Blind dog relies on seeing-eye man
John Leonard and his dog Molly hang out in their Wilmette home August 23, 2012. Molly has cataracts and needs surgery to fix her vision. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Donations for Molly’s cataract surgery are being accepted at:
John Leonard/Molly’s Account
North Shore Community Bank
1145 Wilmette Ave., Wilmette IL 60091
Checks: payable to John Leonard
Updated: October 21, 2012 1:05PM
WILMETTE — John Leonard picked up his dog’s leash to take her for a walk, but she didn’t move.
The 9-year-old beagle-dachshund mix loves her walks, but she never saw Leonard indicate it was time to leave.
She has thick cataracts on both eyes. Less than eight months after diagnosis, she’s down to about 10 percent of normal vision.
“Wanna go outside?” Leonard asked. Molly leaped into the air.
Nothing wrong with her ears.
Leonard, 88, a Purple Heart World War II veteran, lives in a rent-reduced one-bedroom apartment in Wilmette he once shared with his wife Peggy. They were among the first seniors to move into Shore Line Place about 25 years ago.
For the last nine years, it’s been just Leonard and Molly in the little apartment at 324 Linden Ave.
And Leonard is getting used to the idea that for the rest of their years together, he will be the seeing-eye man for his dog.
“It’s subsidized housing, and most of the residents really have nothing. Most of them don’t even have family, but they can have a pet,” said Glencoe Animal Control Officer Katie Sweeney.
She and other Glencoe village employees have adopted the building and its residents, bringing packages of food and holiday treats every December for both the people and the animals, who get enough to last well into the following year.
Yet, there’s little Sweeney can do for Molly’s vision. Cataract surgery on dogs is 95 percent safe, and common — but only for the rich.
That’s not Leonard.
He was a skilled advertising writer and producer, but has little beyond Social Security.
“I retired twice from the same agency with nothing both times,” he laughs.
He’s good natured about it, but he’s not kidding. The first time, he was laid off just before he became vested in the company pension. A few years later, they asked him back to help out during a crisis, and then they did it again.
Social Security doesn’t pay enough to fix canine cataracts.
“It typically costs $3,000 for one eye, and $4,000 for two eyes, when you do them both at one time,” said Dr. Steve Sisler, DVM, who performs such surgeries at Eye Care for Animals in Wheeling.
“With dogs, you don’t see infections in the eye after surgery at all, unlike people, so you can do them both at one time.”
He discounts for animal rescue organizations, and he’s worked with some animal owners who told him they managed to get grants to cover part of the cost.
Such grants are even more rare now than they used to be.
IMOM.org, a national organization that helps “financially challenged” pet owners pay for care, is one of the few organizations willing to help with non-fatal eye ailments. However, the website warns, “Due to the current economic crisis and decline in donations, IMOM presently accepts applications for life-threatening emergencies only.”
University veterinary programs once did cataract surgery more cheaply, but now they charge about the same as for-profit vets.
The University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana will pay up to two-thirds of a veterinary bill out of a donated-fund, and “it does not have to be life-threatening condition,” spokeswoman Chris Bouey said. “When we have money we try to give it out, but you can imagine, there are many (requests) for that.”
At the moment, the fund so much in demand contains a total of $1,600.
Leonard never asked for attention to his situation, but Sweeney and Armida Andersen, the building’s social service coordinator, like him and Molly, and are trying to find someone to help out.
“For seven years I have watched John take Molly out several times a day,” Andersen said. “They are inseparable.”
Robert Swinger, DVM, an animal ophthalmologist with Veterinary Care of America in Aurora, said many dog owners opt out of cataract surgery even if they’re not on Social Security, and even though he offers “pay next year, same as cash” deals.
He said one of three say no — and these are the people who have already cleared the hurdle of consulting a specialist.
“It’s not like an emergency,” he said.
“If it’s not something that’s financially affordable, we try to help make the best of the situation,” Wheeling’s Sisler said. “There are other ways to work with blind pets, so they still have a good quality of life.”
It helps to buy dog toys that vibrate or respond to the animal’s sense of hearing or smell, he said.
Leonard is prepared to do that with his dog, who can still usually find her favorite toy, a small red stuffed dog.
“Her left eye’s a little better than her right eye,” he said. “She can still get on and off the bed, and in and out of the car.”
He’d love her to be able to see well, so she could fully enjoy her walks and trips to the grocery and library, and see the sights when her head’s out the car window.
“I would be incredibly grateful” if someone came up with a way to heal his dog. “But I’d do a lot of question-asking” at the vet’s office, to make sure the procedure is safe as possible.
After all, you don’t play around with your best pal’s health.
“Life without a dog is an empty life indeed,” he said.