I am writing this wee story because our dog Bandit featured regularly in my husbands Kenny’s travel blogs when recently we were on holiday to Ardgarry Farm and people reading The Orkney News were asking questions about him. I hope it may reassure others who find themselves in a similar situation:
You know what it’s like when the kids say, Mum, Dad can we get a dog and like most sane folk you instantly say no. Please please comes the pleading, we’ll walk it, we’ll feed it, we’ll brush it etc etc. No you won’t – it will be me that will end up doing it! And round and round in circles we go until you physically feel the inches falling away from the pressure of being worn down until, yes you’ve guessed it, we gave in. So after much thought and planning we chose a beautiful Border Collie, whom we named Bandit and brought him home. Little did we know that around 18 months later he would be blind. This is his story.
It was the year of my parents Golden Wedding in 2009 and we were all going to a beautiful villa in Calpe as a family, all fourteen of us. Just before we were due to leave we had come across an advert for Border Collie pups in Howwood, so we phoned and duly went to see them, two beautiful boys, how to pick. I instantly liked the boisterous marl one but my daughter reminded me that I wanted a long haired dog and the very quiet brother shyly staying in the background suited the bill. I picked him up and it was love at first cuddle, what a cutie. So we asked the gentleman selling if he would mind looking after him for a further week as we were off on holiday but would come and fetch him Sunday week.
Off we fly to Calpe to the usual assortment of rebuffs from my parents and siblings, your’e off your head, you’ll have all the work to do, etc etc. They were right of course, but by this time my fate was sealed.
So on Sunday week, we drive back to Howwood, collect the wee cutie, and bring him home. We called him Bandit, why Bandit you may ask because he liked to steal things, particularly socks.
His favourite toy was a grey and white stuffed cat called Pooshtat which he dragged everywhere, dragged because it was at least twice as big as him.
Pooshtat, yes he really did know it’s name. In fact, soon after he knew the names of all his toys: big ball, wee ball, sausages, chug etc, and could collect and bring them to you on command, leaving us in awe at his smartness. Realising very quickly how much he could identify individual words, we trained him around voice and word command completely, which would ultimately stand him in good stead later on.
He very quickly became the focus of the family and we all wondered how we ever managed before this bundle of wonderfulness came in to our lives. He went everywhere with us and it almost became that if Bandit could not go then neither did we, well, within reason anyway.
We took him to Flett and Carmichael‘s puppy classes to supposedly socialise him but what a woose he was; his default position was very firmly behind my legs, well to start with at least. He slowly came out of his shell, but he never, and I mean never, accepted animals approaching from behind and he would certainly let them know it. On hindsight I don’t think Bandit every had peripheral vision and always hated things coming from behind him, indeed a great asset to his road training was his turning around and lying down to face the traffic as it approached.
We would soon get into a routine to suit and my walks with Bandit became one of the highlights of my day. Switching everything off and just enjoying walking for miles, me and my boy, oh how I loved it, he was so clever and I was quite comfortable letting him be a dog, doing doggie things and me enjoying the beautiful views and quiet that sum up Orkney so well. This continued for many months until things changed and boy did they change… and at what speed.
I remember it was a Sunday, 30th April, my sister in laws birthday, and we were all at their house outside enjoying a barbecue. I was watching Bandit as I do, when I noticed him turn the corner which I assumed was just a little too quickly, as he banged off the wall, i jokingly shouted “heh pup are you blind?”
The following day I took him out for his walk, he ran ahead as is his want, but I had decided to head up the bridle path. I shouted him back and watched as he turned around and proceeded to run headlong into the wall completely missing his turning. I’m sure I must have stood there with my mouth open wondering what was going on. Anyway we went through the gate and up to the next one without any problem but again as we headed through the gate he started to run and once again missed his turning and ran straight into the fence. We proceeded with our walk with me watching like a hawk and worrying the whole way.
When the family came home they were greeted with “I think Bandit’s gone blind.”
A chorus of “what”? resounded, likely followed with “don’t be daft”, but I was not to be put off so we put a box in the middle of the living room and all stood and watched as Bandit promptly turned around on his name call and walked straight into the box. Silence.
We phoned the vet and they said to come up straight away. After his examination Gill said his pupils were unresponsive. They said they would phone the specialist and see what he advised, could I come back on the Wednesday for an update. On Wednesday I decided to walk up to Hatston as it was a beautiful night, with Bandit now confined to his lead obviously. Obviously did not last the whole way as once we reached Hatston Bandit started to get restless knowing he would normally get off for a run, so I unleashed his lead, after all what could go wrong I was watching. Well I was watching until a lorry hooted, realising I would know the hooter I looked over and waved turning around just in time to watch Bandit go over the embankment to the beach below, my heart stopped, I ran over just in time to see Bandit shake himself off and start to scramble back up, I lay down on the grass and managed to grab him and help him up, thank goodness we are on the way to the vet I thought. He was fine, and I had my lesson learned. The vet said that the specialist would not be coming to Orkney as quickly as had been thought as he was going away for six weeks but if we could get Bandit down to The Inches in Inverness by lunchtime the next day he would come there to see him.
An early start and off on the 6.30 Hamnavoe for an appointment with Tony Wall eye specialist at 11am. After much prodding and poking and an ever increasing agitated Bandit, the vet asked if we could leave him and he would examine him properly under a general anesthetic and he would phone with the results. So armed with directions Ken and I headed up to The Inches industrial park for a look around. It was 12.50 in Matalan when Ken’s phone rang, I remember thinking that did not take long it can’t be as bad as we thought, however, avidly watching Ken’s face I knew the worst of news was being relayed. What I asked? Bandit’s sight is extremely limited and is only going to get worse.
So with heavy hearts thinking poor Bandit he’s almost blind we headed back to the vets for a chat. Very quickly we realised the vet thought we realistically only had one option, have Bandit put to sleep before his sight was lost altogether as he was suffering from a condition known as Progressive Retinal Atrophy a condition more commonly found in Labradors around 8 or 9 years old . No way, I said he’s only a baby! Exactly was the response, if he were an old dog and slowing down it would be different, but he’s only 20 months old, what quality of life will he have. The quality of life we will strive to give him we responded. Mr Walls so very gently said, it won’t be that easy it really wont, anyway it does not need to be now, go away, take Bandit home and think about it, so we did.
The next day the phone rang and it was Kate Carmichael calling to discuss our trip to Inverness, like Mr Walls she felt there was perhaps only one choice but that she would support us whatever we decided. I instantly said that we’ll give it a year, both to see how I would, as his eyes, cope with a blind dog, as much as to see how bandit would cope himself being blind. We would tighten our belts and I would not return to working as we had planned, it would be a push but we would manage, after all you would not put down a human baby that had gone blind. I remember at this point Kate instantly started telling me tales of blinds horses and other animals that adjusted fine and to just take it one step at a time. I love Flett and Carmichael they adjust and support exactly as required.
Bandit was completely blind within days, the speed took everyone by surprise, but we were already learning how to adapt, and Bandit, well, around the house, as long as nothing was left lying around you already would not believe he was blind. Which over the next couple of years became a recurring question from folk. Aye but, he can see a little?
Our walks became very different, not because Bandit didn’t cope but because I could no longer look around at Orkney’s beauty. Next time you are out with your dog think of him/her being blind and start looking at their eye level, you will be absolutely astounded at the amount of stones, wires, sticks etc poking out, almost as though they were striving to be right on target. The Bridle Path was our favourite walk as it is contained, so with a leap of faith and crossed fingers I took to letting him back off his lead building up our confidences as we went. We have never looked back. Open a gate and tell Bandit to run and he will take off literally running until you shout stop, at which point the brakes go on and he skids to a halt. Believe it or not, we have lost less balls since Bandit went blind than we did when he could see, his nose more than makes up for his eyes.
Things settled down and we rolled along quite nicely thank you very much, it was about time. Bandit was no longer on his lead unless we were in a built up area or he was unsure of his surrounding. We would take him with us on holiday, to caravans, cottages, family homes etc and once Bandit found his way about, us saying slowly gently, and him harrumphing, I’ve got a nose, (cocky beggar) it was as if he’d known the place forever, we continued to marvel.
One March Sunday morning in 2014 we woke up to be aware that something was not right with Bandit, he would not, could not settle and his eyes looked wrong. When he could, he lay on my knee which is quite unlike him as he is not a cuddly dog, but we could tell he was in pain. We took him back to the vets the next night and Liz Flett did not like what she saw. As luck would have it Tony Walls would be back in Orkney on the Wednesday and would happily squeeze Bandit it for a consultation at 3pm. At 3pm on the dot, as he really was being squeezed in, in between planes and ferries Bandit was waiting already sedated for the arrival of dog eye genius Tony Walls, he looked deep into the dogs eye and then turned to me and asked if I could hazard a guess at what’s wrong? I said it looked to me as though his eye had blown, it had and would need to be removed asap, the next morning as it would happen. For some reason this bothered me even more than his having gone blind.
Anyway we took him up the next morning and he was put under, lying on my knee and we were told to come for him around 2pm. We did, I won’t say I was not shocked because I was, I kept telling myself, it’s still Bandit and it’s better now as he is not in pain, but it was hard. The vet sent us home explaining that Bandit would be very dopey and to make sure he took it easy for a few days. At 2.15pm I phoned the vet back and said, take it easy? Sedated? He’s already out the back wanting to play football, resilience on display. Anyway it was important to keep him quiet so he was given rather strong pain killers to stop him being silly for a few days. As you can see from the photo and his smiles, losing an eye was no real biggy.
Things settled back down again for another couple of months until, lo and behold his other eye blew, who’d have believed it, does this poor dog have no luck. At least this time we knew what was in store for Bandit but the problem arising this time was, we were due to fly out to Greece in a couple of days. Thankfully Bandit was being left in the care of Eden Thom of Petmania ,a family friend and one not put out by what she was going to have to do, which she did with all the care and compassion expected from a true animal lover. Once again Eden, we thank you.
It may seem strange to say but once Bandit’s wounds had healed our walks became even better as I no longer had to worry about objects poking his eyes out and in our opinion he is more beautiful than ever as he no longer has those googly eyes looking back at us.
We still regularly have people saying, aye but he can see a wee bit? At least now they actually believe us as on closer inspection, heh right enough your dog has no eyes. And us, well, we continue to marvel at our Bandit the most wonderful of dogs who shall be 8 on his next birthday.
Here is a wee video taken last weekend, this is Bandit at his best, Bandit most cheeky, Bandit the “sockathief”.