Person wearing medical attire lying on ground with Willie the puppy

Blind puppy learns how to navigate his world

By Sarah Thornton
Photos by Molly Wald
Willie may not be able to see, but with help from his foster family he can tackle any obstacle (except maybe going downstairs)

The world is a big, strange place for any puppy. There is so much to investigate: interesting new smells to sniff, tastes to try and strange sounds to take in. And though being born blind makes Willie's world a tad more mysterious, it's never diminished his wonder and excitement at discovering every little bit of it. He's just needed his foster family to help guide him.

Willie the puppy reaching out paw to a person playing with him

Building up a blind puppy’s confidence

Willie and his siblings were brought into a shelter when they were very small, around six weeks old and barely weaned from their mom. It was a difficult adjustment, made even tougher for a pup who couldn’t see what was going on around him. It was clear very quickly that a shelter environment wouldn’t work for Willie. And with his eyes in rough shape, he also needed more medical care than the shelter was equipped to provide. So, he was brought to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and went into foster care with Carmella Hoeft, team lead and surgery supervisor at Best Friends Animal Clinic.

When it was time for his neuter surgery, the team removed Willie's right eye, which was in the worst condition. “I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt to see if antibiotics would help his one better eye and maybe determine if he could see any shadows in the left eye," Carmella explains.

At first Willie was quiet while he got used to his new surroundings, but Carmella says it didn’t take long before he was up, moving and getting into all the usual puppy shenanigans.

Willie the puppy in an open kennel

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Getting Willie into a comfortable routine built up his confidence and he learned what to expect at any given time. Waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning, Carmella would carry him down the steps into the backyard where he could do his business and then follow her around for a while. She discovered that if she gave him some sounds to track (snapping fingers, a crinkling bag or anything else that made noise), he could trot right along after her.

He was quickly figuring out the layout of his new territory. “He learned that from the gravel we would walk onto the rug,” says Carmella, “and then from the rug it would be five of his steps, and he’d take a right-hand turn and go up our three little porch stairs.”

After that, going up the stairs was a piece of cake, and it seemed to be exactly what he expected in return for his clever maneuvering. “As soon as he went up the steps and got in the house, he would whip around so fast and stick his muzzle in the air because he was waiting for a treat,” she says. “It was the cutest thing. That melted my heart. It was so sweet. He knew if he could make it up those steps and get in the house by himself, then he was gonna get a treat.”

With snapping fingers guiding him, Willie also had little trouble climbing into Carmella’s car ― which thankfully for him was low to the ground ― and riding with her to work. He hung out at the clinic every day, making friends with other pets and being fawned over by veterinary staff who simply couldn’t resist his adorable little face.

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Willie’s confidence grew as fast as his body, and before long there was nothing holding him back except for the trepidation of the unknown when faced with going downstairs. He had to build himself up to stepping down out of his kennel at the clinic, though it was only a four-inch step. Carmella says: “It took a lot of self-reassurance on his part to figure out where to put his front paws to get out. That was a huge milestone.”

Eventually, Willie figured it out. The stairs back at home, though? Those were still just a little bit too tall for him to handle.

Willie the puppy sniffing a cat

Confident puppy carries on

Carmella's biggest challenge with Willie was managing his desire to chew on everything he could find. “He was pretty strong-headed when it came to his chewing on things,” she says. “I don’t know if it was just his teething that he was going through ... (or) it could have been his way to figure out what he was dealing with.”

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Beyond his mouthy explorations, all Willie wanted to do was make friends. “If people were walking near us, he would, by auditory cues, find where these people were and burst into excitement when he actually, finally touched them,” Carmella says with a smile in her voice. “It was a really neat thing to see him track these people with his ears and then get totally elated when he actually physically got to the person. And it was typical, uber-excited Labrador behavior: total body wags.”

Eventually with Willie’s confidence at its peak and his health in good condition, it was time to start looking forward to the next chapter of his life: finding a family to call his very own. So that he could be seen by even more people and have every chance at getting adopted quickly, he would be moving again ― this time to a Best Friends network partner organization called I Stand With My Pack.

Willie the puppy with the legs of a person standing next to him

Saying goodbye is never easy. (Who wouldn’t get attached to such a sweet pup after watching him find his footing?) But Carmella knew someone else would soon come along to shower him in love. So, she wrote a letter detailing all his favorite things and funny little quirks to help his future permanent family get to know him.

Willie didn’t have to wait long. After he was back on his paws from another surgery to remove his other eye, he laid the charm on extra thick and that did the trick. He finally landed a family, complete with a sprawling home in the countryside. He bonded quickly with his new seeing-eye-brother, Carson, and has even started making friends with the horses (both mini and standard) sharing his home.


A post shared by @carson_and_willie

The two dogs now share an Instagram account curated by their more tech-savvy human family members, where all their loyal fans can keep up with life on the farm. Willie’s world just got a whole lot bigger, with even more sounds and smells to explore. And with his family beside him, it’ll continue to grow. There's no end to the adventures awaiting this pup.

Help a pet on their way to a home

Fostering pets like Willie can help them gain confidence and find their footing. Plus, you get a fluffy friend out of it. It’s a win-win!

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