Deaf Pet Awareness Week: Apple’s Story

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Apple is a perfect role model for all deaf dogs!


Everyone loves an underdog, right? But I’m not talking about the aging athlete or miracle hockey team or grass root politico.  No, let’s talk about real underdogs. Specifically, my own little underdog, Apple.

Apple is a sweet, year and a half old, red heeler mix puppy.  What makes her an underdog, you ask?  Apple is deaf.

This sweet little pup was only a few weeks old when I saw her picture on the Gonzales Shelter website. I immediately contacted the Austin Dog Rescue for the opportunity to foster her.    I am no stranger to the Austin Dog Rescue. Throughout the years, I fostered over 50 dogs and was eager to add Apple to the pack.

After joining our pack, I immediately realized Apple was different.  She wouldn’t come when called and ignored all commands.  Attempts to chalk this up to standard puppy disobedience were squashed when she didn’t gleefully wag greetings at the door or when I found myself shaking her awake from afternoon slumbers (and all slumbers in between).

After joining our pack, I immediately realized Apple was different.  She wouldn’t come when called and ignored all commands.  Attempts to chalk this up to standard puppy disobedience were squashed when she didn’t gleefully wag greetings at the door or when I found myself shaking her awake from afternoon slumbers (and all slumbers in between).

So, what was wrong with Apple?  Research suggested we start by making loud noises behind her. For days, we crashed through the house, banging walls and thumping doors. Apple was unfazed by our initial attempts so I resorted to trailing behind her banging metal spoons against kitchen pans.  Now, one cannot ignore this type of racket – just ask our neighbors. But Apple was oblivious to the cacophony of noise and happily continued sniffing the world around her.

So, off to the vet we went.  The vet’s evaluation confirmed that Apple was indeed deaf.  Worry set in. Now what? I never owned or fostered a deaf dog before. How would I train her?  How do you communicate with a deaf dog? And on and on.

My worry dissolved after talking with Joyce Martin.  Joyce, the amazing director of the Austin Dog Rescue, lined up a fabulous trainer AND (yes, it gets better) the rescue was going to pay for Apple’s training. How great is that!?  I honestly can’t explain the relief I felt after talking to Joyce. She has that effect on people.

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Proudly posing with Training Certificate of Completion. Deafness didn’t hold this dog back!

Like many shelter dogs, the cruel beginnings of Apple’s life were visible in her skinny frame and broken tail.  But do you think this pitiful looking pup felt like an underdog?  Nope. Her spirit was a spitfire! She was survivor – defiant to misuse of the past.  This puppy was going to make it. She was my little fireball and Apple, as we had come to call her, flourished into a happy and playful pup.  Clearly a bossy alpha, I could almost hear her barking, “Watch out world! Here I come!”

Surprisingly, training a deaf dog isn’t much different than training any other dog because most trainers recommend teaching hand commands first and then reinforcing with verbal commands.  We would need to capture Apple’s attention before we could teach hand signals and the go to commands for redirecting a puppy wouldn’t work.  Shouting no, clapping our hands or rattling a can of coins would be futile. Instead, we captured her attention by waving our arms or simply touching her.

Next, we learned hand signals from Tara from Training by Tara, our wonderful trainer from the Differently Abled Obedience Classes. Tara provided amazing training tools and support. More importantly, she gave us the patience to see Apple for who she truly is – an amazing dog. She became the star of the class by learning more than 20 commands in just a few weeks!

The hardest part of being a foster mom is saying goodbye to the puppy you love.  But Apple completed her training. She was flourishing and it was time.  So, I dutifully found a nice worthy family to adopt to her.

The day arrived for me to deliver to Apple to her home.  After giving her new family all the information and instructions they needed, I said goodbye and began walking to the door.  Apple tried to follow me and cried for a bit. I cried too.

I cried all the way home – as I always do. Seeing one of my dogs adopted is a bittersweet feeling that can’t be explained. I think you have to live it in order to fully understand. But, I didn’t miss Apple for long. She was returned to us in only a few short days.  It wasn’t that they didn’t love the silly little pup; it was simply that they weren’t ready to deal with it.

After Apple was returned, I went through several applications before declaring her a foster failure.  After becoming increasingly protective of her, I realized a hard fact. No one was good enough for Apple.  She already found her forever home and I couldn’t imagine life without her.

Apple is not really different from other dogs.  She plays.  She eats. She sleeps.  She longs for attention and seeks me out when I am not there.  She loves running in the park and swimming and belly rubs. She is a fetch champion. She barks with enjoyment. She grumbles with contempt. She cuddles and she kisses.

Sounds just like a hearing dog, right? The myths that abound about deaf dogs aren’t true; they won’t turn mean, they don’t startle attack, they can be socialized and they can be wonderful companions for children

Apple’s deafness may be considered a flaw to some but she is perfect to me. I wouldn’t want her any other way. Anyone privileged enough to be loved by a deaf dog knows that life wouldn’t be full without their wonderful and sometimes challenging pet.   Her world may be silent but she surely hears the love behind every belly rub, smile or morning walk.

And that is why, for us, every week is deaf pet awareness week.

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“Take that JACK!” Apple plays just like hearing dogs!

If you have your own stories to share about your deaf pet, please email me or post it in the comments section.  Apple would love to get to know you and your pet and so would I.

Pamela Rodriguez Villegas – Marketing Coordinator – Pamela@NaturalDogCompany.com

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