A Dog is a Woman’s Best Friend: Part One

Esther SmithIt’s time to tell you about my best friend Tanda, my little dog, who brings me a great deal of joy. I am a great believer in pets and have had a dog ever since I can remember. You may think that your vision loss precludes your having a pet. You may think that you don’t want the responsibility that a pet entails (no pun intended) and that you are having enough problems doing things for yourself as a result of vision loss. Maybe you’re thinking, “How do I choose a pet? How do I care for it? I can’t see!” Don’t let these thoughts deter you, especially if you’ve always loved animals or had pets before losing your vision. First of all, having a pet brings life to your home. If you live by yourself, getting out of bed in the morning may be a challenge. Having a pet changes all that. Pets need food, water, and attention. You need attention, too, and they give it to you! Overcoming the feelings of immobilization that vision loss brings you is critical to coming to terms with living a quality life with vision problems. This is part one of my two-part series on pets. I’ve focused mainly on caring for dogs, but you can apply much of this to cats and other animals.

Choosing a Pet

First, choose a pet carefully. If you can detect color contrast you may want to choose a pet that contrasts with décor in your home, such as a white animal against dark flooring or vice versa. You also want to choose an animal that fits your home. Taking care of a very large dog in a small apartment and the problems that can cause could be daunting. A small dog or a cat might be a better fit.
Esther sits on the couch with her Yorkshire Terrier Tanda on her lap Me and my little Yorkie, Tanda.
Choose a pet that you feel comfortable handling. If you choose a puppy, you may want to check out the pup’s parents to see how large they are so you have an idea of the size your dog will become as an adult. Also, with some investigation, you can skirt the puppy or kitten stage and obtain a rescue animal from the humane society in your community. Getting a fully grown dog means that you’ll already know its personality, temperament, and size. Prices vary, but getting a rescue animal is usually less expensive than buying one from a breeder, and its shots, and often neutering, will already be done.

Your Pet in the Home

Once you bring your new friend home, you’ll probably have to adjust to having it around. If you are afraid of tripping over an animal, try putting a bell on its collar. That way you can locate your pet at all times. Also, in the house, you may want to use a leash if you are taking your pet from one room to the other. That way you will always know where your pet is. In fact, I find that putting a leash handle through my waist belt works well. What about where your pet sleeps? I like having my dog near me, and she sleeps in her bed in my bedroom. However, you may feel safer having a cage for your pet. The most important thing is that pets, like us, like to have their own bed.


Training a pet, especially a dog, is critical and essential to enjoying your pet to the fullest and for feeling safe with it. Train a dog to recognize short commands such as “no,” “sit,” or “stay.” Dogs should also be taught good manners—not to jump on people, not to bark (unless you want them to), not to jump on furniture. Try putting newspaper on a couch, for example. They don’t like the feel of the paper and normally will not stay there. Like people, you need to use rewards when the dog obeys your commands. But you need to be consistent in both rewarding and punishing for not obeying your commands. If you don’t feel comfortable training your pet, it is possible to engage a trainer and there are dog training classes available. I also highly advise talking to your veterinarian about pointers on working with your dog. In my next column, I’ll discuss feeding, grooming, and exercising your pet. See you next month! Esther

More about Esther Smith

Mrs. Smith has been involved in numerous volunteer activities in Dallas over the years, and is currently a member of the American Foundation for the Blind Center on Vision Loss Board and heads up the Center’s docent program. She was married for 47 years to Don Paul Smith, a noted inventor. Mrs. Smith is a graduate of Lindenwood College for Women in St. Charles, Missouri, and was a 2006 recipient of an honorary degree from the University of North Texas. In addition, she was head of the circulation department at the Fondren Library at Southern Methodist University for 11 years. Mrs. Smith has three daughters and seven grandchildren. For more about her experiences with macular degeneration, look for the AFB Press book, Out of the Corner of My Eye, in which she shares more of her insights, and view the video Esther and Gwen: A Mother and Daughter Story.
Listen to Esther Discussing Out of the Corner of My Eye

Transcript of Esther Discussing Out of the Corner of My Eye

Esther Smith: I have had the opportunity of reviewing several times the book entitled Out of the Corner of My Eye, and feel it is a wonderful learning tool for anyone who has that condition. The book was authored by Ms. Ringgold, who has had macular degeneration for some 10 years. It’s obvious that she’s a knowledgeable, educated woman who has chronilized her condition of macular degeneration from being a very slight case to an advanced case. I would certainly recommend either reading or listening to this book to anyone who has the condition of macular degeneration, not only to help you cope with your condition but also for your family to understand how you are coping and how they can help you.