He came into the world in what I can only assume was the usual way a puppy does, but blind. Someone was kind enough to raise him even given this congenital challenge. According to the Rescue where I adopted him from he was found tied up in someone’s back yard and surrendered to them. Whether that’s his true origin story or not is immaterial, but it definitely works as an emotional ploy when you’re looking to convince someone to adopt a blind dog.
My ex and I had just lost my first dog, Jake - Jake who would light up whenever I entered the room. Jake, my shadow who would be comfortingly underfoot (behind knees, really) whenever I was in the kitchen. We lost Jake during Superstorm Sandy. Not to the elements per se, but to a heart attack brought on by the stress of the storm. He was 9, I’d had him since he was 11 months. But this is not his story.
With Jake gone there was only Zoe. The sister we adopted for Jake to have a companion. The pure-bred rescue malamute who’d vexed me when she first came home before she realized her place in the pack and too became my best, most loyal, and vocally-frank friend. She left us when she was 12, after 8 great years even though the last couple saw her have seizures. This is not her story, either.
A few months after Jake’s passing, it was time to get a companion for Zoe. The decision was made to rescue another malamute because we liked the breed. The hunt was on.
My ex found a malamute / Aussie shepherd mix down in Virginia, named "Basil." His pictures were adorable but, and at the time for me this was a Big But: he was blind. I remember I was initially opposed to bringing him into the family; surely a blind dog would require an extraordinary amount of additional care. But my ex brought my sister to her side and convinced me to meet him, and as you can see in my journal excerpts below, I was won over. He proved me wrong about his blindness and soon integrated himself into our pack.
My first impression of Jonny from my journal, dated 11 February, 2013:
“…found a new dog to succeed Jake. This new dog is a malamute / Aussie Shepherd mix ~3 / 4 years old, tri-color, presently named “Basil,” & almost completely blind. He is freshly fixed as well. He & Zoe got along, more importantly Zoe tolerated his humping, which should abate as the testosterone leaves his system. He’s quite sweet-tempered & will be a joy to have as our own family member. We await his healing from a post-neutering infection, purchasing supplies for him after meeting him down in Marshall, VA on Saturday afternoon. I must still replace our back porch steps with a ramp so he doesn’t fall down the step*. We are quite excited.”
And then 11 days later, 22 February 2013:
“Jonny Snow, ‘Jonny,’, formerly ‘Basil,’ comes home this evening - [the ex] is going to get him in VA. We are not quite as ready as I’d hoped re: backyard*, but I think we’ll muddle through nicely.”
One last note, from 25 February, 2013:
“Jonny is figuring it all out, the stairs are tricky for him, but I see improvement over 2 days already. He’s still a very sweet & laid back dog, but I had an issue with him peeing in the house right after eating yesterday.”
Not that his blindness was a total non-factor in his life. For nine years I guided him in to his food bowl with sound and encouragement twice a day. Even though he learned the layout of whatever house he lived in (he shared two homes with me) he would still sometimes lose his bearings and bonk into furniture. There were times when I thought to change his name to “Crash,” but that felt a little cruel.
Jonny's easygoing demeanor found him an occasional featured player in stage productions. Months after he became a part of my family, he was on stage playing the dog in the play-within-a-play in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." He was a hit with the cast and audiences. Years later, as he was entering his twilight years, he returned to the stage to play the role of Old Dog in "Of Mice and Men," again stealing the hearts of cast, crew, and audience alike. He didn't really do tricks or learn blocking, but if you needed a dog's presence on stage, he was your pup.
He did the malamute lean when you would pet him, right up to the very end. His herding instincts were often on display: he would figure out where everyone was in a room and then lay near an entrance to the space to keep us all there. Mind you facing the wall as often as not, but maybe the sound reflections were a help for him?
Jonny loved walks as much as any dog. The world was alive with scents and sounds for him. Acting as his seeing-eye human, I'd keep him on track as he ate up the distance. In his younger days I was convinced he could've worked as a sled dog, guided by his fellow dogs in the middle of the traces (of course, I mean, he was still blind). He was so strong. When it hurt him to move much in his last year or so, he would still become more alive when we went outdoors, even when I had to painstakingly guide him down (if not carry him) the stairs.
When we moved into our current home and became a blended family, he took to cats and kids as he had taken to everything in his life, with joy and acceptance. Jonny, in a phrase, was just happy to be here. We were happy to have him as part of our family, even through the rough days at the end when his body failed him, though his spirit never did.
I said good-bye to my friend of 9 years on 16 June, 2022, knowing that he had more than earned his rest.
I believe that there’s a dog heaven where Jake and Zoe were waiting for him to update them on how I’ve been doing. Do blind dogs see in Heaven? I know that Jonny taught me to see many things: acceptance, persistence, joy in simple things, and always love. He'll always have a place leaning against the inside of my heart, leaving bits of fur stuck to everything.
* I never did put a ramp in at that old house, I didn't need to: he conquered stairs like the champ he was.