In February of 2020, Jane Downes in Cambridge, England decided to adopt a border collie. She loves the breed and even knew exactly where to go to find a new rescue — Heathlands Animal Sanctuary in Royston, Ireland.
“I’ve had border collies or collie crosses for 44 years,” she explained to the Cambridge Independent. Her newest rescue, Dave, would bring a surprise, however.
“When I brought him home, I noticed on a couple of occasions he walked into door frames,” Downes told the paper, “but I assumed he was a rescue and had lived in barns, and he wasn’t used to being indoors. He never made a fuss.” What she didn’t realize, and what even the veterinarian who screened him at Heathlands had missed, was that Dave was blind!
Because he had adapted so well to his new home, Downes hadn’t questioned his sight for a second. He would hop into the back seat of her car when she told him to, played well with other dogs, and aside from what looked like slight clumsiness, was no different from the many other collies she had and had raised in the past.
Still, some of her friends noticed that in some lighting, his eyes would gleam brightly — a potential sign of retinal damage. Then, one day at the pet shop, the pieces fell into place.
In October, more than 8 months after Dave had been adopted, Downes was buying him a harness when he missed a step on his way through the store’s doorframe. “The owner there said, ‘I think your dog’s blind.’ That was when I thought he might be,” she explained to the paper. A quick visit to a specialist confirmed it, and later tests would show that Dave had likely been completely blind since birth.
“He seems to be able to see, I’d say, perfectly well. So I can’t explain exactly what’s going on. He is a conundrum,” explained veterinary ophthalmologist David Williams MA, VetMB, PhD, CertVOphthal, CertWEL, FHEA, FRCVS (I’m not sure what those acronyms are, but I’m pretty sure they mean he knows his stuff!).
“His pupils don’t constrict in light as any normal dog’s would, and when you look at the back of his eyes, the optic nerves, which send the signals to the back of the brain, just haven’t developed. But when you look at how he behaves, everything seems as though he can see perfectly,” Dr. Williams continued.
Sight is less important for dogs than humans, as they rely more on smell and hearing than vision. Still, after putting Dave through maze challenges and even an obstacle course, Dr. Williams wasn’t able to explain the dog’s near-perfect performance. Some theorize that dogs are capable of echolocation like bats, but Dave didn’t bark at all during the test, showing he wasn’t relying on sound to guide him.
For her part, Jane is proud to be the owner of a medical mystery. “I don’t make allowances for him because he is only blind and he knows no different,” she told the Cambridge Independent.
Watch Dave in action below!
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