MECHANICSBURG, Penn. - Truffles is a 2-year-old cat whose mission is helping children get more comfortable with going to the eye doctor and wearing glasses or eye patches.
Truffles was found as a stray about two years ago by Danielle D. Crull, an optician who specializes in fitting infants through teens at her practice, A Child’s Eyes, in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
Crull immediately noticed that Truffles was smart as a whip and began teaching her tricks, which Truffles picked up quickly. She had such an affinity for learning that Crull was inspired to try teaching her to wear glasses.
“I wondered if I could get her to wear a pair of glasses because that would be really great for kids to see, that would make them feel more comfortable,” Crull said. “Because obviously, in this business, some kids come in and they’re fine. But we do get a lot of really shy, scared kids — and especially if their parents don’t wear glasses, it’s very foreign to them, like ‘What are you putting on my face? What are you doing?’ So Truffles really became, very quickly, quite an asset to the company.”
Truffles’ first pair of glasses were pink, and were designed for premature babies. Crull chose them because they fit Truffles’ face best, and Crull wanted her feline assistant to be comfortable in her glasses just like one of her patients.
“I kind of went through the process of fitting her, kind of like I would fit a child,” Crull reminisced with a chuckle.
Once Truffles was used to wearing her glasses, she became the perfect example for Crull’s young patients.
If a patient is shy or anxious, Crull can say things like, “Would you like to see Truffles’ glasses? Truffles has glasses!” before jumping into the harder ask to get the patient to try on their own pair.
"Now Truffles wants to see your glasses!” Crull will tell her patients. “You put your glasses on!”
Crull said that Truffles has a true affinity for helping out and that she’s quite good at her job of making kids feel safe and comfortable during their visit.
“And in all honesty,” she added with a laugh, “I think Truffles likes the attention as well, and the impending treat that’s coming, of course.”
When Truffles grew out of her first pink pair of glasses, Crull tried to have her pick out new ones, but Truffles wasn’t exactly having it at first.
“She’s like ‘These are not my glasses, mine are pink, these are not mine,” Crull recalled. “It was so funny, I didn’t expect her to have that reaction, which is funny, because most kids have that reaction on their second pair of glasses.”
Truffles’ reaction was captured on video and became another teaching opportunity for Crull, who said that the video is useful in showing people why some kids struggle to pick out their second pair of glasses due to an attachment to the first.
Truffles wasn’t interested in a new pair of glasses until Crull decorated a pair of green frames with gemstones, which Truffles now knows were meant for her.
One of Crull’s motivations in getting Truffles to wear glasses was to take away some of the mystery about going to the eye doctor, which she says can be particularly anxiety-inducing for children who are already nervous about going to doctors and who have no concept of what an eye doctor will do during an exam.
“So one of the charts they use for kids, it has four symbols — it’s a circle, a square, a heart and a house,” Crull explained. “I began to teach Truffles what those symbols were so that she could point to them with her paw for me, so kids would have something recognizable when they go in for an eye exam.”
Of all of Truffles’ tricks, pointing to the right shape on the exam chart was the hardest for her to learn, according to Crull.
“Teaching that to Truffles was absolutely the hardest thing ever... I couldn’t say the word ‘no’ to her, like every two year old — you can’t say no to them because they know, and they get mad at you,” Crull explained. “So if I’d say ‘no, that’s wrong,’ she’d get mad and sit back and be like, ‘No, I’m not playing anymore.’”
All the hard work was worth it, though.“It was such a hard concept, it took me several months... but I think it’s by far one of the best things that parents can show kids to be more comfortable with an eye exam,” Crull said.
Crull is just one of a select number of American Board of Opticianry Master-Certified Opticians in the entire U.S., and when she earned her certification, she was the only one specialized in fitting infants through teens.
"What I love about fitting kids with glasses is that you’re giving them something they’ve never had before," Crull said. "So when you put glasses on them for the first time, they’re like ‘Whoa, I can see! That’s so cool!’"
“That’s the fun part with kids, they’re just so excited to see,” Crull said.
Truffles also helps children who suffer from amblyopia, a developmental condition that is typically treated with occlusion therapy. Crull taught Truffles to wear an eye patch, just like amblyopia patients.
Truffles has been sporting her eye patch frequently this month in support of the Pumpkin Patch Project, which is a community initiative to help spread awareness by putting an eye patch on a pumpkin in the month of October.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.