Tampa Vet Sees That The Eyes Have It

We've all had eye check-ups.

The ophthalmologist looks into your eye with a bright light, maybe squirts in a few eye drops to dilate the pupil, and then asks you to read an eye chart.

But what if you can't read the eye chart? What if you can see the chart but can't convey the letters to the doctor? What if you simply can't talk?

That's what it's like for a dog.

And that's what makes for a thriving practice for Dr. E. Dan Wolf, director of the Southern Eye Clinic for Animals on Hoover Boulevard in Tampa. An eye doctor since 1973, he specializes in working with animals. He is one of only four animal ophthalmologists in the Tampa Bay region and the only one who operates a clinic that works only with animals from dogs to cats to elephants to birds to yaks.

More than 4,000 animals each year receive care from Wolf, who says he works with about 100 animals a week. He also owned a practice in Fort Myers from 1992 until 2007, when he sold it to concentrate on his Tampa Bay practice.

Wolf grew up on a farm in Ohio and knew already in the fourth-grade that he wanted to work in veterinary medicine. He graduated with a doctorate degree in veterinary medicine from Ohio State University and served his residency in ophthalmology at the University of Illinois. He has owned six dogs along the way, but right now the only ones he tends are patients at his clinic just off of Hillsborough Avenue.

"We don't have any other things to take care of here except eyes,'' Wolf says. "There are no broken legs or broken bones. We take care of eyes and we have a 90 percent success rate.''

Checking For Vision

His clinic has a play room in the back that allows Wolf to put the dogs through a series of tests that, with his experience and background, allow him to determine the level of the animal's vision.

"There are two ways to measure,'' Wolf says. "I look for the structure of the animal's eye and check for their vision. There is an eye-brain relation and I can usually tell just by calming the animal down and looking into their eye. It's pretty easy, sometimes easier than working with the human eye.''

In the playroom, Wolf uses a variety of methods to determine the condition of the eye. He'll toss cotton balls or small toys to watch how the animal's eyes move. He'll tinker with the lighting. Different eye movements guide Wolf in how he will treat the animal.

He's had experience with just about the entire animal kingdom and uses a traveling clinic so he can examine and treat more exotic animals, such as elephants, that might not be able to make it through the front door of his office. He spends a lot of his working time at Busch Gardens and makes house calls.

Wolf offers his services for free at Busch Gardens and accepts insurance in most cases.

"I've dealt with every kind of animal, even an ostrich,'' Wolf says. "It's what I've always wanted to do. The problems are usually easily fixed, we just need to see what the problems are.''

Seeing Is Believing

Most of the situations Wolf deals with involve cataracts. He specializes in a technique that he says is simple and mostly painless to the animal. Basically, he places a lens inside the eye of the animal. It's a basic procedure, little more than a human putting in a contact lens; only with an animal, it's permanent.

It doesn't matter what type of animal he is treating, Wolf says. They might be different in size, but the eyes otherwise vary little.

"Did you know an elephant's eye is only twice the size of a small dog?'' Wolf asks. "They all work the same.''

Wolf anesthetizes the animals and they are normally ready to go home the same day. He has a soothing demeanor that seems to comfort the animals.

He has been in Tampa since 1991 and at his Hoover Boulevard location for three years. He and his wife, Marja, have two kids – Adam and Aida. He met Marja in her native Sweden where she was working as a  veterinarian. She sold her practice and moved to the states. Wolf said that even though the family doesn't currently own a dog, it isn't out of the question.

"Sometimes we get a dog that comes in here and is blind by diabetes or something else,'' Wolf says. "The rewarding part is when the dog wakes up and starts running after his owner. It's so rewarding, and it is why we do this.''

Jeff Berlinicke of Tampa is a freelance writer who has spent much of the last 15 covering professional sports all over the Southeast United States. When not rooting for his favorite teams, he often can be found listening to Bruce Springsteen or teeing up on local golf courses. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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