For any dog in a shelter, finding a home can be a sad, exhausting waiting game. For dogs with disabilities, finding the right family can prove almost impossible. However, at the Nebraska Humane Society, a heartwarming tale has played out.
It all started when a 3-year-old deaf pit bull named Rosie came to the shelter. Unable to communicate using verbal commands, a volunteer there named Tracie Pfeifle began to teach the dog sign language.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, this method has actually been around for years and has been shown as a viable means of communication with deaf animals. Tracie started with basics, giving Rosie treats while giving a thumbs up, to denote a positive reinforcement.
Soon Rosie learned sit, stay, walk, outside and down all through hand signals. It was this training that, according to Pfeifle, really brought out her personality.”It was just amazing to watch her just blossom into a dog, I don’t think she knew how to be a dog.”
However, despite being trained, pets with disabilities are so often overlooked with adopters that odds weren’t high for Rosie. At least not until Cindy Koch came in looking for a family pet. Cindy Koch is also deaf and communicates with her family through sign language; it was then they discovered the perfect match.
Koch feels a sense of solidarity with the dog, “Because I am deaf, I can understand how she feels.” The Koch family has since learned Rosie’s sign language and has taken her home. Although Pfeifle, the volunteer who took her time to rehabilitate and teach the dog will miss her, “It’s what I hoped would eventually happen” she said, tears in her eyes, “she couldn’t have gone to a nicer family.”
While Rosie’s story has a happy ending, there are many enduring myths and issue surrounding deaf dogs. Never the first pick at the shelter, some people feel they are more easily startled, aggressive, dangerous for kids, likely to be hit by a car and difficult to train. A website dedicated to ensuring even deaf dogs get homes too, DeafDog.Org, has done a thorough job of debunking these myths.
As most dog owners already know, hand signals are an integral part of teaching. In fact, since dogs use posture, not language to communicate, hand signals are seen as more effective. Because of this, teaching commands to a deaf dog isn’t that much different. Also as the website points out: “Our dogs are always ‘reading’ us, and place a higher value on our body language than the words we speak.”
The other idea, that deaf dogs are easily startled or dangerous around children is turned on its head just as easily as the last. It’s common knowledge that any kid around any breed of dog must first learn to be gentle and accommodating. Sneaking up and jumping on any pup, deaf or not, is an obvious no-go. However, deaf dogs can not only teach children a fantastic lesson about how to accommodate others who do not share the same abilities, but because children are intuitive, they also make some of the best teachers.
Furthermore, an array of tools for families that choose a deaf dog are available from pet stores. Vibrating collars, which are not the same thing as shock collars, help alert deaf pets when you’d normally call for them. Special training manuals are also available.
A deaf dog may not be for everyone. As stated on DeafDog.Org, “When supervising and correcting a deaf dog, you will not have the luxury of yelling commands across a yard or room. If your dog is digging in the trash, you will have to get up and walk to the dog to stop his behavior. Granted on some occasions you may be able to get his attention and sign a command. But there will be just as many times when you have no choice but to get up and go to the dog.”
However, when adopting dogs, one must remember that every animal deserves a home full of love. In the words of Charlotte Schwartz, “For perhaps, if the truth were known, we’re all a little blind, a little deaf, a little handicapped, a little lonely, a little less than perfect. And if we can learn to appreciate and utilize the dog’s full potentials, we will, together, make it in this life on earth.”