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Snoopy Can See!
By Jill Robinson, Animals Asia
The sadness we all felt that Snoopy wasn’t progressing as well as we’d hoped rippled through the sanctuary. Despite the advice to “be patient” from ophthalmologists Claudia and David of the Animal Health Trust in the UK who had so generously come over and operated on Snoopy and our other blind and partially sighted bears, I think we were all feeling a little down.
Today, I offered to look at the teeth of Snoopy’s next door neighbour, Franzi, as Heather was a little worried that blood was found on her mouth and she had trouble eating for a day or two.
I'd helped to train Franzi in the past and had a hunch that she wouldn’t mind showing me her pearly whites once again.
An old lady of 30 years (90 years in human terms) Franzi had been declawed and de-toothed on the farm and was as tiny as a little gnome from the years she'd spent in a crush cage designed to hold a cub. That she recovered at all was a miracle – but she bloomed – and went on to enjoy an idyllic life in her “secret garden” with her toy boy, brain-damaged Rupert, who adores her to this day.
As I passed Snoopy’s den to collect the fruit for training Franzi, I suddenly saw Snoopy’s head and eyes turn deliberately towards me. I walked back again the other way and she turned around and followed. Back and forth we went, with not a sound between us, but Snoopy following me in the same direction, time and time again.
Bear Worker Xiao Yong was watching the whole thing with a smile, and when Bear Manager Belinda walked in after I called her on the walkie-talkie – he simply said, in English, “Snoopy follow Jill”.
Belinda was beaming and said that she had suspected as much some days ago, but couldn’t confirm absolutely that Snoopy had sight. She had so badly wanted Snoopy to see and had been going into her area every morning before anyone was around to carry on the testing as quietly as possible.
Sometimes she thought that Snoopy followed her, but then when she walked closer to her face, Snoopy seemed sightless and clearly used her nose and sense of smell to locate the treats. Poor Belinda questioned herself repeatedly over these days: “Was I reading something into this and seeing something that wasn’t there? Or could she really see? But then when I saw her following Jill as well I was so excited because I finally knew that I wasn’t imagining things.”
Today, it was obvious – Snoops then followed Belinda’s partner, Russel as he took over walking backwards and forwards and we knew without a doubt that after weeks of waiting and holding our breath, Snoopy’s distance vision, at least, was there. Heather now clarified what she thought was the status today of Snoopy’s long- and short-distance sight:
“Basically, we think that she is able to see large or moving objects at a distance, but unable to see small objects or things close up. The reason for this is that she doesn’t have a lens in her left eye, so is unable to focus on anything close – but naturally that eye would be set to see things at a distance.
Claudia and David inserted a synthetic cat lens into her right eye, but we don’t know the strength of this lens and how well it can correlate to a bears’ normal lens strength – or how well she can focus on things close.”
A little while later, Belinda laid out large blue buckets in Snoopy’s enclosure, making a barrier in front of Snoopy’s den door – with gaps large enough for her to walk through.
As Belinda recounted: “She stepped out into the enclosure and immediately froze, then turned away from the buckets. As the “test” went on, it was clear that she knew that something was there. But the closer she walked towards the buckets, it appeared that the less she could see. However, to Snoopy it really didn’t matter at this stage because she then decided that the buckets were a perfect opportunity for mischief and she began to play with them instead.”
So, with Claudia’s ongoing advice that the process of improvement can take three months or so, we remain hopeful – and relatively sure that our previously blind girl can see some of the beauty of her enclosure and possibly Franzi and the bears next door.
At the end of all this excitement, little Franzi was still waiting patiently for her dental check-up. We hadn’t worked together for nearly two years, but she remembered the routine and, true to form, she adopted the “present” position and sat on her bottom, thrust out her little chest with paws up at the den bars, waiting for the training to begin.
Happily letting me touch her front clawless paws as we did before, and then moving on to putting my thumb and forefinger on to her top and bottom lip and asking her to say “ahhhh”. And there they were, her teeth proudly shown off, with no obvious problem, leaving us to guess that she’d just bitten too hard on some food in her enclosure, and all was fine now.
With Franzi and Snoopy happy and content and enjoying this gorgeous spring sunshine in our little community of Chengdu, days such as this are treasured.
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