For the fifth year in a row, during the month of May, the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) will offer free eye exams to working assistance dogs in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico. This is called the ACVO/Merial National Service Animal Eye Event.
This is not as straightforward as it might seem. Exams are not just for assistance dogs for people with disabilities (guide, hearing, and service dogs). Therapy dogs, search and rescue dogs, detection dogs, and police dogs are also eligible. Certain working horses are eligible, too. To take part, the handler/owner or agency responsible for the dog must register.
However, if your working assistance animal was trained by their partner or by a private trainer, and not a school or program, it’s unclear whether the program is open to you.
The informational site says, on its “Who is eligible?” page:
Dogs must be active ‘working dogs’ that were certified by a formal training program or organization or are currently enrolled in a formal training program to qualify. The certifying organization could be national, regional or local in nature. Essentially the dogs need to have some sort of certification and/or training paperwork to qualify for this particular this program.
Apparently, in the past a few people tried to pass off pets as working dogs; thus this program is pretty clearly defined as “for program dogs only.” If you’re a partner-trainer, you can still speak to your local veterinary ophthalmologist and ask if they can give you any sort of discount. When I spoke to mine, and he found out I have a bouvier des Flandres in training as my service dog, he agreed to provide a free exam, in part because glaucoma is a genetic problem in bouviers. I was really touched by his generosity. I hadn’t expected that. I hope to set up our appointment in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, if you are in the San Francisco/Berkeley/Bay area of California and you would like your private- or partner-trained SDiT or assistance dog (or pet dog, cat, rabbit, horse, lizard, etc.), to receive a comprehensive eye exam from a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, you are in luck! A complete eye exam has been donated to Marlena’s Teaching Fund by Animal Eye Care of California’s East Bay.
It is not free, but it does offer two major bonuses that you would not get if you made an appointment with a veterinary ophthalmologist under other circumstances:
1. You’ll get the exam at a substantial discount. The standard fee for this service is $226. The minimum starting bid we’re asking is $70. That’s a discount of over two-thirds!
2. You will be supporting a very worthwhile cause — assisting a person with disabilities to cover her own medical costs and pay for her dog’s food, which will help her to continue to teach the Nonviolent Communication teleclasses that I and my friends with disabilities and chronic illnesses attend.
Please share these links around. Share the ACVO/Merial link with program-trained assistance dog teams. And if you know any animal lovers in the Bay area of California, please share this link with them. Thank you!
– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (whose first lymphoma sign was a red eye), and Barnum, SD/SDiT