by Chris Adams
The parents of a visually impaired youngster believe their huge family dog saved their son from going blind—by showing them he had a dangerous condition with his eyes.
Mark Cannon, 5, and his 182-pound Dogue de Bordeaux Alfie have been inseparable since he was born but his family could never explain why the dog always walked on Mark's right.
Despite being baffled by Alfie's unusual habit, the family had Mark's eyes checked and a school optometrist diagnosed him with astigmatism in his right eye last April—meaning he was almost blind in that eye.
It was then Mark's mom and dad Sharlene and Mark Snr, both 42, realized the giant dog always stood to his right in a bid to act as a guide.
Eye doctors told the family Mark could have gone completely blind if they had not caught the condition when they did.
And Alfie even used his doctor's instinct to sniff out cancer in the family's other Dogue de Bordeaux, Cass, who sadly died last month aged 11.
Sharlene, from South Lanarkshire, Scotland, said: "It's incredible to think that Mark had this problem with his eye since birth and Alfie was the only one who spotted it. If it hadn't been caught when it was, he could have gone blind.
"They've grown up together and we always just thought it was a funny coincidence that Alfie would only sit or walk on one side of him.
"We never thought much more of it. Even when they sat on the couch together, Alfie would always prop himself to Mark's right.
"When he saw the optometrist, straight away they noticed Mark couldn't see out of his right eye because it was so blurred.
"Basically, the signals between his right eye and his brain weren't working. If they hadn't spotted it when they did, it could have affected his left eye over time and he would have gone totally blind.
"They have to spot it before someone turns seven or it's nearly impossible to correct.
"Mark never mentioned it because he didn't know any different. It's mad when the dog understands what's going on before the humans.
"Mark definitely owes a lot to Alfie. It's like Alfie has superpowers and knows when there's something wrong.
"They have this unbelievable bond. Alfie's instinct is incredible. He knows when something is wrong with Mark before we do, even when he's just feeling unwell."
Straight after his diagnosis Mark, who has an eight-year-old brother, James, began wearing patches on his good left eye in order to strengthen his weakened right one.
When the defect was spotted by eyesight experts, Sharlene and Mark's dad, Mark Snr, a civil servant, were stunned and realized Alfie had been telling them this all along.
Sharlene, a student social worker, said: "There was that realization when suddenly it all made sense. Alfie was always there by his right-hand side to guide him.
"We call them the twins because they're inseparable, and this just proves they have that telepathic relationship.
"He has to wear patches now on his good eye to try to improve his bad one, but Alfie still walks on his right. Even if you try to walk him on the other side, he will push you until he's on Alfie's right.
"It doesn't end there. Since August last year we noticed Alfie would sniff at the back legs of our other dog Cass.
"We took Cass to the vet in December and she was diagnosed with a tumour in her back leg, exactly where Alfie had been sniffing and licking.
"We couldn't believe it. I think he was trying to lick away the cancer. He certainly knew about it before anyone else.
"Cass had chemotherapy but she passed away in January after having a massive stroke. Since then, Alfie refuses to eat and he's lost 22 pounds."
Despite his astigmatism, Mark plays football every Saturday and his vision is improving, with regular hospital check-ups and eyesight tests.
Alfie—who has a host of internet fans for his huge head and 36-inch neck—won't even let Mark go to school without jumping in the car with him.
Sharlene, got Alfie as a puppy in 2011, said: "Alfie's incredibly protective of Mark. I don't think Alfie realizes he's a dog.
"When Mark started nursery, Alfie demanded to come in the car with us to drop him off and pick him up.
"As soon as he came back, they would sit and have lunch together. It's frightening how protective he is of Mark.
"There was a time years ago when my auntie was here and she was tickling Mark. He started giggling and Alfie ran flying into the back garden, head-butted my auntie and stood in front of Mark so she couldn't get near him.
"He couldn't tell the difference between laughing and crying so his first instinct was to defend Mark.
"Mark's right eye is getting stronger now but it's too early to say if it will follow him into adulthood. His left eye is fine and he wears glasses now so hopefully it won't affect him too badly.
"It's funny because Alfie's not that bothered about our other son, James. He's eight, so maybe because they didn't have that bond from birth it's not the same.
"Alfie definitely has his favourites and it's crazy looking back now and realising he knew about Mark's eye.
"You think as parents that you know your children so for a dog to notice something like that is special. I think Alfie's been on this planet before. There's just something all-knowing about his nature."