It’s a Wednesday afternoon and Katie Frame, 18, is excited to arrive home from school. She throws down her backpack and runs straight to her room. There, ready to greet her, is Bear, a cuddly pit bull who wags his tail persistently whenever she’s around.
Bear looks a little like a spotted brown cow. Caramel shaded patches scatter his stocky body, including one covering his right ear. His face, however, is unmistakably that of a happy dog, with a gaping smile and a black nose that can sniff out food in a millisecond.
There’s just one part missing — his eyes. Two small, pink scars take their place, surrounded by soft white fur.
Four years ago, Bear became blind as a result of a car accident that would change his life — and Frame’s, too.
It was 2016 when Bear was struck head-on by a car pulling out of a gas station in Trenton. The driver who hit him fled. A witness called the Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services (CARES), an animal hospital where Frame’s mom, Sarah Scheffler, worked at the time. Scheffler says Bear’s eyes were “pretty much hanging out of the side of his head.”
Bear’s owners identified him at the hospital, saw the extent of his injuries, and never returned. At that point, Rawhide Rescue, a N.J.-based animal rescue, offered to cover the medical expenses for removing Bear’s first eye if a loving family offered to take him in.
Soon after, Scheffler was on the phone with her daughter, asking Katie if she was ready for a new dog.
“He was really sad, he was hurt, and just so sweet the entire time. It was one of those moments where I knew he had to come home with me,” said Scheffler. “I’d never owned a pit bull, let alone a blind one, but Katie’s like a dog whisperer. I figured if anyone could care for him, it’d be her.”
Frame thought so, too. The moment she met Bear, she said, “I immediately fell in love.”
Veterinarians initially hoped to save Bear’s second eye, but a week later, they determined that it, too, needed to be removed.
Multiple surgeries later, Bear left the hospital with a whole new life, including a new family, a new home, and a gift from Frame — an Instagram account with his name on it: @bear.the.blind.pit.
With over 900 posts and 170,000 followers, the account is designed to serve as a support community for people with special-needs pets and to help erase a stereotype of viciousness associated with the pit bull breed.
On the account are photos and videos of Bear taking walks near his Levittown home, cozying up on the couch, swimming in a creek with his mouth wide open, hanging out with dog friends, ripping up tennis balls, and chewing bones while flopped on his belly. He appears to be just like any other dog, and Frame says Bear’s adjustment to sightlessness was surprisingly quick.
“For the first few weeks, my dad would have to carry this 70-pound dog up the stairs because he was scared,” said Frame. “But other than that, he adjusted really well. I thought we’d have to do all of these things for him, but it’s easy to forget he’s even blind.”
Bear’s facial expressions help with that. He gives a slight tilt of the head and lifts his eyebrows when curious, and lowers them when relaxed. His ears perk up when he’s listening. Sometimes he huffs and puffs when he’s mad. And don’t touch his feet or he’ll storm away in disgust.
“I knew he was going to help other people, but the Instagram account went a lot farther than I ever thought,” said Frame, feeding Bear chunks of banana in between taking bites of her own. “I’ve gotten so many messages from people who have their own blind dogs. He also just brings people joy.”
The evidence of that is plastered across Frame’s room. Postcards, paintings, illustrations of Bear, and other fan paraphernalia are pinned on a wall near her bed. Bear has also been featured in books and calendars, which Frame displays on bookshelves in the midst of the fan mail.
Bear doesn’t uplift only his followers. In many ways, he has transformed Frame’s entire life.
“When I got him, I was in middle school. I was very insecure and had social anxiety,” said Frame. “But once I got Bear, I started talking to everyone. He taught me how to interact with all the strangers he naturally draws to me.”
The Instagram account also inspired Frame to push further her interest in photography. Sometimes Bear appears as the subject of personal projects, including one that won her an award in a local digital photography contest.
After graduation this spring from Pennsbury High School, Frame plans to enroll in a local college so she won’t have to leave Bear behind. In the meantime, Scheffler is trying to help her daughter brainstorm ways to combine animals and photography into a career. But that’s a conversation Frame is quick to avoid in favor of just hanging out with her “snugglebug.”