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Man’s best friend is also one of mankind’s best helpers.

From helping those with disabilities navigate daily life to keeping the public safe to comforting those in grief, service and therapy dogs enable people to accomplish all kinds of things.

The experts at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine recognize the impact service animals have on people’s lives. That’s why veterinary specialists at MSU in May provided free eye exams to help keep service and therapy dogs on the job. This was the fifth year MSU specialists have volunteered their time to participate in the National Service Dog Eye Exam Event run by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists.

Photographer Greg Kohuth caught up with a few of the 35 hard-working dogs that visited the MSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital for a free exam.

Exam form

This is the fifth year MSU has participated in an American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists program that offers free eye exams to service animals. MSU specialists saw 35 dogs this year.

Dog collar

This year, for the first time, free eye exams were available not just to service animals but also to therapy dogs like Molly, whose job is to listen to children who struggle with reading. “The kids’ eyes light up because the dogs don’t judge them,’ says owner Rachel Bernath. “They just listen.”

Dog inspection

MSU veterinary ophthalmology resident Connie Yeh examines therapy dog Molly’s eyes while owners Rachel Bernath (foreground) and Lauren Montague watch a video display. Pebbles patiently waits her turn.

Connie Yates

Connie Yeh takes a good look at poodle-sheltie mix Myleigh’s eyes. Best friends Rachel Bernath and Lauren Montague drove from Ohio to get free eye exams for their therapy dogs. All three pooches left smiling with a clean bill of health.

Examination in the dark

With the lights out, Connie Yeh gets a better look at the eyes of Pebbles, a hard-working Jack Russell-rat terrier mix.

Undialated and dialated pupil

Dilating a dog’s pupils before an eye exam allows veterinarians to see the back of the eyes to make better diagnoses.


Cataracts can block light from reaching a dog’s retina, leading to blurred vision.

Canine eye poster

Melissa Kwiatkowski waits in the examination room during a checkup for her dog, Zapp.

Dog close-up

Zapp is a greyhound-herding dog mix in training to work with Michigan Search and Rescue, a volunteer organization that helps law enforcement officials locate missing persons. His owners, Melissa and Nick Kwiatkowski, are MSU employees who volunteer with the group.

Patient info

Zapp offers commentary while Melissa Kwiatkowski shows a checklist that must be completed before Zapp is certified as a search and rescue dog.

Dog being acquainted

Zapp gets acquainted with MSU veterinary ophthalmologist Joshua Bartoe while veterinary technician Sarah Grillo and owner Nick Kwiatkowski look on.

Extra eyelash exam

Zapp has extra eyelashes that cause irritation, so Joshua Bartoe and Sarah Grillo check closely to make sure the lashes aren’t damaging the dog’s corneas.

Melissa and Nick

Melissa and Nick Kwiatkowskis watch a screen where video images of Zapp’s eye are displayed as Joshua Bartoe conducts the exam with assistance from Sarah Grillo.

Magnified image

A screen in the exam room shows a magnified image of Zapp’s eye.

Joshua Bartoe

Joshua Bartoe explains that an eye lubricant should protect Zapp’s eyes and relieve discomfort from lash irritation. If that doesn’t work, Zapp’s owners can consider surgery to remove the extra lashes. “But for now, his corneas look pristine,’ Bartoe says. “As far as being able to do his job, I think he’ll be great.”

Story by Andy McGlashen - Design and Illustrations by Deon Foster