Petro searches, tracks, apprehends and detects.

For the 7-year-old German shepherd to assist the Springettsbury Township Police Department, he needs to be in good health.

"It's imperative that he's in top shape for duty," said Officer William Polizzotto, who serves as Petro's handler.

The K-9 cop visits a vet biannually for a complete physical, including an eye exam.

"For what he's exposed to, it's absolutely important. There's generally a lot of night work. Dogs are apt to being out during nighttime hours and can see better in the dark than we (humans) can, but the limited amount of light can still affect their vision," Polizzotto said.

Through Tuesday, service dogs like Petro can be registered to receive free eye exams during the sixth annual ACVO/Merial National Service Dog Eye Exam event.

York is one of seven Pennsylvania cities where exams will be held in May.

Beginning May 3, Dr. Robert Peiffer, a veterinary ophthalmologist outside Philadelphia, will travel to Animal Emergency and Referral Center of York to perform the free exams throughout the month.

Early detection: The exams normally cost $65, he said, and look for several problems: redness, squinting, cloudy corneas, retinal disease, early cataracts and other abnormalities.

"It's important to know service dogs don't have any ocular problems. If caught early on, any problem can be properly managed," Peiffer said.


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To receive a free exam, service animal owners and handlers are asked to register at www.ACVOeyeexam.org. Local appointments will then be arranged at Animal Emergency and Referral Center, 1640 S. Queen St. in Spring Garden Township.

Eligible animals include guide dogs, handicapped assistance animals, detection dogs, therapy animals, rescue dogs, military dogs, police dogs, horses and other animals. They must be certified by a training program or be currently enrolled in a training program to qualify.

More than 250 veterinary ophthalmologists across the country will participate in the event. In addition to the York location, six other Pennsylvania cities will serve as hosts for the free exams: Langhorne, Malvern, Norristown, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Whitehall.

Since the program was started in 2008 by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists and Merial, an animal health company, nearly 16,000 service animals have been examined.

"Our hope is that by checking their vision early and often, we will be able to help a large number of service animals better assist their human friends," said Stacee Daniel, executive director of the ACVO.

-- Candy Woodall can also be reached at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.