Brillo's baby cataracts

by Sunny Weber


Brillo stood in the far corner of the yard, sniffing. I remained vigilant at the sliding glass patio door, as I always do. Brillo is seventeen pounds of Lhasa Apso focus, Shih Tzu cuteness, and Schnauzer self-confidence. In other words, a muttly mix of energy and ego. His head came up and he looked back at me wrapped in my fluffy white robe. His tail wagged! Then he broke into a trot and made a bee-line for the door—and me. I slid the opening just wide enough to let him in and yet keep the frigid winter temperature out.

Any dog owner knows this type of scene. Every dog owner’s heart sings when their dog prefers their company to whatever scent captures their attention temporarily. Every dog owner loves starting their day with the company of canine cheerfulness.

But this day was a miracle. This day was different than all in the last year of Brillo’s life. The day before Brillo would not have seen me in the doorway. He would not have known I stood guard over his forays from scent to scent in our yard. He would not have recognized the big white robe.

The day before Brillo may have smacked into the not-fully-opened glass door. The day before Brillo would have continued his scent investigation around the perimeter of our yard prior to coming back. The day before Brillo would not have seen me watching over him behind the glass.

For yesterday Brillo was blind.


Part One—How it Started


Miracle Day was a long time coming. Brillo was originally a medical foster dog. His hair was long and knotted to the skin when he arrived at the shelter where I volunteered. Named after the cleaning scrubber, Brillo Pad was a dejected, neglected, ratty mess. He had been transferred from a charity hospital for strays to the shelter because the first hospital could not perform the intricate orthopedic surgery he needed. He had a fractured tibia on his left rear leg. Once at the shelter hospital, Brillo’s X-Rays showed an additional problem. He had dangerous break in his lower back. There was no point in fixing Brillo’s leg when central nervous system severance was an inch away. They placed him in a cubicle and waited for him to die.

But Brillo didn’t die. He kept wagging his tail. He continued to poop and pee. After three days, the veterinary medical staff decided spinal cord damage might not have occurred. They decided to fix his leg and see what happened. Two long pins were inserted to support his tibia as it healed–assuming his spinal fracture didn’t shut down nerve impulses to his hind quarters. Brillo continued to wag his tail, poop, and pee. The pins held and allowed him to stand. Incarcerated in the tiny metal cage, Brillo howled his desire for freedom. He hated confinement and he let everyone in the hospital, and in all the halls behind the surgery doors, know he wanted OUT!

They had done all they could at the shelter so they asked me, their “special needs” fosterer, to take him into my home. I had enough medical/rehabilitation experience and equipment to foster the Miracle Dog, as the staff called him.

Brillo remained in my home for several months, recuperating from two bouts of kennel cough, another leg surgery to remove one of the pins which had slipped, and the ever-threatening broken back. He got to know my other two rescue dogs, other fosters, and my cats. He entertained clients in my home-based business. He enchanted my friends.

After six months Brillo was adopted by a young woman with Cystic Fibrosis. A special needs dog and a special needs human met and fell in love. Missy had lived through a bilateral lung transplant and a childhood of constant medical crises. She adored Brillo but the day he left, I felt a pang of emptiness. My two other rescues, Lab mix Jessie, and Wheaten Terrier Bailey, missed Brillo’s bossiness. Within a few weeks, however, Missy became dangerously ill. She called me from the hospital and asked me to find Brillo a new home. She knew how long her recovery might be—if she did recover. At thirty-five, Missy had outlived all expectations for a CF patient.

I told Missy I would “board” Brillo but he was hers and she must get well because he was anxious to start his new life with her. Missy’s mother brought Brillo back to me and the look on her face told me the years of pain, concern, and exhaustion that only a mother with a chronically ill child could express.

I emailed Missy daily with first-person missives of Brillo’s daily activities. Brillo told Missy of each adventure, lesson, and event he shared with Jessie and Bailey. For a month-and-a-half Brillo wrote Missy with no replies. Finally, a short answer arrived. Missy had been in a coma and remained in critical condition. She was excited to find Brillo’s emails and loved each one.

Two weeks later Missy died. Her mother contacted me to say Missy’s dying wish was that he remain in my house with Jessie, Bailey, and me. I welcomed the “bad penny” that kept returning.  Brillo, the mischievous fuzzy ball of energy and charisma, found his “forever home” by the time his hair had grown out enough to cut off the final knots of his past life.

Part Two—The Active Years


Brillo’s back had healed so well that he could run stretched out flat in the air, in gigantic leaps, and he delighted in the freedom speed gave him. He became my partner and shelter mascot dog in my volunteer work as a humane education instructor. He served as shelter good-will ambassador at fundraising events, the star of print and television advertising, and Critter Camp clicker-training guinea pig for children. He could really “work a room”—soliciting pats from children, teens, seniors, dementia patients, and wealthy potential donators in classrooms, visits as a therapy dog, and public relation excursions. Brillo welcomed other foster newcomers, showed them the ropes, and then wished each good luck when they left for adoptive homes.

The Miracle Dog was truly that. He lived, he played, he entertained, he comforted. The years flew by. Little by little, Brillo’s beard turned gray and his hearing went. His ability to run off leash was curtailed by not being able to hear calls to return or change direction. His eagerness to participate continued. His desire to socialize went on without interruption. I had always taught my dogs hand signals in preparation for the day their old ears stopped working so Brillo and I continued to communicate with physical signals. His bright brown eyes never left my face or body as he adjusted to deafness.

Brillo in our field, seeing and sniffing, but not hearing.

When Brillo was thirteen, he became listless. He stopped eating. Dr. Converse concurred with my request for an abdominal ultrasound. The test showed Brillo’s spleen hosted an unwelcome tumor. Dr. Converse told me most pet owners would have “just let nature take its course,” and not opt for surgical removal. But I did. The splenectomy required a specialist whom Dr. Converse was eager to work with. Dr. Converse assisted as the traveling surgical specialist removed the tumor and Brillo’s spleen in our own vet office. Brillo’s energy returned and I was thankful we had conquered a potentially lethal problem.

Six months later, blood dripped out of Brillo’s cheek on a walk. I packed his face with snow and rushed him to Dr. Converse. Brillo had been “off” for a few weeks but neither of us could figure out what was wrong. The infection in an upper molar had spread to a sinus and then burst through his cheek. Brillo’s bearded face hid the swelling. Dr. Converse’s expert surgical skills solved another dangerous medical concern.

That spring, we met human and dog friends in the park. The dogs chased around as we humans chatted. Suddenly Brillo was gone! Far off, I saw him running away from the group. I ran after him, instinctively calling–although I knew he’d not hear me. At the end of the park, he stopped and swung his head from side to side, looking—for me? I waved my arms, yelled and kept heading toward him. He took off again, in obvious panic.

Near the parking lot another woman stood with her black lab. Brillo must have thought it was me and our lab Jessie, although Jessie had passed away. When he reached the woman she bent over to pet him. I hollered at her to keep him near and when I was finally able to catch up, Brillo’s relief was palpable. It was then I realized, he couldn’t see at distance anymore. He was never off-leash again.

Brillo on Leash

Continued in next blog~


Sunny Weber

Sunny Weber

Sunny has over 25 years’ experience in pet rescue, humane education, shelter & sanctuary work, service dog training, obedience competition, dog & cat fostering, pet medical care, horse ground training and has authored articles and books in several fields.

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