Jack, a 10-year-old labrador who lost his eyesight three years ago, is making waves, literally, after earning the "judge's favorite" distinction in the water sports category of a pets competition in Britain, the Daily Mail reports. The talented chocolate Lab impressed judges with his ability to fetch objects in water, despite his disability.
The pooch was diagnosed with progressive retinal atrophy, a common genetic disease in canines, when he was six. He slowly lost his eyesight over a period of a year.
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), is "a group of disease that worsens over time," according to PetMd. It's seen especially in collies, Irish setters, miniature poodles, cocker spaniels, briards and Labrador retrievers, among others.
Jack was already starting to succumb to the degenerative disorder when he was adopted by owner Margaret Simpson.
"When we got him, he was losing his sight and we taught him how to stop, look left and right, and when we were out walking, wherever there was water, he could sense it," Simpson, a native of Coventry, England, told the Daily Mail. "Then he started going into ponds and canals using only his smell, putting his head underwater and bringing back big rocks."
Simpson and her husband Keith then started throwing a soft "dummy" toy for Jack to retrieve, and retrieve it he did. Evaluated in four categories -- ball skills, agility, water sports and mind games -- Jack proved his aquatic acumen against a field of several hundred dogs, according to the Daily Mail.
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Labrador retrievers are known for their fetching abilities, a quality that makes them an extremely popular breed among pet owners. In fact, the Labrador was named the American Kennel Club's most popular breed for the 21st consecutive year this March.
“It all comes down to their fetching ability,” Mary Feazell, secretary of the national breed club, Labrador Retriever Club, Inc, told WNYC in March.
“Military trainers told me that they give all breeds of dogs retriever tests before any other tests because they show their ability and willingness to serve mankind, and Labradors have one of the highest retrieving instincts in all the breeds, and they will do anything for man. Plus, they have shorter coats, and are very, very patient with children,” Feazell said.
Jack, his friend Cherry (also a rescue), and their owners are often seen out and about in their Coventry neighborhood. But Jack is not the only dog with sight problems to make headlines in recent months.
Eldad and Audrey Hagar, the founders of Los-Angeles based animal shelter Hope For Paws, rescued a sick, blind puppy named Fiona last year. The couple took the pup off the street and nursed her back to health, creating a video in the process. The clip kicked off a wildly successful national fundraising campaign for rescue efforts.
Dogs with severe disabilities like blindness are at serious risk if abandoned on the streets. Tanner, a 2-year-old blind golden retriever, was in a similarly dire situation after the rescue organization that originally took him in decided they could no longer take care of him.
Temporarily housed at Woodland West Animal Hospital in Tulsa, Okla., the dog was an unpopular choice for prospective adoptive families who were unwilling to take on the extra responsibilities. For Tanner, a miracle came in the form of Blair, a 1-year-old Lab mix, who became Tanner's de facto guide dog.
"We've worked with a lot of different service dogs to provide these services for people, but it's the first time I've seen anything like this, the special relationship these two dogs have," Woodland West Director Dr. Mike Jones told KTUL.
Photo courtesy of Matt Stewart, Caters News