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KNOXVILLE—Parents can usually tell if their children have poor vision. With dogs, though, eyesight has to be “pretty doggone bad” for an owner to notice, so an annual eye exam helps detect problems that might otherwise be overlooked.

Last week, the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, provided free eye exams for almost twenty service dogs as part of an American College of Veterinary Ophthalmology initiative. The ACVO predicts that more than 3,200 work dogs across the U.S. will receive free eye exams this month.

“We do the eye screenings for free out of goodwill,” said Dan Ward, one of UT’s veterinary ophthalmologists volunteering his time and expertise.

No service-ending eye conditions were found, but the staff recommended that one dog come in for a follow-up appointment in a few months to monitor the progression of a minor cataract.

The two most common eye problems that veterinary ophthalmologists come across are cataracts (opaqueness of the lens of the eye) and glaucoma (elevation of eye pressure that can lead to blindness if not treated). Both can be treated with surgery, medication, or a combination of both.

Whether man’s best friend is helping the police, a child prone to seizures, or the visually impaired, a service dog’s vision must be near perfect to perform its duties. One group of “patients” that came in for eye exams was part of the rescue efforts in Alabama following the devastating tornadoes.

“I just think that these dogs are a service to us and the least we can do is provide a service for them once a year,” said Diane Hendrix, also one of UT’s veterinary ophthalmologists volunteering her time and expertise.

John Buckley, a former UT Knoxville professor of speech communication who has been bringing his guide dog to the veterinary school for years, explains the relationship between himself and his dog, Jesse.

“I am supposed to be the brain,” Buckley said. “She’s the eyes.”

Buckley has had Jesse for six years and says “she has a very high opinion of herself” because she doesn’t blame herself for mistakes and shows confidence in stressful situations.

Jamie Stuffle, a UT veterinary ophthalmologist, and Kristin Fischer, a veterinary ophthalmologist resident, also helped perform eye exams.

For more information about the annual free service dog eye screening, visit http://www.acvoeyeexam.org/?reload.

C O N T A C T :

Whitney Holmes, 865-974-5460, wholmes7@utk.edu

Emma Macmillan, 896-974-9409, emacmill@utk.edu