When most people first see Hex, a 7-year-old Samoyed, they might think she’s just really good at winking. In reality, she’s just good at seeing out of one eye, having the other removed in 2018 due to glaucoma.
Despite the odds, she and owner Mary Drexler still compete in AKC Rally, Obedience, and Agility, placing ninth in the AKC 2020 Agility Invitational as a 20-inch Finalist.
“A number of times a judge will double-take,” Mary says. “People will be standing outside the ring and you can hear them whispering, it’s like, ‘Oh, that dog has got one eye. Oh my God.’ And then they watch her run and they’re like, ‘Oh, wow.'”
Falling in Love with Sammys
Aside from Hex, Mary competes with two other Sammys: Sonnet, who’s 3, and Pepper, who’s 2. She first fell into the breed as a kid when her family brought a fluffy, white puppy home from Cedar Rapids, Iowa thinking it was an American Eskimo Dog like the dog her aunt and uncle had. It was actually a Samoyed, but the family loved it all the same.
After taking obedience classes, Mary fell into dog sports after her instructor, Jodi, recommended AKC events. Thus began her journey to Obedience and Conformation. Her mom and later her daughter, Natalie, followed suit. Now, the whole family competes in AKC sports.
“My second dog was a Border Collie because everybody said, ‘Well, you can’t do Obedience with a Samoyed.'” Later, Mary got an Alaskan Malamute, but Sammys have always had a special place in her heart so he went back to showing and competing with them—and proving that, yes, Samoyeds can do Obedience.
“Their temperaments are so good,” she says. “I love that they’re smart and they’re thinkers, but they’re very no-nonsense. I like that they think about what you’re asking them to do and they have that sled dog attitude kind of like, ‘Well, I hear you, but what if we do it this way?'”
Though Mary had another Samoyed before Hex, she considers Hex to be her dog and she’s Hex’s person. When Mary first went to check out a litter of five-week-old Sammys she wasn’t initially sure which one she wanted. But Hex chose her, staying behind while the other five puppies went outside to play.
When Mary went back three weeks later to make her final choice, Hex ran over to her as if to say, “You came back for me.” “She picked me out in that litter. She picked me out,” Mary explains.
Losing Sight but Not Losing Hope
Mary’s goal has always been for Hex to become the first champion Obedience Trial Champion (OTCH) Master Agility Champion (MACH) titled Samoyed, and she seemed well on her way, winning the Utility B class her first time in the ring working for a Utility Dog (UD) title in 2017. But just as Mary was getting ready to breed Hex and was testing her progesterone, Hex woke up with a swollen eye in mid-January 2018. Thinking it wasn’t anything more than a scratched eye, Mary still brought her to the vet to get her blood drawn and decided there to check her eye pressure as she wasn’t responding to light well.
Normal eye pressure is between 15 to 20 mmHg. Hex’s was 41.
She found out Hex has narrow-angle glaucoma and had essentially been competing with vision in only one eye for quite some time. Despite the diagnosis, Mary says they’re lucky, as oftentimes with pressure spikes, glaucoma can go undiagnosed for months. While plans to breed were cut and Hex was spayed (as hormones can cause glaucoma flare-ups), Hex still wanted to keep going. After all, she was already happily competing with reduced vision.
“Well, I started to train her again because she doesn’t handle not being included well,” Mary says. “She’s like, ‘You’re not working with these other dogs and leaving me out.’ I didn’t know what to expect. And I was, of course, really devastated.”
The ultimate decision to remove the eye happened after noticing Hex appeared dazed during a long sit during an Obedience Open class. Upon further inspection, it looked like her eye was sinking into her face—a sign of a glaucoma spike. Mary immediately took her to the Iowa State University Hixson-Lied Small Animal Hospital.
Hex’s eye pressure was 72.
“I actually think that she probably was having more spikes than I realized. I think she was just tough enough that she was hiding it,” Mary says.
But competing with only one eye was still in the cards, and soon after the surgery, they got veterinarian approval and were back in the Obedience ring.
“She got her first win for her OTCH title less than two weeks after we took the eye out,” Mary says. “I was thinking, ‘Well, we’ll just do stuff as long as we can because she likes to work and I love to train her and we’ll just do what we can.'”
Keeping the Momentum Going
The pair stopped Agility when Hex was first diagnosed with glaucoma but decided to try it again just for fun afterward after getting cleared by the vet. It turned out Hex was almost as fast as she was before she lost the eye. “She went out there and ran like you’d never guess that she didn’t have an eye,” Mary says.
Currently, Hex has her Utility Dog Excellent 4 and her Obedience Master 8 titles. According to Mary, she is the first Samoyed to get an Obedience Master 2 title and would be the first one to get a Utility Dog Excellent 5 title, if and when that happens.
Naturally, there are some challenges with having reduced vision. For example, in Obedience Hex has some difficulty keeping her head up during heeling and sometimes bumps into Mary if she’s on her right side—where the eye is missing. In Agility, Mary needs to make an extra effort to make her presence known if she’s ever in Hex’s blind spot, as opposed to only pointing her in the right direction, which can be a problem in a noisy crowd.
“When I’m on her blindside, when we’re doing Agility, I just go ‘pop, pop, pop.’ You know like one of the blinking stoplights that make the noise so then people can cross?” Mary says.
Hex also can’t compete in places with dirt courses and low light, as it reduces her visibility too much.
“Don’t just assume that you can’t do it just because the dog has got a setback,” Mary says. “Figure out how to help the dog and don’t sell them short. I think a lot of times, just in general, we don’t give our dogs enough credit.”
Mary says they’re lucky they can still compete. Usually with glaucoma, after one eye is affected, the other one follows between eight and 13 months later. But Hex shows no sign of stopping.
Though she sometimes wonders how Hex would perform with full vision, Mary is grateful for the time they’ve spent together and all they have accomplished.
Hex is still working to be the first OTCH MACH titled Samoyed ever, and possibly the only dog to do so with one eye. She already won her MACH title and is just 18 points away from her OTCH title.
There’s also the fear that the other eye could go at any time, leaving Hex permanently blind.
“I worry about it always,” Mary says. “But if she wakes up tomorrow morning and she’s blind, it’s not like we haven’t had a pretty amazing ride. It would suck, though. Don’t get me wrong.”