Learning to run in the dark.

Indy is completely blind now. It’s the diabetes catching up with him, of course. Not unexpected, but cruelly quick to develop.

A Rottweiler-Shepherd mixed-breed, who came to live with me just a couple of years ago, Indy will be ten in another month. Most dogs of his age and size would be winding down by now. Many with his physical condition might be giving up entirely. But not Indy.

When the blindness overtook him, it happened very quickly, over the course of just a number of days. So we’ve had to work together just as quickly to develop alternate ways of doing things. I’ve let him take the lead in the process. Let him set the pace. Allowed him to teach me what to do, and tell me if it gets too hard.

Indy still chooses – enthusiastically – to take our regular, daily walks. He still wants as much freedom (i.e., off leash) as possible. So we walk only familiar territory, pathways we know intimately. And I keep up a running dialog with him, or sing or whistle constantly, so he knows where I am every step of the way.

He has also very quickly learned a few new words of caution that I can call out to him when needed … like “FENCE” (which also works well for tree trunks and other large obstacles in the way) or “STEPS” (which covers curbs and tree roots as well). Or, if things get a bit too treacherous or complicated, the simple old command, “WAIT” works just fine. Hearing this, he has learned to halt immediately, and wait for me to come and put my hands on his shoulders and guide him around the tangle of bushes or hole in the ground looming, unseen, in front of him. He also responds to the familiar words “HORSE” and “CAR” with new alertness and focused hearing and a directed sense of smell.

He still loves to meet and greet other dogs. Although they approach him differently now, I’ve noticed. Somewhat cautiously. They still include him in a bit of play and circle chases. But they know. And they’re kind. And both Indy and I are grateful.

But the most amazing thing about this charming soul is that when he hears the words “GOOD JOB,” Indy still takes off and runs almost flat out. Unhesitatingly. With joy and fearlessness.

I’ve written before about Indy being a “leaning sort of dog.” He leans into hugs. Leans across my legs in a stance of protection. Now, perhaps he needs to lean on me for different reasons. And now, I’m learning to lean right back. I lean into his courage. I lean into his unwavering trust and faith and quiet acceptance.

And, as I watch him day to day, I suspect I am learning other great things from him as well. Important things … like how to stumble with grace, and how to take joy from unknowing. Perhaps even how to run, flat out, in the dark.