Beau, a labradoodle, wags his tail excitedly as Dr. Caryn Plummer, a professor and board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, approaches with a handheld device to check his eyes.
Beau’s owner, Terry Biehl, holds his leash tight, cooing at him as a small light flashes in both of his eyes.
“And he’s fine,” Plummer said as she finished Beau’s eye exam.
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Beau is a certified therapy dog who works at the University of Florida Health. He can often be found visiting hospitals and community hospices, helping people decompress by allowing them to give him a nose behind their ear or give him a head rub.
Other therapy and assistance dogs waited at the UF Small Animal Hospital, located at 2089 SW 16th Ave., for a free heart and eye exam during the National Service Animal Eye Examination event.
The event was organized by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologistsa national organization that aims to protect the quality of life of animals by “restoring their vision through education and science”.
“I’m very happy they’re doing this,” Biehl said. “It’s an amazing program they’re doing.”
Plummer presented the National Service Animal Eye examination event in Gainesville over a decade ago, but it has been canceled for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These dogs do such important work,” Plummer said. “Not only do they do things for their people, but they are emotional support animals; they are part of the family. If we can help them do their job better and make sure they are as healthy as possible , that’s a good service we can provide.”
Plummer said she checked the eyes of eight dogs and had 46 left to do.
DeEtta Duckett, a Levy County service dog trainer, came with her two labradoodles: Piper, 4, and Echo, 4 months. She said Piper is an alert and stable dog, and Echo is still in training.
Duckett said she has been on the program for 12 years, excluding the two years disrupted by COVID-19.
“It’s so great to have it (the program) back, because I know I’d like to know if the puppies have any issues ahead of time because if they have a serious enough issue like a heart murmur or something like that, it can’t be fixed,” Duckett said.
She said she had a puppy who came for a checkup as part of the program, but was discouraged from the service dog program because doctors found spots in his eyes that would blind him earlier than expected.
Nationally, the program reaches approximately 8,000 service animals each year. In the rare event that a problem is detected but treatment is not an option, early awareness allows managers to proactively address the situation, the ACVO said in a press release.
“Sight is essential for these important service animals,” said Stacee Daniel, CEO of ACVO. “It’s been a fantastic experience to help our in-house ophthalmologists be able to provide these services to this valuable community. Our doctors say early diagnosis is the key to treating eye disease.