The executive office of 4 Paws for Ability was filled Monday afternoon, as it often is, with a gaggle of playing puppies. But amid the blur of fur, one little dog was getting ready for the operation that would change his life.
Pirate, a three-month-old Papillon, left the Xenia-based service dog placement organization that day for a surgery that would allow him to help a human companion. Unlike his foster sisters, Pirate will do so with only one eye.
“He was perfectly marked to be a show dog,” 4 Paws Executive Director Karen Shirk said. “Then his little eye didn’t open, and his owner at the time realized he was special.”
Bonnie Kost, Pirate’s original owner from Oregon, asked if the pup could become one of the 196 service dogs in training at 4 Paws and eventually one of their 650 dogs in the field.
Terah Webb, an ophthalmologist with MedVet in Columbus, assuaged their initial concern about depth perception issues, but said that because Pirate never had the other eye, he is doing everything as if he had two.
“Once we found that out, we said ‘absolutely he can be a service dog,’” Shirk said.
According to Webb, Pirate’s disabled eye needs to be removed and the socket sewn shut to prevent infections and let fur grow over the scar.
Pirate has had that surgery and now will live with foster owner Elsa Organiscak of North Royalton, who will socialize him and give him obedience training until he’s ready for service training.
“I first get them adjusted to being with us,” said Organiscak, who has fostered five dogs for 4 Paws in the past. “It’s about getting them very comfortable with all different types of people of different ages and ethnic groups. I’ll take Pirate everywhere with me.”
When Pirate is almost a year old, he will return to 4 Paws for Ability where the staff will begin training him to be a hearing ear or a seizure or diabetic alert dog for a child or a military veteran.
“He is going to be very valuable to his person—not in terms of dollars, but in terms of making his person’s life easier and safer,” said Kost. 4 Paws for Ability is also asking the public for help covering Pirate’s initial medical bills.
“It will be really cool to see him deal with challenges much like those the people he will help have,” Shirk said. “I think whoever gets him will be able to relate.”