Service dogs get free eye exams

Service dogs do so much for their owners. From opening doors to sensing seizures - they really can be a life-saver.

That's why it's important they stay healthy, too.

Bryce Snively has only had his service dog, Aladdin for eight months, but in that short time, they've created a seemingly unbreakable bond.

Bryce now says he can't imagine his life without his golden.

"At home, I have ropes on the door handles; he'll tug and open up the doors. If I drop something, he'll pick it up for me," Bryce Snively explained.

That's why it was so important for Bryce to get Aladdin's eyes checked out at the Blue Pearl vet in Clearwater, a four-hour round trip journey from his home in Winter Haven.

The check-up is part of a larger, month-long event for the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmology that includes free eye exams for all service animals. Dr. Jessica Stine said programs like this are very important for service animals.

"I think that, in particular for service dogs, it's very important to screen them for any conditions that could impair their vision, to make sure they can do the best job for their owners," Dr. Stine said. "A lot of times, the service dogs are replacing their owner's eyesight."

Since symptoms of problems in animals' eyes are much harder to see than in humans, this service is invaluable.

"Problems with their retina, where they can have trouble seeing at night, as well as cataracts and occasionally glaucoma," Dr. Stine said of the things she looked for in Aladdin.

His exam revealed a few problems with his eyes. But by catching them early, Bryce and Dr. Stine can stay on top of the issues to keep Aladdin healthy for years to come.

Since its first year in 2008, the National Service Animal eye event has screened 45,000 animals, including 7,000 last year.