ACVO offers free eye exams for service animals

Service and working animal owners and handlers across the US can register their animal to receive a free screening eye exam from one of more than 200 participating veterinary ophthalmologists during the 2022 ACVO National Service Animal Event, sponsored by Epicur Pharma.

The American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) launched the annual free screenings in 2008 as a national platform to address eye health, which is critical for the safety of service/working animals and their owners/handlers.

“Our Diplomates had been giving back to this community for years, albeit individually,” ACVO Executive Director Stacee Daniel told NEWStat. “One of our Diplomates recognized that this service and outreach to the Service Animal owning public would expand if we created an actual event to bring attention to the benefit being provided to that community.”

Daniel, who co-created the event, said the original was just one week long, but expanded to a month after overwhelming public response. General practice veterinarians were a big part of that response.

“From the beginning, we have teamed with our referral DVMs to reach out to their service animal owners to help them extend service to these valuable animals,” Daniel added. “Many members of the public may be unaware of veterinary specialists, and this is another way to help bring awareness.”

Since its inception, the program has provided more than 76,000 free screening eye exams across the US—as well as limited locations in Canada, Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, and Spain.

During the month-long event, more than 200 board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists donate their time and resources to provide free screening exams to qualified dogs, horses, miniature horses, donkeys, alpacas and cats. Active working animals include guide, hearing assistance, drug detection, police/military, search and rescue, therapy and disability assistance animals trained through a formal program.

How to register for the 2022 event:

To qualify, service and working animals must be “active working animals” who have been trained through a formal training program or organization or are currently enrolled in a formal training program. The training organization could be national, regional or local in nature. Full details on eligible animals are available here.

Owners and handlers must register the animal via an online registration form. Registration ends April 30. Once registered online, the owner/handler will receive a registration number and access to a list of participating ophthalmologists they can contact to schedule an appointment, which will take place in May.

Daniel said hospital staff can help spread the word about the free ACVO exams. Find a list of free tools—including social media re-posts, press releases, and graphics here.

So how often do the participating veterinary ophthalmologists discover a problem with the dogs’ vision?

Daniel said it’s very rare: “I’ve heard of maybe a handful over the years. Sometimes they find problems with breeding programs through the patients, so this helps discourage the breeding of genetically compromised animals for service programs.”

Rare, but not unheard of.

Occasionally a timely free eye screening turns up a problem—such as a tumor or premature cataracts—that if, unchecked, could have led to problems for the dog and/or handler down the line, said Daniel “[T]he owners gained 1-2 years to plan for the replacement the service animal.”

With average wait times for service animals running up to 24 months, that’s no small thing.

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