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Stormi the Blind Staffy steals the limelight

“Who would have thought a stubborn, arthritic, feisty, blind and medicated nine-year old dog would have such an impact on one’s life? 

This extraordinary outcome wasn’t anywhere on my radar when he and I met for the first time about seven years ago.

It began innocently enough when a friend told me they had a new dog, a rescue Staffy, called Storm. Hit by a car at nine years old when he ran across a road in a thunderstorm, the injuries were so bad it meant he swapped his eyesight for some neurological damage, a poor deal by any measure.

His owners didn’t want a blind dog, and wanted him put down. I don’t know why, so benefit of the doubt and all that (ahem) but the heroic vet refused to do their bidding and instead contacted a rescue group.

I never found out who the vet was, but I will cherish their actions till the day I die. Whoever you are, thank you!

The rescuers were Golden Oldies, a non-profit rescue group of volunteers run by the wonderful and dearly departed Gina Fallon. They swooped in, took him away, and paid for his rehab.

(This is just one example of the amazing work rescue organizations do. Golden Oldies is no longer, but they all need your financial help, so please donate. Any amount is appreciated and such donations saved Stormi’s life so he could cause havoc for the remainder of it).

It was clear from the very start that Storm and I were great friends. He was one of the small-of-stature Staffies, very friendly, extremely cute with that famous Staffy smile and a constantly wagging short, powerful tail that could inflict a painful blow.

Truth be told, I visited my friend mostly to see the little man. He was a bundle of wonderful, enthusiastic energy. I’d get down on the carpet to his level and we’d fight….he loved a playful brawl, and as I was about to find out later, not-so-friendly brawls!

I also noted that whenever I said he was a good boy, his tail wagged. In the years we were together, it never failed to get a response apart other than one particular time.

Long story short, my friend fell pregnant and gave birth to a healthy boy, but as her husband worked away from home five days a week, it meant she now had to try and look after a newborn as a single mum AND give Stormi lots of walks and regular trips to the dog park.

Clearly, something had to give, so I began to take him in the afternoon and we’d visit the dog park, which he absolutely loved, and then he’d stay with me for the night.

In short time I was also looking after him during the day, and the obvious decision was made: Stormi should have the best life possible, so he needed a new home. It was my job was to get him one.

As I lived in a motor home (and still do) I figured it wouldn’t be suitable for either of us. In retrospect, it was an unbelievably idiotic outlook that still baffles me.

That I even entertained the thought is bizarre, but it was early days. Apart from a couple of Old English Sheepdogs as family pets, not to mention numerous cats, I’d never owned a dog before. Like everyone else, I also figured his blindness meant a huge workload and that dogs need a big house and garden, etc.

There was also another issue; medications.

Stormi was on daily steroids to stop his brain swelling (a result of the accident), an expensive proposition. Add to that visits to the vet and other future problems from the neurological damage, and it was not an easy decision for any potential owner.

It was the exact opposite. He loved sleeping, was happy with just one owner, didn’t mind the confines of the bus (which probably made it easier for him) and so was very easy to look after. I also got a great deal on the medications.

All he really needed to be happy was food, a warm bed, food, morning walks, food, the afternoon dog park, and food.

After a couple of weeks trying to find him a new home, I realised his company in the bus wasn’t an issue, and my criteria for his ownership was iron-clad: if anyone was going to get him, they had to be 100% for the little man, which meant regular walks and dog park visits were compulsory. No ifs and buts.

Another issue was creeping in…. I didn’t actually want him to go!

He was proving to be a wonderful dog and great companion, and I also knew that I could give him the 100% he deserved, so in the space of two short weeks the little menace slid easily into my life and I was changed forever.

The blindness wasn’t really an issue. My friend had first walked around the house with little bells on her ankles, and Storm dutifully followed. Once he knew his way around the house, the bells weren’t required and uncannily enough, he always knew where the kitchen was in any house he visited. 

This brings me to his nose and ears.

Stormi "watching over" some
homemade chicken soup
That nose... that dog could sniff out food anywhere. This included a garbage bin full of kibble when staying at a friend’s place. She walked in to find Stormi and her dog beside the toppled bin, kibble spread over the floor, both too full to move. She estimated they had scoffed at least a kilo each.

He did likewise to a 14kg bag of kibble at another friend’s place, once again working in partnership with their dog. Actually, he did it TWICE there. After the first time, the owner put the bag on top of the shelving when he stayed, but one day forgot and that mistake was all Stormi required.

His hearing was also excellent and he followed me off-lead everywhere, close behind and listening to my footsteps. Without sight, his hearing was important, and it was a huge blow when he got older and it eventually dulled to almost nothing.

As for the medication, it was daily, and expensive but I eventually found an online pet pharmacy and the price tumbled drastically. The steroids cost about $50 for 100 tablets from the vet and the same amount from the online store about $8!

The online store required a script from the vet (who understood the saving and was happy to supply it), so I bought a year’s supply of steroids for about $350 (about $1200 from the vet). The painkillers (Gabapentin and Tramadol) were equally as cheap, and the saving equally huge. All the medication from the online store was dated to last the full year.

As for his life at 100%, Stormi LOVED the dog park. It’s a large grassy oval surrounded by bush (Aussie slang for forest) on two sides, and no roads. Apart from the odd sighting of a resident black snake snoozing at the far end of the oval, it was relatively free of risk.

Incoming Staffy, especially if you're 
carrying any treats!
Once he knew there were no obstacles in the area, Stormi would run in massive circles. I timed him one day, and he ran constantly for a full one and a half hour. He was always on the move.

Naturally, a blind dog with a concrete head (he’s a Staffy, remember) running at speed is a serious thing, and he was notorious for slamming full-tilt into people’s shins. It sounds funny, and it was unless it happened to you.

His thick, solid-bone little noggin hitting your shins at speed was not a pleasant experience, so loud warnings of impending collision were given. Even when on alert, as he’d change direction at a moment’s notice it was always an uneasy time when he thundered by, as you had to move quickly.

It didn’t bother him if he collided; he’d just continue on to leave the victim rubbing their bruised shins.

Stormi doing his best impersonation of a kangaroo

With all the running and play fighting he got super-fit, super-lean and super-ripped. For an old fella, he was in awesome shape.

About a year and a half before he passed, he finally lost the use of his front legs due to the arthritis.

He couldn’t stand up anymore, and I tried everything, but to no avail. His poor legs couldn’t handle the weight anymore, and they turned to rubber after just a few seconds of him standing unassisted.

I took him to the dog park a couple of times, but it was hopeless, all he could do was lie down. 

Charlie and Stormi catch their breath after some rumbling together

Charlie, a Poodle-cross thingy was his best mate and they used to play fight like you wouldn’t believe, rough as guts, but now all Stormi could do was lay down on the grass and Charlie would lay down beside him.

It was pitiful, and it was obvious he couldn’t continue like this. It wasn’t a quality life, and he was clearly depressed so I tried one last thing: a front-wheeled doggie wheelchair.

I did the research and decided on Eddie’s Wheels, a USA-based company. More expensive than others but the quality of materials and design was clearly superior, in my opinion. I do have to say that one of the other dogs at the park had another brand rear-wheel cart for their dog, and it worked fine.

Most dog wheelchairs/carts are rear-wheeled (wheels at the rear) as most dogs lose the use of their back legs, but Stormi had lost the use of his front legs, so needed a front-wheel design that lifted his front legs mostly off the ground – he had some weight on them, enough so he could feel the ground and use them as before, but much less than without.

Eddie’s Wheels were great to deal with, and it duly arrived. It was a game-changer.

He was a bit hesitant at first, not sure what to do, but then a week or so later at the dog park he sniffed Tommy, and that was all it took.

Tommy was another of Stormi’s great mates. A happy Golden Retriever, Stormi was obsessed with him and they had played together for a couple of years when Tommy was two years old.

Being an alpha male, Stormi was forever trying to assert his dominance and the moment the little menace got a whiff of Tommy he’d charge, and on a few occasions ended up with a mouthful of Tommy’s hair and a cheer from Tommy’s owner and myself for a job well done. It was hilarious – Tommy would prance around, easily dodging Stormi’s snapping mouth, whilst at the same time egging him on.

Stormi with his two best mates at the park: Golden Retriever Tommy and Poodle cross Charlie

So, with Stormi now in the cart and unsure what to do, Tommy’s owner (Steve) kept encouraging Tommy to run past the cart, and after a few times Stormi finally got a whiff and off he charged, his obsession with Tommy overcoming the uncertainty of the front-wheel contraption.

Stormi celebrating his birthday in style!
From then on, the little menace was back to his usual exuberant self, barking is head off (lifting the front wheels off the ground in the process) and charging at whatever dog he smelt or bumped into.

He really did hurtle around in the thing, pushing off with his back legs for a quick dart, barking madly.

It was during these last couple of years I also bought myself a decent camera.

My first quality SLR (film) camera was back in 1977, along with two excellent and three rubbish lenses. The advent of digital and all its positives, combined with the rising cost of film, meant the poor old thing was put in a box.

Stormi with George, another
of his dog park friends
After a few point-and-shoot digitals, I really missed having a ‘real’ camera so finally bought myself a quality DSLR (digital) camera four years ago, plus some excellent secondhand lenses. 

I began taking photos of Stormi at the dog park, along with the other dogs, and to my surprise the images were quite good. When the owners started asking for copies, and complimenting my work, I created a website, ‘Stormi Photography’, to showcase my work.
It's named in honour of my little mate and it’s his snout on the title page.

As for Stormi, he had his own Facebook page, ‘Stormi the Blind Staffy’. A few people had suggested it, and I was blown away that within a year he had about eight hundred followers from all over the globe enjoying his many adventures.

It’s still active, and I do the odd update.

Stormi and I were together a wonderful five years, only one night apart in all that time. He travelled in the bus beside me on all my touring adventures, and I still feel the pain of his loss when I pass the places in the country we used to stop at, usually so he could have a wee, stretch his legs, and have a sniff.

You wouldn’t bat an eye driving past. It may be a small side road, or just somewhere to pull over, but those little spots mean so much to me. I still stop at them for old time’s sake, and feel it hard when I don’t, so call his name as I pass… and sometimes shed the odd tear.
He really did change my life. His loyalty and friendship, the laughs, the companionship, the responsibility… it all adds up.
So many positives came from him... the social nature of the dog park, rediscovering the joys of photography, talking to strangers just because they have a dog, strangers talking to me just because I have a dog, Stormi Photography, a new rescue Staffy (Chelsea)… all this because of a blind dog.

I was 58 years old when we first met, and I’m very lucky to say I’ve had a very fortunate and wonderful life, and yet for all this it was a stubborn, arthritic, feisty, blind and medicated nine-year old dog that would have the biggest impact.

Stormi passed away naturally and suddenly just before midnight on February 2, 2021. He was by my side, and in the home he loved. As his life slipped away, I held him close and told him how much I loved him, and that he was a good boy.

This was the one time his tail didn’t wag, but that’s okay, he was starting his new journey.

I will be following him on that same journey not too long from now, and look forward to seeing him again. If I don’t, that’s okay too, as we had a great time together, and I was so privileged to have him as a friend.

I will love him forever.

story told by Paul Watkins, all photos credited to Stormi Photography  

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