SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Many service animals act as the eyes and ears of their human handlers, so it's very important that their senses remain sharp. In keeping with that vision, a local animal hospital is offering free eye exams for service animals all month.
Since she was just 10 weeks old, Sage, a loyal long-coat German shepherd, has faithfully served as a search-and-rescue canine for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
"She and I are a team," Anderson said.
And while Sage relies heavily on her sense of smell as a service dog, her vision is just as critical.
"We take care of them from head to toe. Their eyes are important to them, just as important as their nose," Anderson said.
To help guard that precious gift of sight, her owner and trainer Shannon Anderson has Sage's eyes thoroughly examined free of charge at the Eye Clinic for Animals in Kearny Mesa.
Sage is just one of thousands of service dogs around the country from search-and-rescue and explosives detection to guide dogs to handicapped assistance animals who receives a free annual eye screening during the month of May. It's a special program that was started seven years ago by the American College of Veterinary Ophthamologists.
"It's a way for us to give back to the community because our service animals run everything from therapy animals that go visit hospitals to military dogs and border patrol, police dogs," Dr. Jamie Schorling said.
It's a potentially sight-saving service that cares for not only canines, but all service animals, including horses and even a beloved "service donkey" in Pennsylvania named Henry.
During these exams, vets like Schorling test their patients' vision and visual reflexes and screen for everything from cataracts to signs of corneal ulcers using specialized equipment that can detect possible problems before it's too late.
"We have to use our own deductive reasoning and our equipment and various tests to be able to determine what's going on with animals, just as you would a small child," Schorling said.
It's a practical, preventive, and virtually painless process that has proven priceless for some pets who devote their lives to serving others.