Guide dogs, handicapped assistance animals, detection dogs, therapy animals, and search and rescue dogs selflessly serve the public.
To honor them and their valuable work, Mississippi State will provide eye screenings next month for eligible service animals in the area. Dr. Caroline Betbeze will perform the exams at the university's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Each May, the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists sponsors the National Service Dog Eye Exam, and this year is serving as co-host for the National Service Animal Eye Exam. Along with New Jersey-based Stokes Pharmacy, Betbeze and more than 250 other veterinary ophthalmologists around the country will offer their time and resources to provide free eye exams during the month.
To participate, owners of active service animals must register before April 30 at www.ACVOeyeexam.org. All animals must be certified through a formal training program or organization.
"We encourage people to register their service animals soon," Betbeze emphasized.
Last year, the 2002 MSU veterinary college graduate and board-certified ophthalmologist examined therapeutic riding horses at the Palmer Home for Children in Columbus and diagnosed a small iris cyst in the eye of one.
While it did not hurt the horse, the cyst caused a small shadow that could have made the animal spook under certain conditions. Betbeze said early detection and treatment were key in helping the horse continue in the riding program.
"Since this program launched in 2008, nearly 22,000 animals have been examined," she said. "These exams give us the opportunity to catch ocular problems early, before they move to advanced stages and cause serious problems."
After graduating from MSU, the Tennessee native completed an ophthalmology residency at Purdue University's College of Veterinary Medicine. She then held a faculty position at the Indiana public institution before going into private practice in Tucson, Ariz.
"I'm excited to be providing ophthalmological services at the (MSU) college now," Bethbeze said, adding that she looks forward to this month's service animal event.
"To me, the eye is beautiful," she said. "They say the eye is the 'window to the soul,' but it is also a window into the overall health of the animal." Diabetes is one disease an eye examination can help diagnose, she added.
Betbeze said she recommends owners take their animals twice a year to a local veterinarian, who "can detect issues and refer your pet to a specialist, as needed."
For more on the College of Veterinary Medicine, visit www.cvm.msstate.edu.
Complete information about Mississippi State University is available at www.msstate.edu.