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In service of sight

Dr. Cassandra Bliss shined a light into Tulsa the German shepherd’s eye, looking for signs of a tumor that had threatened the guide dog’s sight a year ago.

“I’m glad to give you nothing but good news,” Bliss told Tulsa’s owner, Corinne Vieville.

The tumor, which Bliss froze using cryotherapy last year, had not regrown. All that is left is a dark spot on the edge of the dog’s iris.

“I’m so grateful that we were able to have that appointment last year and find out, because I don’t know how quickly it would have grown,” said Vieville, an Ashland resident who is blind.

Vieville relies on Tulsa to help her navigate through daily life.

She said she felt shocked and unnerved when she learned that her guide dog might go blind.

The eye cancer never progressed that far thanks to free annual eye exams Bliss offers to service and police dogs. She caught the tumor when it was still small.

Members of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists team with Stokes Pharmacy to provide the exams across the country. Bliss said she wants to help the dogs that devote their lives to serving people in the community.

This spring, guide dogs, drug-sniffing dogs and patrol dogs visited Bliss’ veterinary practice in Central Point, hoping for a clean bill of eye health.

All but one passed with flying colors. A dog that helps detect drugs in the Jackson County Jail was diagnosed with a cataract.

“He has a little tiny cataract in his left eye that at this point isn’t causing him any issues,” Bliss said. “But as we all know, cataracts can progress. He’s a young dog. We want to make sure he continues to do his job.”

Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Tom Hohl was glad to hear his partner Remco, a Belgian Malinois, has healthy eyes.

“He’s very important. He can do things that we just can’t do. He can find people that we just can’t find,” Hohl said of his patrol, tracking and apprehension dog.

Without dogs, law enforcement agencies would need a lot more time and manpower to capture suspects, he said.

Vieville said her guide dog is indispensable, especially since a stroke left her unable to walk in a straight line without assistance.

“I felt like I was going to get stopped for being this drunk person walking down the sidewalk swerving,” Vieville said. “And she’s changed everything. She helps me with stability. She walks straight.”

Tulsa remembers places they go, leading Vieville straight to the open doors of buses and to her regular seat for music concerts at Southern Oregon University.

“Now I don’t even use an usher. She just walks in and goes down the aisle and turns and goes to where we always sit and lays down. So that’s kind of fun. She knows a lot of things that we do,” Vieville said.

Musicians have commented about how happy Tulsa looks at concerts.

Tulsa is so well-mannered she curls up beneath the seats on airplanes. Most passengers don’t even know she’s on board until she and Vieville exit down the aisle.

If Tulsa had gone blind, Vieville said, their roles would have reversed. She would have kept the German shepherd, who will turn 7 years old this summer.

“I would still take her out on a leash and use my cane,” Vieville said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneDr. Cassandra Bliss and assistant Lindsey Estabrook examine Koda, a narcotics dog with the Jackson County Sheriffs Office, on Wednesday at Bliss Animal Eye Care in Central Point.