MINNEAPOLIS — Watch Norm Moody’s English setter, Golly, work a field for pheasants or sharp-tailed grouse, and you’d never know the dog has a major handicap.
“People who see us hunting have no idea he’s blind,” said Moody, 64, an avid upland bird hunter who lives near Hackensack, Minn.
This month, 11-year-old Golly (pronounced Gully) hunted sharp-tailed grouse, pheasants and prairie chickens on South Dakota’s expansive National Grasslands with Moody and his two hunting buddies.
“He quarters back and forth just like a regular setter,” Moody said. “When he gets on a scent, he goes into slow motion and I know right away he’s on a bird. Then he locks up and points.”
And when the bird flushes and Moody shoots it, somehow Golly knows where to look for the downed bird.
“He usually heads right for it,” Moody said. “I think it’s the sound, the fluttering of the wings, and he heads in that direction and finds it.”
Said hunting buddy Don Collins, 70, of Delano: “He’s miraculous — just a super dog. He almost brings tears to your eyes.”
Though Moody lives in the north woods, he no longer hunts Golly there for ruffed grouse, and instead hunts 35 days each fall in the open prairies of South Dakota, North Dakota and Saskatchewan where his dog is less likely to run into anything. Barbed-wire fences pose problems, but Moody keeps his dog away from them.
“I make a sound if he’s going to run into something, and he stops. I’m his seeing-eye person,” Moody said with a laugh.
Larry Olson, 67, of Backus, a hunting buddy of Moody’s, said Golly has adapted well to his blindness.
“It’s amazing to me that he doesn’t step in a hole,” Olson said. “I’ve never seen him fall down.”
Golly doesn’t seem bothered by his lack of sight.
“He’s really a happy dog,” Moody said. “He does just fine.”
When he raised Golly as a puppy, Moody had no idea the dog had eye problems. But four years ago, Moody noticed Golly bumping into brush while ruffed grouse hunting in the woods.
“I thought he was just a little clumsy,” Moody said. “But two years ago, I knew something wasn’t right.” Golly had trouble jumping into his portable kennel.
“I took him to a veterinarian who specializes in eyesight. She did a battery of tests, and he was almost totally blind.”
Golly has progressive retinal atrophy — a deterioration of the retinal cells that eventually causes blindness. It’s a hereditary disease with no cure. (The disease affects many breeds. However, breeding dogs now can be genetically tested for the disease, so buyers of puppies from tested parents can be assured their dogs won’t develop it.)
“They compensate with their hearing and sense of smell — and that’s what he’s been doing,” Moody said.
While Golly appears normal from a distance, up close it’s obvious something is wrong with his eyes.
“His pupils are completely dilated,” he said.
Moody was smitten with the dog from the get-go.
“He’s just a good dog, so mellow. And he’s a good hunter.” And Golly has endeared himself to Moody and his hunting friends.
“He has about the best disposition of any dog I’ve seen,” Olson said.
Moody has another English setter puppy on order, but doesn’t plan on retiring Golly anytime soon.
“He’ll likely hunt two or three more years,” Moody said. “Other than his eyes, he’s healthy. And he just has a ball hunting.”