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Ask Carrie: What’s it Like Having a Special Needs Dog?

This is actually a question I get asked quite often.

For those of you who don’t know, one of our dogs, Lyla, is blind. You can read more about her story here, but basically she suffers from a common Shar Pei problem called entropion. Entropion happens when the skin above the eyelids causes the eyelid to roll in, and makes the eye lashes rub the eye. A lot of shar pei’s are born with entropion, but anyone who knows anything about shar peis knows that if they get it fixed (basically they just stitch up the eye lid) at a young age, they’re perfectly fine and nothing bad comes from it.

My honest hunch is that Lyla was the runt of the litter from a backyard breeder, who was just trying to make a quick buck. Her entropion was never treated and fixed so the constant rubbing of her eyelashes on her eyes over time caused her to lose her vision. She was already blind when they found her, and we were fully aware she was blind when we adopted her.Besides all that, she is the sweetest girl ever, and Casey and I absolutely adore her and couldn’t imagine life without her. Most of the time having a dog with special needs isn’t too tough.

Or maybe it is and we’re just used to it now.

Either way she’s amazing and we wouldn’t trade her for anything. These are the most common ways she’s different than a typical dog.

Noise and Cars

Lyla is a rescue and was found living on the side of the road, curled up in some grass in a ditch. She has come along way, but she still has some PTSD when it comes to cars and car noises. This isn’t too big of a problem for us typically, because we’ve always lived in the country, or if we have lived on a busy road we’ve been a ways back from the road.

But since we’ve moved to Charlotte this has been a tough one for us. We live in uptown Charlotte in the heart of the city. So there’s constant car noise. Walking her has been nearly impossible (she just gets really scared and crouches in a little ball and won’t move). And then I, of course, feel like I’m torturing her. Luckily, there is a gravel parking lot behind our apartment. I’ve lately resorted to walking laps around the parking lot with her to make sure she’s getting exercise. 


When it comes to Lyla I like to tell people that it’s kind of like having a toddler – I always need to have an eye on her. Like always. Even in situations where you wouldn’t typically need to have an eye on your dog. For example, there have been times I’ve been walking her and not paying enough attention to her and she’s run into things – like pots, or telephone poles, or parked car tires – things a normal dog would know to walk around.


Naturally, steps are another one that can be tricky for Lyla. Luckily, we developed a habit for this one early on. When we first got her I started saying “step” each time she needed to step up or down. It took her a little bit, but now when she hears me say the word “step”, she automatically puts her snout down on the ground and feels with her snout to see if it’s an up step or a down step. 


When we’re in Wisconsin at my parent’s cabin we live on a hundred or so acres. So a lot of times I just let Gatsby outside and let him wander around for an hour or two on his own. He goes through the barn and plays with the cows, or runs around out in the field and rolls around in the alfalfa, and then comes back up to the house to lay on the porch when he’s done exploring.

I want (and try as much as possible) to let Lyla be a regular dog, but her exploring has to be a bit different from Gatsbys. When I’m outside, I’ll let her follow me around off leash, but I need to have an eye on her basically at all times. Otherwise she can and has, unbeknownst to her, wandered towards the road. I’ll let her explore into the fields or basically anywhere on the property as long as I can see her. It’s my way of letting her be a dog, while still hovering by for her safety. If I’m ever doing something outside were I can’t have an eye on her I’ll put her back in the house.

Dog Parks

Dog parks are not Lyla’s favorite. She loves Gatsby, but a bunch of dogs she doesn’t know sniffing her butt or chasing her around makes her really scared and nervous. Sometimes she’ll get swarmed by a whole group of dogs trying to be her friend and she’ll nervously try to jog away which makes them follow her more, and makes her even more scared and nervous. In that case I would pick her up and hold her for a little bit, until the other dogs have lost interest and moved on.

One time at a dog park, a large black lab mounted her. She got so nervous and scared about what was going on. I had to pick her up and literally shake this dog off of her. The owner was literally laughing about the entire thing. I was not impressed.

Truthfully, we don’t go to dog parks any more. Gatsby is too above other dogs (in his mind), and it’s really just scary for Lyla. If you or someone you know is thinking about adopting a special needs dog – whether it’s a blind dog or a dog missing legs, or even just a senior dog – it is totally worth it! The strength of Lyla’s spirit and her huge heart after all she’s been through never ceases to amaze me. She is our everyday reminder that life is a gift.

If you have something you want to Ask Carrie, head to the contact page and get in touch!


I just love her! And that’s such a smart tip about the steps!

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