Sleeping in on weekends ended for me seven years ago when an eight-week-old English Springer Spaniel became part of my family. As a pup, Duke wanted to start the day at sunrise, and the pitter-patter of his pacing on hardwood floors was impossible to ignore. I’d crawl out of bed, and he and I would head to Mellon Park, about a mile away. The park has plenty of trees, making it a squirrel paradise. But when Duke and I arrived, it wasn’t idyllic anymore for the furry creatures. Duke, with his hunting instincts, would scour the landscape waiting for a brave squirrel to venture from the trees. When that happened, Duke was in hot pursuit. As months passed, and he became fully grown, those dashes would have made a thoroughbred proud.
Duke got plenty of exercise during the week, too. It never failed whenever I came home from work—he’d greet me with his Frisbee, ready to play catch in the backyard. Until about a year ago, the flying disc rarely touched the ground.
Suddenly, though, he began having trouble finding the Frisbee in flight. I noticed, too, he wasn’t tracking squirrels quite as well in the park. Perhaps he had cataracts? I had him examined by his veterinarian, who looked into his eyes for only seconds before putting away his mini-flashlight. Not offering a diagnosis, he simply said Duke needed to be examined by an ophthalmologist.
Very concerned, I booked the first appointment available with the specialist, which was a week away. In that time, Duke’s vision deteriorated at a frightening pace. He was bumping into everything. The diagnosis by the ophthalmologist realized my worst fears. Duke had Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome, a condition that blinds nearly 4,000 dogs each year. No one knows the cause, and there is no cure.
Duke, using his sense of smell and familiarity with our home, started to navigate around remarkably well. But he refused to take a walk, going about three steps before freezing. I knew how much he loved frolicking outside, so it broke my heart.
My wife, Deb, and I devised a plan to get him moving again outside. At the end of the workday, she’d drive him to my office, about two miles away, and from there I’d walk him home. He still froze on me a couple of times, but after he sensed he was far from home, I could coax him to start moving again.
Before long, he had his stride back. Today, a year after going blind, Duke has a new routine. Every other morning, he and I go for a four-mile jog along Beechwood Boulevard’s bike lane. I’m sure passing motorists would never guess that such a fit-looking dog is blind. Every step Duke takes is a step of courage and faith.
And, in a way, that’s not unlike the steps taken by several subjects profiled in this issue. In story after story, there was a safe, predictable path to take. But Geo Bivins (“Rapped Up”), Charles Geschke (“Adobe Setup”), and others in this issue followed a different path. Like Duke, they took a step of courage and faith.
Follow on Twitter @RobertMendelson