Medical Minute 7-28: Helping Dogs Help People

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

On four legs, these guys depend on their two eyes to do some very important jobs. Veterinary Ophthalmologist Doctor Susan Carastro is here to make sure the dogs' vision stays sharp.

One and a half year old Nat is training to be an assistance dog.
Another two year old just finished search and rescue training.

"Marley is a search dog… he looks for live people in collapsed structures," said Lybbi Kienzle, Dog Owner/Trainer.

Zena works as a therapy dog at assisted living centers. For Brady, it's children's hospitals.

These exams are part of a national event. About 200 veterinary ophthalmologists providing free eye exams for all kinds of service dogs that help people, and even save lives.

"By evaluating these dogs on a yearly basis, we can sometimes identify eye conditions that could be vision-threatening to them," said Susan Carastro, D.V.M., M.S., Veterinary Ophthalmologist.

"We want to make sure he can see and he can do his job well and he can be healthy and happy," said Elin Fischer.

Jeff Shaffner knows how important these canine professionals can be. He lost the use of his arms and legs in an accident twenty-three years ago. Now, he depends on Vincent for help and companionship

"He facilitates things that I cannot do from a wheelchair that he can. He means everything in the world to me," said Jeff Shaffner, Service Dog owner.

Back at Doctor Carastro's office, every exam has a happy ending. A few treats, some kisses, then, it's time to go. These busy professionals have work to do.

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


BACKGROUND: Assistance dogs are trained to provide specific services to their partners. According to Assistance Dogs International there are three types of assistance dogs: Guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired, hearing dogs for the deaf, and service dogs for people with disabilities other than vision and hearing. Guide dogs have been trained the longest, formally for over 70 years. Training dogs for physically and mentally disabled people is a recent concept. Assistance dogs come from breeder volunteer puppy raisers, who take care of them until they are ready to start helping people. In some cases, assistance dogs are rescued from animal shelters.

MEET THE DOGS: There are many different breeds of assistance dogs. However, the most popular dogs are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds. Training these dogs takes about two to three months and they’re taught to have the best manners, and how to respond to commands, and how NOT to respond to unsafe commands. In most countries around the world assistance dogs are guaranteed legal access to all public places and modes of transportation.

ABOUT THE EXAM: Service dogs are known to be the eyes for their owner; their performance depends on their vision. This year, ACVO held its 4th annual ACVO/Merial National Service Dog Eye Exam Event to help serve these dogs who dedicate their lives to serving the public. Search and rescue, guide, mobility, and police dogs are all eligible for the free eye exam. More than 180 board certified ophthalmologists are proving the sight-saving exams to the thousands of registered dogs. Last year, the examination helped more than 3,200 active service dogs.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The veterinarians will look for problems including: redness, squinting, cloudy corneas, retinal disease, early cataracts and other serious abnormalities. Early detection and treatment for these working dogs is crucial. (SOURCE:

HOW TO PARTICIPATE: First, the 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. The owner can register their dog online at They will be allowed access to a list of participating ophthalmologists in their area.

For More Information, Contact:

Stacee Daniel
Executive Director of the ACVO

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