Elderly pit bull gets contact lenses, now can't stop staring in the mirror

(TODAY) - Gremlin is a pit bull who wears contact lenses.

Here, in this video — which, we swear, is not going to be difficult to watch even for squeamish people — you can see how the lens goes in, and how happy the dog is with the process:

Gremlin has survived, and thrived, through a lot.

She was thought to be about 4 years old when she was rescued from a life of dog fighting, and got adopted some seven years ago. Gremlin's lived through a whole host of serious health problems since — cancer, irritable bowel syndrome and a blood disease called babesia, among them.

The sweet, goofy, funny, loving girl also became a certified therapy dog — and inspired her human parents, Chris and Mariesa Hughes, to dedicate themselves to rescuing sick and elderly pups.

The Hugheses are founders of The Mr. Mo Project, an upstate New York-based nonprofit that gets these vulnerable animals out of shelters and into "fospice" homes, so they can live out their days as members of loving families.

Gremlin's eyesight hasn't been great for a while. A year and a half ago, The Hugheses began noticing signs of cataracts on top of her already partial blindness.

A veterinarian recommended surgery. Afterward, however, Gremlin developed dangerous pressure behind her right eye, causing permanent blindness there, and a lot of pain.

Gremlin was given an injection to deaden this eye, and to alleviate the discomfort. But she still couldn't see well. The pit bull is farsighted and can see things that are far away, like a squirrel across the street, but not what's close by. So she'd bump into things, and startled easily. She avoided being with other members of the tight-knit household — dogs and people alike.

"That was the worst. You don’t want to go to love on your dog and have her be absolutely scared to death," Mariesa Hughes told TODAY. "Her quality of life was suffering, and we really considered her happiness,"

There's not much the couple won't do for their animals. They are the people who famously had a massive bed custom made so they and their nine rescue dogs can all sleep comfortably together.

"They are our family and we have made a promise to them to give them the best life we can," said Hughes.

Open to anything that would make Gremlin feel better in this situation, too, she said, "I started contacting doctors all over the country about glasses for her to help improve her vision in her left eye." (Such glasses exist. They are called Doggles.)

It was Gremlin's veterinary ophthalmologist, Dr. Petra Lackner, who had the idea that contact lenses might help.

Contact lenses for animals isn't a new idea. Nearly 10 years back, a German company won attention for inventing permanent, custom-made lenses that could help animals like a SeaWorld sea lion and a zoo's rhinoceros to see again.

Pets are sometimes prescribed contact lenses, too. Veterinarian Christopher J. Murphy of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine specializes in veterinary ophthalmology. Murphy says he's been using contacts with dogs for 25 years now — and since doing this still isn't very common, it "warms my heart" to hear of other vets using this tool to improve a dog's vision, and life.

(Since you're probably wondering: There are a couple of tools, like an autorefractor, that animal eye doctors use to look into a dog's eye and see what prescription they need.

Also, says Murphy, on a related topic: "Sure, you can do Lasik for a dog. Have I ever done Lasik for a dog? I have not.")

Lackner had never prescribed contacts for a dog to correct his or her vision before. She'd used them in the past "as a bandage for dogs with eye injuries," she said.

Gremlin might take well to contacts, Lackner thought, and she and the Hugheses agreed it seemed worth giving a shot. While it's possible to buy specialty veterinary lenses, they can be quite expensive, and Lackner thought human-grade contacts available from an online store, which cost about $5 apiece, would work just as well.

It was about a month ago that Gremlin had her first lens put in. Lackner saw a huge change immediately. It was like the dog was "waking up from a daze," she said. "I was thrilled."

Lackner expects to recommend contacts for more of her patients in the future, given how well Gremlin is doing.

The contacts can be left in for a month at a time, but Gremlin seems to prefer having hers changed out about once a week. So that's what the Hugheses are doing now. They've gotten adept at putting the lens in Gremlin's eye, and she doesn't seem to mind the process.

As soon as the contacts go in, "she kisses us, paws at us to pet her. She is happier," Mariesa Hughes said.

The proud dog mom really can't say enough about how much better Gremlin seems now. Her dog has more energy, and is more sociable. Gremlin is once again enjoying her life.


"The best thing, though, the defining moment, was when she saw herself in the bottom of the door. You know the part where there is a little mirror-like kick plate?" Hughes said. "She lay down in front of it and just stared at herself. It was amazing."


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