darkening world, I came up with my list of The Ten Best Things About Having a Blind Dog:

#10  Eddie has simplified our life – we can’t mess up his mental territorial map by re-decorating or buying a new home.

#9  There has been plenty of time to adjust with the gradual onset of PRA, and it’s opened our eyes to a variety of things to make our pets’ lives more healthy and comfortable.

#8  Our patience has blossomed.

#7  We have become more compassionate humans.

#6  There is now a genetic test to determine if breeding dogs are carriers of the disease. But I can scarcely imagine life without Eddie, so I’m strangely grateful the test wasn’t around when he was conceived.

#5  Our bond with Eddie has strengthened as his reliance and trust in us grows.

#4  We’ve had a lot of laughs and entertaining stories at Eddie’s expense. It’s a balancing tradeoff for all the angst he’s given us.

#3  Eddie and Bella have always been good buddies, but it’s heartwarming to watch Bella’s devoted support and genuine companionship. She too has become more patient and compassionate.

#2  Once he’s fully blind, we can turn off all the lights and save on electricity.

#1  There’s hope that we might be able to sleep through the night again!

The doggie eye doc said that Eddie should be considered “low vision” until he becomes blind. And just how will we know when that happens? We thought it would be when he stopped barking for us to turn on the light. But now he barks even more, as if to ask, “What time is it? Day or night? Where is everyone? Is anybody home?” Lately we’ve witnessed Eddie bumping into all sorts of large obstacles, so for all intents and purposes our sweet Eddie is blind as blind can be, and we are learning to be his seeing eye humans.

Eddie’s world has changed, and yet it’s surprisingly the same. He still loves to bring in the morning newspaper – and even though he has to be led to the paper, shreds the front page picking it up, drops it rounding the corner, and knocks over a pot or two on the way in he feels the same sense of pride in doing his job. It’s rewarding to watch his confidence grow even as his sight fades away. As long as he can do the things he’s always loved to do, then of course his life is well worth living and there is brightness in the blinding darkness.

There have been exasperating times when Eddie’s piercing bark has tried my patience to the point of tears and yelling, which of course only caused him to bark more incessantly. Eddie’s blindness has made us better people as we tap into our humorous zen mode to deal with his confusion, frustration, and safety. The least we can give our loyal companion who showers us with his unconditional love is our clear-eyed devotion.

And maybe a crash helmet.










Lost Stars – Adam Levine

What happens when a gritty coach, a frustrated actor, and a revolutionary doctor collide? There’s a feisty brouhaha – that’s what. Coach Todd French, Michael Keaton’s Birdman, and Atul Gawande have been skirmishing in my brain these days, raising the unsettling specter of Life’s Meaning.

Todd French was a coach who helped bring lacrosse to the West Coast and became a legend in the Bay Area. He was recently memorialized in front of a packed stadium at the local high school after his valiant four-year battle with lung cancer. The clusters of shiny-eyed athletes dressed in navy blazers and the stirring tributes to this reluctant hero made me want to rush from the locker room and play the game of life all out just like Todd did. He was a tough competitive spirit who directly inspired hundreds of young athletes and indirectly touched thousands of people of all ages. His wife and two sons endured the anguish of watching this robust man’s physical decline, but they must certainly be uplifted by the outpouring of community support, the genuine admiration on display, and the immortalizing of his legacy: Team French Forever. We should all be so fortunate to have that kind of an impact on this earthly life. I hope that Todd’s family can rest in the peace that Frenchie was visibly relevant and inspiring in a world filled with pain, tyranny and hopelessness. Coach French had found the meaning of his life.

Alas, Michael Keaton’s character as the aging superhero Birdman battled disastrously to find his life’s meaning, despite great fame and Hollywood success. Tony and I watched this movie one quiet evening and sort of shrugged our shoulders about it. But it’s the kind of movie that stays with you, and we tossed and turned on it all night. We took one look at each other the next morning and just had to watch it again right then and there, so compelling it was. Birdman powerfully portrays the demonic feelings of inadequacy and disillusionment that haunt us all. Many a personal crisis – especially the midlife variety – are sprung from the fear of irrelevance. Even the truly great ones blessed with talents and passion – a la Robin Williams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman – struggle mightily to find peace in what appears to the public as sensational importance. Not many of us have the gifts or the wherewithal to have a true impact on the world in a big superstar way, even the superstars themselves.

My book club is reading a book this month about living and dying with intention. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande takes a look at aging with dignity, wrangling with terminal illness, dying on our terms, and balancing the fight for life with the grace of letting go. My takeaway on all of his insights and the meaningful studies in his book is that we humans have a profound need to find reasons to live beyond ourselves that make living feel worthwhile. And perhaps, the more fulfillment we find in simply being, the less worried we are about achieving and accumulating and self-important pursuits.

As the wise Dr. Gawande says, “In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all its moments – which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. A seemingly happy life may be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves. Unlike your experiencing self – which is absorbed in the moment – your remembering self is attempting to recognize not only the peaks of joy and valleys of misery but also how the story works out as a whole. Why would a football fan let a few flubbed minutes at the end of the game ruin three hours of bliss? Because a football game is a story. And in stories, endings matter.” In closing his Being Mortal documentary Atul says, “How is dying ever at all acceptable? How is it ever anything except this awful terrible thing? And the only way it is is because we live for something bigger than ourselves.”

We tell our children, “Follow your passion!” But there is something demoralizing about the following your passion myth. Most people never even FIND this elusive passion let alone have the opportunity to chase it down. The trick is to simply follow our interests, allow ourselves to dream, and hope to find some sense of fulfillment in the process.

We bumble and bluster our way through our idealistic teens & twenties, power and hustle through our industrious thirties & forties… and hit our fifties & sixties disillusioned and disenchanted, feeling irrelevant, wanting to leave a mark somehow, realizing that this really IS all there is. We just need to learn to be happy with our little mark – pinprick in actuality – whether it’s nurturing family, doing small good deeds, or supporting a cause that holds a place in our hearts. We are all irrelevant in the scheme of the universe, but as long as we haven’t committed some heinous crime or crawled under a boulder, we are all relevant. My wise Russian friend once told me, “You’ve raised three children, you’ve done your job. You’re relevant.” It’s kind of like “What’s enough?” Not many of us are going to make a big splash in this world and leave a huge legacy behind, so it’s all about finding contentment in whatever little bit we can do. We are as wondrously relevant and humbly irrelevant as every other pinpricking soul in the Big Out There.


“You are not IN the universe, you ARE the universe, an intrinsic part of it. Ultimately you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself. What an amazing miracle.”

-Eckhart Tolle