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Back Page Interview, Personal/Professional Development

An Eye Toward Service Animals: An Interview With Dr. Brady Beale


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The ACVO National Service Animal Eye Exam Event—now in its 7th year—takes place annually every May. This philanthropic effort provides free screening ocular examinations, performed by board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, to qualified service animals. These veterinary professionals donate their time, staff, and services in order to assist these animals and their owners/handlers.

Dr. Brady Beale, VMD, Diplomate ACVO,is a veterinary ophthalmologist at the Veterinary Referral Center in Malvern, Pennsylvania and the co-chairman of the ACVO Public Relations Committee. In this interview, she provides critical information about the event as well as insight into what it’s like to work with animals who are heroes in their own right.

Registration for service animal owners and handlers runs from April 1 to 30, 2014, at ACVOeyeexam.org.

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What type of service animals are eligible for this program?

The complimentary screening eye exam is available to all active, working service animals, including:

  • Guide and handicapped assistance dogs
  • Search and rescue, drug detection, military, and law enforcement dogs
  • Registered therapy animals, including horses at certain locations.

These animals need to be certified by, or currently enrolled in, a local, regional, or national formal training program or organization.

Who is allowed to administer these examinations, and how do you locate these veterinarians?

These free screening examinations are offered by board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists every year during the month of May. Registration opens April 1, and details are available at ACVOeyeexam.org. After registering online, participants receive a registration number and have access to a list of participating, local ophthalmologists whom they can contact to schedule an appointment.

How many veterinarians are involved in this program, and how many animals are usually examined?

In 2013, about 7700 service animals received free eye examinations, and more than 250 ophthalmologists participated. Since the program’s launch in 2008, nearly 22,000 service animals have been examined. I’m pleased to say that, as the program gains attention nationally and internationally, the number of participants—animals, handlers/owners, and veterinary professionals—continuously grows.

What does a typical eye examination for this program entail?

The goal of the examination is to ensure that all service animals’ eyes receive a clean bill of health. Should a problem be detected, early and effective treatment can help the animal continue to happily fulfill its role. The examination includes:

  • Slit lamp examination
  • Thorough evaluation of the retina and all structures of the eye
  • Pupil dilation to facilitate evaluation of the back of the eye, unless the service animal is on active duty that day.

What resources are available to general practitioners and their practice teams to help clients with service animals learn about and participate in this program?

Veterinary professionals play an important part in spreading the word about this program and reaching out to as many qualified owners, handlers, and animals as possible. Promotional information is available on ACVOeyeexam.org, and the material can be printed and displayed throughout the practice, publicizing the event. Additional information and promotional tools are available on Facebook by searching “ACVO National Service Animal Eye Exam Event.”

How has your involvement with this program changed your perception of philanthropic medicine?

Those of us involved in this event have been introduced to inspirational animals, whose stories range from a cocker spaniel who wakes sleeping parents in anticipation of a child’s imminent seizure, to the Malinois (Belgian shepherd dog) who rose from the pavement to take down a criminal after being shot in the chest. We’ve had our eyes opened to the tremendous commitment of time and money that these animals’ training programs require. While this national program only runs through May, throughout the year, we do everything we can to help service animals and their partners.

Dr. Brady Beale graduated from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, where she also completed her internship. She completed a 3-year residency in ophthalmology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University.