Dutchess, a golden retriever therapy dog, needed surgery to remove both eyes because of disease. Dr. Cory Mosunic, a veterinary ophthalmologist in Newtown, operated in 2011.
Fortunately, Dutchess quickly adjusted to being blind. She’s still busy bringing comfort and cheer to those with autism, and to the elderly in nursing homes. She was also at the memorial site after Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in December.
Now Dutchess and Mosunic are story characters in a new children’s picture book. Co-authored by Dutchess’ owner and trainer, Mark Condon, and writer Julie Phillips, the book is called “A Day with Dutchess: Life Lessons from a Blind Therapy Dog.” It shows how small actions can make a big difference, and how everyone has something positive to contribute, even if they’re “different” or have a “disability.”
We caught up with Mosunic, who works at Newtown Veterinary Specialists, to learn more:
Q: How long have you known Dutchess?
A: I saw her for eye problems in 2010 and 2011. We treated her with medications for the first year and then eventually she had her surgery to have both eyes removed in 2011.
Q: What kind of disease did she have?
A: A disease specific to her breed, called golden retriever pigmentary uveitis. We think it’s a hereditary disease. It causes a lot of pain and inflammation, and can sometimes lead to blindness.
Q: What kind of relationship do you have with Dutchess and owner Mark Condon?
A: It was obviously a tough year when I first met them. I became very close with the two of them getting through the first year of treatment. Through those hard times we became quite close. When I learned about all of the things she does in her therapy work, she became a very special patient. She doesn’t really need to see me anymore, but she often stops by the hospital to make everyone smile. We all feel much better when she’s here.
Q: What kind of work does she do?
A: Right now the focus of her therapy is with autistic children. She was also one of the therapy dogs that went into Sandy Hook Elementary School. She’s a celebrity, she really is.
Q: Why is Dutchess so special?
A: Obviously, she has something that makes her different. I’ve never met a blind therapy dog. She was a fabulous dog before and now she might be even more patient and loving. People understand what she’s been through and it’s inspiring.
Dogs do quite well without having their eyesight. It’s amazing if you ever get a chance to meet her. People constantly ask Mark and I if she can see, because it seems like she navigates so well. She’s been a great inspiration for people on the brink of doing the surgery. She’s helped so many dog owners be able to make the decision.
Q: What made you decide to become an animal ophthalmologist?
A: I didn’t know that you could become a veterinary ophthalmologist until I started veterinary school. You can work with any species. Anything that has an eye.
Q: What is the most exotic species you’ve worked with?
A: I think one of my most memorable was a little penguin. I remember thinking how you see penguins in movies and think they look cute and cuddly, but they’re really kind of greasy and smell like fish. Elephants have been memorable.
Q: Tell me about the free event you did.
A: In May, I did free exams for service dogs. We have a program set up through the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmology that you can participate in if you’re a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist. We saw therapy dogs, police dogs, military dogs and assistant dogs. It was a big mix, ranging from dogs that help people in wheelchairs to bomb-sniffing dogs. It’s a really nice way to do something to give back to these animals that do so much for the community.