This 10-year-old yellow Labrador may not have her eyes anymore, but anyone who knows her can attest that she can still touch people’s lives. This blind therapy dog helps children in hospitals, treatment centers and nursing homes she visits.
Harley, as the Lab’s name is, developed glaucoma when she was just 5. However, instead of losing her eyesight gradually as it usually happens with this condition, she became blind almost overnight. Veterinarians still haven’t figured out why.
As this condition was not only unfortunate but also painful – her eyes were removed a few months later.
“When she went blind I didn’t want to take her eyes out at all. That was too final for me,” said Rita Harrell, Harley’s owner. “I was good with her being blind and having eyes, you know, but taking her eyes out meant this was never going to get better.”
Still, it was the right decision.
“When we took her eyes out it was almost like she was a new dog. She was like a puppy again,” Harrell said. “She’s just really special.”
Harley is special indeed and her owner knew she had to share her with the world. One day she saw a TV show about therapy dogs and she knew what she had to do.
“Harley would be perfect for this,” Harrell recalled telling herself. “She’s not afraid or intimidated by anything. She can’t see.”
Harley went through months of training at Paws2Care, a volunteer group for therapy dogs in Greenville, South Carolina. Once this was done, Harley became a service dog. She started visiting local hospitals, treatment centers and nursing homes to comfort the patients there.
Harley has been doing this for three years, and she loves it.
Harley may not have eyes but she sees the best in everyone.
“When we’re getting ready to go somewhere I say, ‘We’re going to work,’ and she jumps down the steps, runs the through yard to the truck and just sits outside truck, shaking — she can’t wait to get to work,” Harrell said.
Harley has her own preferences too – she loves to visit the Shriners Hospital for Children.
“She does best with kids,” Harrell explained. “Kids can just be all over you and she likes that contact.”
Harley doesn’t do this alone most of the time – she’s usually one of 8 dogs that visit hospitals together. But Harley always steals the show.
“Everyone always gravitates to her, cause she’s Harley,” Harrell said.
Since Harrell has a full-time job, Harley’s occupation is more part-time, unfortunately. She visits children’s hospitals every week and nursing homes or treatment centers every month. Still, Harrell hopes this can change in the future.
“We’re going to wait until I retire and we’re just going to go all over,” Harrell said.
After all, Harley’s needed – by everyone who has seen her!