Deaf Dalmations

Dalmatian Club of America Encourages Euthanasia of Deaf Pets

Published October 29, 2012

Patricia Belt with Lottie Dot and Izzy

 Mary Ellen Mack, 39, was researching getting a new Dalmatian after her beloved Buster Babe died, when she learned that the Dalmatian Club of America demands that breeders put down deaf pups. According to the DCA website, deaf Dalmatians are unsuitable as pets because they are “difficult to control” and “often become snappish and overly aggressive.” Even shelters are advised “not to place the deaf Dalmatian puppies and adults that come in,” but to euthanize them and “concentrate on finding homes for the healthy, hearing dogs.”

Mary Ellen had never thought about getting a deaf dog. She hadn’t known that deafness is prevalent in Dalmatians, with 30-percent of the breed unable to hear in one or both ears. Ironically, it was reading the DCA’s warnings against raising a deaf Dalmatian that inspired her to rescue one.

“Some of the breeders yelled at me for wanting a deaf dog, and some were polite,” she said. “But they all told me they followed DCA guidelines and put deaf pups down.”

Finally, Mary Ellen found a breeder a few miles away from her home in Otego, New York, who promised to give her a deaf puppy if there was one in the next litter. When the puppies were born, she called Mary Ellen to say she suspected that two were deaf, though she wouldn’t know for sure until they were four weeks old. Mary Ellen agreed to take them both. But a month later, her calls went unanswered. The breeder eventually left a message saying: “I had a deaf boy, but I searched my soul and had him put down.”

Mary Ellen’s anger fueled her determination. She found a posting on Craigslist in Georgia by a breeder looking for a home for a 10-week-old pup. Mary Ellen told the breeder she would take it if she could find a way to transport it to New York. Through a series of online connections, she found Cathy Miller Saye, who rescues deaf dogs in the Atlanta area. Cathy picked the puppy up from the breeder, and put him on a plane to New York.

“Pirate is my first deaf dog, and he certainly won’t be my last,” Mary Ellen wrote on the Deaf Dogs Rock website, a resource for adopting and training deaf dogs, after bringing Pirate home in 2006. Since then she has adopted two more deaf Dalmatians, and also has three hearing dogs. Not only has she found the warnings on the DCA website to be unwarranted, but she said, “Deaf dogs are smarter than hearing dogs because they have to pay more attention to you; they are more in tune with you.”

Changes in the Dalmatian Community

Ariel O’Brien, a dog trainer and evaluator for The American Kennel Club and Therapy Dog International, founded Spotted Dog Dalmatian Rescue in August 2011 to give breeders an alternative to euthanizing deaf puppies. So far she has rescued 10 deaf Dalmatians. She kept a pup named Apple, and has placed the rest in homes.

Ariel said many younger breeders are against the DCA policy, and increasingly veterinarians are unwilling to put down perfectly healthy dogs just because they are deaf. She is encouraged to see changes in the Dalmatian community. Several weeks ago, a regional Dalmatian club invited her to give a presentation on training deaf dogs, and recently a breeder promised, “I won’t put my deaf puppies down. I’ll send them to you.”

The Tennessee Safety Spotters

Meg Ispas-Hennessey, President of the DCA, said she favors euthanization because she is concerned that owners of deaf Dalmatians will abuse them out of frustration. “I will not place a dog with a family that can’t be trained by normal methods,” she said in a telephone interview.

Just as a particular breed is not for everyone—Dalmatians, for instance, require a lot of attention and exercise—some people may find it difficult to adjust to communicating with a dog using hand signals. But it came naturally to Patricia Belt, 60, whose son brought her a deaf Dalmatian pup he found off the Interstate when driving to her home in West Tennessee. “It was almost like it was meant to be,” she said.

When Patricia, a former registered nurse, saw how smart Lottie Dot was and how people responded to her loving nature, she was inspired to train her as a therapy dog. She went on to adopt Dora, a deaf Dalmatian given up by a breeder, and founded Tennessee Safety Spotters, a non-profit using her dogs in educational and therapeutic programs. Last year, Dora passed away from liver disease, and now Izzy, a deaf Dalmatian found on the streets of Texas, carries on with her work.

Patricia explained how the dogs demonstrate dialing 9-1-1 on a model phone and show elementary school children how to “stop, drop, and roll” in case of fire. In anti-litter campaigns Lottie picks up paper off the floor and passes it to Izzy, who throws it in the trash. The dogs place their paws on the pages of a book, and children with learning difficulties practice reading, knowing the dogs won’t laugh at them when they make a mistake. Patients at the Veterans Hospital throw balls to the dogs as part of their physical therapy. Young cancer patients at St. Jude’s Hospital wake up from their surgeries to find the dogs at their bedside. A six-year-old boy spoke for the fist time in a week when Patricia brought her dogs into his hospital room.

Patricia has told the DCA about her dogs, but no longer tries to get them to change their position. She said she realizes the best thing she can do is set an example, being “a trailblazer for deaf dogs” and showing the world that they can do everything except hear.

“I look at them and think, how did I get to be so lucky?” she said.

Deaf Pets and Their People

Cathy Miller Saye and her deaf dog FelixDeaf Pets and Their People

In honor of Deaf Pet Awareness Week (September 23rd through September 29th) we celebrate the unique bond between deaf pets and deaf people.

Domino and Anne

When Anne Tomasetti, 38, decided to adopt a cat she knew she wanted it to be deaf like her. She searched the Internet, but was unable to find a deaf cat near her home in New York City. Finally, she saw a listing for Domino, a deaf one-year-old white kitty with black spots offered for adoption by Purrfect Feline Friends in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Anne rented a car to meet Domino, who was sleeping on a cat tree when she arrived. To make sure she was deaf, Anne put her mouth close to Domino’s ear, careful not to breathe on her, and vocalized. Domino continued to sleep soundly. Then Anne gently touched Domino, who opened her eyes to see the woman who would give her a home.

I am an interpreter fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and recently had the pleasure of visiting with Anne and Domino via Skype. Anne said that just as deaf people get each other’s attention with a light tap on the shoulder, Domino taps her with her paw when she wants something. Domino also responds to visual commands. Anne said that when she signs the word “outside” Domino runs to the door to be let out into the yard and when she asks her “Where is the red dot?” Domino searches for the reflection from the laser pen.  To demonstrate, Anne twisted the tip of her index finger on her cheek, the sign for “candy” and turned the camera on Domino, who ran to a kitchen cabinet and waited for a treat. Then Anne signed, “scratch” and Domino used her scratching post on cue.

Sparky and the Students at the Missouri School for the Deaf

Sparky, a one-year-old white Dachshund with brown ears, was slated to be euthanized because he was deaf. The Humane Society of Missouri enrolled him in Puppies for Parole, a program where offenders at the South Central Correctional Facility train dogs to make them more adoptable.

During the eight-week training the inmates taught Sparky the signs for “no,” “sit,” “stay,” “stop,” “heel” and “lay down.” When it was time to send Sparky back to the shelter, the inmates had a better idea. They raised the funds for his adoption fees and offered him as a gift to the Missouri School for the Deaf.

Barbara Garrison, the superintendent of the school, and the owner of four hearing Dachshunds, was thrilled to accept. Two and a half years later, Sparky is well loved and provides a valuable service. “Sparky was not trained as a therapy dog, but he performs therapy every day,” said Barbara in a phone interview. She recounted how she frequently observes students, who range in age from 5 to 21, “telling Sparky everything” when they are unable to open up to their counselors. Students are eager to help care for Sparky and can earn the privilege of having him spend the night in their dorm. Barbara said that the students share a special bond with Sparky, whom they describe as being “deaf like me.”

Cathy Miller Saye, a Deaf Woman Who Rescues Deaf Dogs

“Breeders and shelters are quick to put deaf dogs down,” said Cathy Miller Saye in American Sign Language via Skype. “They wrongly believe they have no hope for a good life. But just like deaf people communicate in sign language, deaf dogs respond to hand gestures, body language, and facial expressions.”

Cathy first became involved with dog rescue in 2003 when she volunteered to transport three deaf dogs from the Atlanta area, where she lives, to a shelter in the Northeast. She volunteered with a network of organizations to learn the ropes, and now works independently, taking in dogs from shelters and from individuals who find them abandoned outdoors.

Cathy cares for her fosters alongside her two deaf dogs with behavioral problems that made them difficult to place: Tiny Tim, a Maltese, and Felix, an Aussie mix with one eye. So far she has found homes for 75 dogs, and said she “wished she had more arms like an octopus,” so she could do more.

Cathy has had great success adopting to deaf and hearing people alike. She said that while hearing people are sometimes nervous at first, “once they see how easy it is to teach a dog to respond to simple sign commands like ‘stop’ and ‘come’ they get excited.”

“It’s just like having a hearing dog,” she explained, “except that the communication is non-verbal. The eye-contact that occurs with a deaf dog leads to an especially close bond.”

Resources on adopting and caring for deaf pets:

Volunteer Tail: Antinya Monroe

Photo Antinya Monroe and DuckyVolunteer Tail: Animal Shelter Volunteer Antinya Monroe Makes a Difference

If cats could design their own shelter, I imagine it would be just like Mid Hudson Animal Aid, a non-profit no-kill sanctuary in Beacon, New York. Here cats are free to roam the house, filled with toys and climbing ramps, and can wander onto the porch to enjoy the fresh air. And if cats could choose a volunteer to care for them, it would be someone like Antinya Monroe, a gentle and soft-spoken 17-year-old, who has dedicated her time to the facility for the past 10 months.“I wish shelters like this existed in every city,” she said, sitting in a large and sunny room, surrounded by some of the 160 cats currently awaiting adoption. As she spoke about her work at the sanctuary, some of the cats came up to her for snuggles while others played with each other or lounged on pillows.Antinya started volunteering at Mid Hudson Animal Aid when one of her high school classes required that students complete 10 hours of community service. Long after the semester ended, she still spends Saturdays at the shelter, cleaning litter boxes, mopping floors, washing laundry and playing with the cats during her breaks.In addition to her cleaning duties, Antinya participates in the Feral Friends Program, which pairs volunteers with outdoor cats used to fending for themselves and unaccustomed to human contact. Volunteers socialize the cats by visiting them regularly and by giving them treats and lots of affection.Mid Hudson Animal Aid takes in cats with disabilities and chronic health problems routinely put down at other shelters. Antiya pointed out Ducky, a black cat born with a deformity that prevents him from being able to stand on his front legs. It doesn’t stop him from getting around or from playing with the other cats.Sarah is a beautiful tabby who was brought into the shelter after someone abused and blinded her. Despite her past, she loves people and can most often be found hanging out with the staff in the office.

The shelter has separate rooms for cats with Feline Immunodeficiency Virusand Feline Leukemia Virus. Both populations can live along time without complications and the virus is not transmitted to humans. The cats were all lively and friendly, with no apparent symptoms. Antinya said their condition does not affect them as much as people think and that they would make great pets.

While the cats at free-range shelters don’t suffer the stress and depression common to cats in cages, Antinya said nothing beats “their having a home to call their own.” While she sometimes becomes attached to the cats, she is happy for them when they are adopted.

In fact, Antinya recently adopted a cat herself. Her feral friend is a tiny kittennamed Beoncé, thought to be about six weeks old. When Antinya brought her home for a visit and her family saw how well she got along with their dog and five other cats they decided to keep her.

Antinya plans to continue to volunteer at Mid Hudson Animal Aid until she goes away to college this fall and will return when she comes home for vacations. She said she never considers it a sacrifice to give up her Saturdays. She feels like she is gaining a sense of responsibility and is glad to contribute.

“The cats need so much,” she said. “I feel like I’m giving a little and a lot at the same time.” is donating $500 to Mid Hudson Animal Aid as a big “Thanks!” to Antinya Monroe!

The New York Times: A Birdnapping

City Room - Blogging From the Five Boroughs

June 4, 2012, 3:00 AM

A Birdnapping

                                                                                                                           Victor Kerlow

Dear Diary:

Last Sunday, I was walking with my husband and his mother on West 97th Street, when I stepped very close to a bird.

“Look!” I said to my husband, “It can’t fly.”

We looked down at the small brown bird. I think it was a sparrow.

“It’s not going to survive out here, is it?”

“Probably not,” my husband said.

“I’m taking it home,” I said. “I got an e-mail about it being nesting season. It had a list of places to call if you find an injured bird.”

My mother-in-law found an empty pizza box on top of a trash can, and my husband chased the hopping bird and plopped it inside. They left, and I ran across the street to my building.

Once upstairs, I raced past my two cats and closed the door to my office. I put the pizza box on the floor and opened it so the bird could get some air. Then I pulled up the e-mail and started calling and leaving messages with various organizations.

The bird, meanwhile, had hopped out of the box and scampered under my desk. It stood on a pile of tangled computer wires. I crouched down. I was afraid to touch it. But what if it got lost in my apartment? What if the cats got at it?

I reached out and picked up the little bird as quickly as I could. It felt so fragile; I could easily crush it if I pressed too hard. I put it back into the box and closed the lid.

I kept leaving messages, until finally I reached a man who told me to put the bird back. He said if it wasn’t bleeding or limping then it was a healthy fledgling.

“Fledglings are supposed to be on the ground,” he said. “The parents feed them until they’re ready to fly. We’re flooded with phone calls from New Yorkers who feel compelled to rescue them. But they’re fine where they are.”

I told him I’d heard that the mother would reject a bird once it was touched by humans. He said that was a myth.

I went back downstairs, ran across the street, and put the fledgling down near a tree where I’d found it, as the man had told me. I felt unsure about leaving it there. Crossing the street, I saw a bird flying overhead. I hoped it was its mother.

Considering Euthanasia: When It’s Time to Let Go

Scan 7

Considering Euthanasia: When It’s Time to Let Go

When Catherine, my beloved Abyssinian cat of 18 years, was diagnosed with advanced renal failure, I hoped she would go peacefully in her sleep. It would be a natural end to her long and happy life, and I wouldn’t have to make the heartbreaking decision to euthanize her.

As the weeks went on, there were days when she barely moved, followed by rallies when she seemed like her old self. I was afraid I wouldn’t know when to let Catherine go. I wanted her to have every good day coming to her, but didn’t want her to suffer. Looking for guidance, I spoke to friends who had cared for a dying pet, veterinarians, and even an animal communicator.

Considering Euthanasia: The Response from Others

One friend that I had vetted for information on euthanasia was against the practice. Her cat had died of old age snuggled between her and her husband in bed. I wanted that for Catherine too, but my vet told me it was unlikely. She said cats often live past the point where they are able to sleep comfortably, walk, eat, or use the litter box. She didn’t think it was fair to let them linger.

Other friends of mine who had euthanized their pets still questioned their decisions. One feared her cat had felt pain during the procedure because he’d opened his eyes. Another regretted not putting her kitty down sooner, because she suffered near the end of her illness.

At my vet’s suggestion, I located the nearest 24-hour emergency medical center. I also researched vets in my area who made house calls. If it was necessary to euthanize Catherine, I’d hoped it would be possible to do it at home.

Considering Euthanasia: Looking Towards Professional Resources

I called Dr. Wendy McCulloch of Pet Requiem, a veterinary house call service in New York and New Jersey. She explained that the process involved two injections: a sedative followed by an anesthetic in a large enough dose to stop the heart. Some vets use different methods, so it is something to discuss beforehand. She believes it is best for the pet if the owner can be present. When I asked about my friend’s cat opening his eyes during the procedure she said it was a natural response to sedation, and not an indication of pain.

Dr. McCulloch has resources on her website, including a scale to help evaluate an animal’s quality of life. Considerations include whether a pet seems happy, and if there are more good days than bad.

Considering Euthanasia: A Struggle to Make a Firm Decision

A friend who had taken classes in animal communication offered to do a reading for me. She said she could “talk” to Catherine telepathically and find out what she wanted.  All she needed was for me to e-mail her a photo. I was skeptical, but went ahead. When my friend wrote back that Catherine was ready to die and wanted to be euthanized, it didn’t make sense. Catherine was in the midst of a rally: eating well and zooming around the apartment like she had since she was a kitten.

A few weeks later, I found myself browsing professional animal communicators on the Internet.  I called a woman who gave complimentary end-of-life readings. She said Catherine wanted a natural death. But she also said that Catherine no longer wanted to be touched. I knew that wasn’t true because she still nuzzled against my hand to be stroked.

That was the end of my looking to others to communicate with Catherine. I decided I knew her best, and started to trust myself.

Considering Euthanasia: Catherine’s Story

Two months after Catherine’s diagnosis, I came home to find her unable to get up. I scooped her into my arms and called Dr. McCulloch, who came right over. She examined Catherine, and said she was close to death. Without intervention she would die in the night, but she thought it was kinder to euthanize her now. I agreed. Catherine was lying on her favorite cushion on the couch. I petted her and told her I loved her as she drifted off. It couldn’t have been more peaceful.

Afterwards, I wondered if I should have euthanized Catherine sooner. I don’t know how long she was lying on the floor before I found her. Like my friends who had cared for their dying pets, I had lingering doubts.

Often there is no clear best course of action. As caretakers, all we can do is consult with our vets, monitor our animal’s symptoms and behavior, and make our decisions with love. Then we have to let go.