Since the program started in 2008, nearly 22,000 service animals have been examined.

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Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Since 2008 the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists have offered free eye exams for qualified service animals to honor their work.

Since the program started in 2008 nearly 22,000 service animals have been examined, most of which have been dogs, but other animals have included horses and even a donkey.

"We do complimentary eye exams for dogs who are actively working in service, dogs who are guide dogs, police dogs, search and rescue dogs, therapy dogs, any of the assistance dogs that are formally trained and actively working," said Dr. Kristin Fischer.

Dr. Fischer is a veterinarian ophthalmologist at the VCA Animal Specialty Center of South Carolina, she says it is important to get a jump on eye health with these four-legged helpers.

"These dogs actually have a job so it is important to detect eye disease early, because some cases we can actually get on top of it before it becomes a severe problem, a vision limiting problem and either prolong their vision or prevent vision loss all together," according to Dr. Fischer.

"These dogs usually come from really excellent breeding and training programs, there is a lot of genetic disease in purebred dogs, so we look for things like cataracts, retinal scaring, retinal degenerative disease things that will allow us to get onto of things early," said Dr. Fischer.

Finding any potential problem early in service animals is especially important when the animals mean so much to the people they serve.

Dr. Fischer said, "We do exams on guide dogs for the blind and they've got to be the eyes for the people that can't see."

That is why ophthalmologists like Dr. Fischer are donating their time, to make sure the animals that work so hard, don't have a hard time seeing.

"It is important to give back and to make sure that we are doing everything we can for the animals that work for us," according to Dr. Fischer.

The free screenings are open to active program-trained and certified working dogs, which includes service dogs, police and military dogs.

Sign up for the 2014 screenings are over, but funding should allow the free vision tests to continue through at least 2016.

For more information visit the National Service Animal Eye Exam website.

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