It’s April and registration has started for the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologist’s (ACVO) annual ACVO/Merial National Service Dog Eye Exam Event.

More than 250 board certified veterinary ophthalmologists throughout the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico will be donating their time and resources to provide free, sight-saving eye exams to thousands of eligible service animals during the month of May.

Since the program launched in 2008, nearly 16,000 service animals have been examined including those from:

  • The Transportation Security Agency (TSA)
  • Military working dogs from Lackland Air Force Base in Texas
  • Puppies Behind Bars, an organization providing psychiatric service dogs to soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Local fire, rescue and police agencies
  • Individual service animal owners and handlers who rely on these amazing animals daily

Here are a couple of examples of animals and people who have benefited from this program.


Ben is a black American Field Labrador who can climb a three story ladder, unassisted. Ben’s eyesight is vital to his job. He is a search and rescue dog from Ventura, CA that can be called upon at any time to rescue someone during a disaster. Ben’s handler, Eric Darling, has brought Ben to participate in the ACVO/Merial National Service Dog Eye Exam Event for two years in a row.

“Catching something early is huge!” says Eric. “This event ensures that we have the opportunity to get this exam done, with no excuses.”



Quincy, an 8-year-old Golden Retriever, is a mobility service dog. Quincy assists Sandra Ball of Beltsville, MD by helping her up and down the stairs, opening doors, taking off shoes, pushing buttons, and fetching the telephone. Sandra has brought Quincy to the ACVO/Merial National Service Dog Eye Exam Event since 2009. During an eye exam, it was discovered that Quincy had uveitis, a serious condition that can result in vision loss. Signs of the disease are not always obvious to the owner, so it can often progress to an advanced stage before affected animals are presented to a veterinary ophthalmologist.

“If it were not for this program, I wouldn’t have taken Quincy to an eye exam to begin with,” says Sandra. “This exam meant possibly saving Quincy’s sight!”


To qualify for the event, animals must be “active working animals” that are certified by a formal training program or organization or are currently enrolled in a formal training program. The certifying organization can be national, regional or local in nature. Owners/agents for the animal(s) must first register the animal via an online registration form. Registration ends April 30th.

Once registered online, the owner/agent will receive a registration number and will allow access to a list of participating ophthalmologists in their area. Then they may contact a specialist to schedule an appointment. Appointments will take place during the month of May. Times may vary depending on the facility and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Jana Behr / via Shutterstock