Blind Love

Kar­en and Eric Belfi are sur­roun­ded by their fur ba­bies (from right) Is­is, a 10-year-old Siberi­an Husky; Pete, a 3-year-old beagle mix; and Ma­bel, a 10-year-old beagle. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

In 2009, Kar­en and Eric Belfi star­ted a non­profit called the Blind Dog Al­li­ance and have saved the lives of more than 150 dogs.

Kar­en and Eric Belfi nev­er par­tic­u­larly saw them­selves as ad­voc­ates for dis­abled dogs. Then Ray Charles entered their lives.

Back in 1999, the Far North­east res­id­ents were mainly con­cerned with purebred Siberi­an huskies. The couple already had one of the fluffy, white and gray creatures liv­ing in their town home and were in the mar­ket for an­oth­er.

“We had a Siberi­an Husky that we wanted to find a play­mate for,” Kar­en said.

While search­ing the In­ter­net for an avail­able orphan, she stumbled upon a list­ing for a dog named after the le­gendary soul mu­si­cian. Not co­in­cid­ent­ally, the can­ine Ray Charles was blind.

Kar­en con­tin­ued Web surf­ing and dis­covered a Ya­hoo! dis­cus­sion group ded­ic­ated to the ad­vocacy and care of blind dogs.

“I just asked them, ‘What kind of care does a blind dog need?’ I found that they really don’t need any­thing more than a reg­u­lar dog needs,” Kar­en said.

She also found that there were a lot of oth­er blind dogs avail­able for ad­op­tion, dogs that likely would be eu­th­an­ized if not ad­op­ted soon.

Days and years passed. Kar­en and Eric began their own small, loc­al Siberi­an husky res­cue group, but con­tin­ued to stay act­ive on the blind dog Web for­um. As mem­ber­ship in the for­um con­tin­ued to grow, so did the post­ings of avail­able and en­dangered blind dogs. By 2009, the list looked more like a tele­phone book.

“It just seemed to get worse and worse,” Kar­en said. “(Then) one day there were sev­er­al blind dogs pos­ted on that list, and we knew that, as mixed breeds, most res­cues wouldn’t take them.”

“We star­ted see­ing all of these dogs be­ing eu­th­an­ized and said, OK, we bet­ter look in­to it.”

That was in early 2009. Kar­en and Eric, along with sev­er­al oth­er fre­quent users of the Ya­hoo! group, de­cided to do something about it. The Blind Dog Res­cue Al­li­ance was born.

In the two years since, the al­li­ance has grown, thanks mainly to its In­ter­net pres­ence, to in­clude some 150 vo­lun­teers throughout the United States and Canada. Its in­flu­ence has stretched as far as New Zea­l­and.

The Beli­fis are aware of just two oth­er res­cues spe­cial­iz­ing in blind dogs. One is in Louisi­ana and the oth­er in Wash­ing­ton State.

So far, their or­gan­iz­a­tion has res­cued some 175 dogs, all of which are blind or vis­ion im­paired. Many have had oth­er ill­nesses or dis­ab­il­it­ies, too. Cur­rently, it has about 35 dogs in foster care.

“A lot of our dogs come from down South,” Kar­en Belfi said, “and a lot of dogs 

don’t have a lot of time in shel­ters down South, es­pe­cially blind dogs.”

In ad­di­tion to her job as a re­gistered nurse and her gradu­ate school stud­ies, Kar­en serves as pres­id­ent of the al­li­ance, while Eric, an en­vir­on­ment­al con­sult­ant by pro­fes­sion, is treas­urer. Ac­cord­ing to the couple, the gen­er­al per­cep­tion of blind dogs is more harm­ful to the an­im­als than their dis­ab­il­it­ies.

“People don’t think blind dogs have a qual­ity of life,” Kar­en said.

“Or (they think) that they’re ex­tra work,” Eric ad­ded.

“But they’re just like oth­er dogs,” Kar­en said. “Some need a little ex­tra work, but it’s not about the blind­ness.”

Ray Charles is no longer with the couple, but they have three oth­er dogs in their home. Is­is is a 10-year-old Siberi­an husky that they’ve had since she was 1. She is not blind.

Pete is a beagle mix aged 3 or 4 that the couple res­cued about 18 months ago. He is totally blind. At first, the Belfis were go­ing to foster him, but then de­cided to ad­opt.

Ma­bel, a beagle aged 10 to 12, is the new­est ad­di­tion to the house­hold. She ar­rived in June with par­tial vis­ion, can­cer tu­mors in her ab­do­men and arth­rit­is. She was one day away from be­ing put to sleep when the Belfis fostered her.

And just like with Pete, the couple ended up ad­opt­ing Ma­bel.

“We thought, ‘How much time could she have? We’ll just keep her here,’” Eric re­called.

“A lot of foster­ers end up keep­ing their foster dogs,” Kar­en said.

Today, Ma­bel is as act­ive as ever, greet­ing strange vis­it­ors with a dis­trust­ing, yet un­der­stated growl. She nev­er re­fuses a gentle stroke, however.

Pete and Is­is, mean­while, are shame­less at­ten­tion seekers.

Most of the res­cue’s 150 vo­lun­teers provide foster homes for the an­im­als un­til they can be placed in ad­opt­ive homes. Many dogs must be trans­por­ted great dis­tances to safety.

“We have a dog in Delaware County that came from Ir­an,” Kar­en said. “Some­body offered to ‘vet’ him and fly him to the U.S. And some­body else offered to foster him.

“An­oth­er dog from West­ern Canada came to us. It’s like a re­lay where every­body takes a leg of trans­port.”

In yet an­oth­er near-mi­ra­cu­lous suc­cess story, the Belfis helped re­unite a Texas couple with their blind and deaf 16-year-old husky stray.

Kar­en found the dog lis­ted at a Texas shel­ter on the very day it was to be put to sleep. She hast­ily called the shel­ter and ar­ranged to have the dog trans­por­ted some 1,500 miles to her home. After a month and a half, the shel­ter called her back to re­port it had found the own­er of the dog, who was named Cody.

Ac­cord­ing to the own­ers — an air­line pi­lot and his wife — Cody wandered away from home dur­ing a storm. The own­ers had been look­ing for the dog but some­how neg­lected to con­tact the shel­ter un­til weeks later.

“The wo­man (own­er) called me (and was) cry­ing be­cause they thought they’d nev­er see him again,” Kar­en said. “All that (her hus­band) kept say­ing was, ‘How in the world did he get to Phil­adelphia?’”

Be­fore any dog can go in­to a foster home, it must be spayed or neutered, vac­cin­ated and treated for any acute phys­ic­al ail­ments. The al­li­ance owns all foster dogs, but the care­giver must agree to take the dog to the vet on a routine basis.

One of the al­li­ance’s greatest sup­port­ers is Dr. Jerome Glick­stein, a veter­in­ari­an spe­cial­iz­ing in eye care. He prac­tices at the Veter­in­ary Spe­cialty and Emer­gency Cen­ter in Lang­horne. He works for them pro bono.

Last sum­mer, the al­li­ance got an­oth­er big boost from Toyota, which donated a 2012 High­lander to the group. The al­li­ance was one of 5,000 ap­plic­ants for the auto man­u­fac­turer’s 100 Cars for Good pro­gram. Toyota se­lec­ted 500 fi­nal­ists. The 100 win­ners emerged from an on­line vot­ing pro­cess.

The Belfis ac­know­ledge that little if any of the good work that the al­li­ance has done would’ve been pos­sible without the In­ter­net.

“Just for the amount of people in­volved and the num­ber of dogs we’ve been able to save, without the In­ter­net, we wouldn’t have been able to do a tenth of what we’ve done.” ••

Vis­it www.Blind­Do­gRes­ or call 877-BLIND-01 for in­form­a­tion.

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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