PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Sense of smell may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a working animal like a police dog.
But eyesight is just as important, and starting next month participating clinics in the Delaware Valley are offering free eye exams for service animals.
Officer Gerard Scherf and his K9 partner Recon are proud members of the Lower Makefield Township Police Department. At three years old, Recon has made his mark, helping to find a missing 13 year old last year.
Recon is also a returning patient at CARES in Langhorne, Bucks County, where he gets an annual K9 eye exam from Dr. Martha Low, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist.
During the month of May, Low is donating her time and expertise by participating in the nationwide effort by members of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists to provide free eye exams to police dogs and other service animals.
“It’s more crucial that they have very good vision, compared to my 13-year-old dog that sits on the couch all day,” Dr. Low says. “It’s much more important for them to be able to be confident enough in their vision so they can do what their handlers want them to do as quick as possible.”
Officer Jason Landis and K9 Titan know the feeling. They’ve been on the street together for only one month, and already Titan made a suspect wanted for stolen handguns surrender without incident.
“They have to be able to find the target and pinpoint exactly what they’re doing,” Landis says. “And their nose will only take them so far. Their eyes have to finish off the job.”
This year, Titan took his first K9 eye exam. Dr. Low discovered he has inherited cataracts.
“A perfect example of why they need it,” Landis says. “We didn’t know he had some kind of issue. And we need to stay on top of it.”
Dr. Low says in Titan’s case, it likely feels to him similar to having a speck on your glasses. Very few dogs like him lose their eyesight, but now both she and Officer Landis know what to look for to make sure Titan’s eyesight doesn’t get worse.
“We’ll check him every year and make sure nothing changes,” Dr. Low says. “I feel like screening exams are really important to catch things early so that we can potentially keep your dog visual for as long as possible or forever.”
Sign up now through April 30th for an eye exam in May.
To qualify, service animals must be active working animals that were certified by a formal training program or organization.
Dogs aren’t the only animals welcome. You can register any service animal, but you will have to make sure the participating clinic can handle that particular animal.
To see the full list of requirements, click here