A pink-nosed, muscular white pit bull bestows a sloppy kiss on my hand as I pet him during H.E.L.P.’s adoption days at PetSmart in Geneva, Illinois. Moe, a one-year old light-eyed pit bull, is “gorgeous … and friendly with anybody,” says his foster mom, Sue Buchholz, a volunteer for the Fox Valley pet rescue, Homes for Endangered and Lost Pets (H.E.L.P.). That was several months ago. Now, Moe has been adopted by a loving family with an eight-year old adopted pit bull and a nine-month old daughter.
But it took Moe nearly seven months to find his forever home. Like many white pigmented dogs with light eyes, he was born deaf, a condition Buchholz identified the day he came to her. “It was during July 4 and Moe just sat through the fireworks.”
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals reports, “The incidence of all types of deafness in the general dog population is low, reported to be 2.56 to 6.5 cases per 10,000 … but these data predate the availability of hearing testing devices and so are much lower that actual values.” The absence of pigment-producing cells in the blood appears to lead to vascular degeneration in the cells in the cochlea, and eventually, deafness, the OFFA reports. Congenital deafness has been reported in up to 80 breeds. See Dog Breeds with Congenital Deafness for a complete list.
Buchholz realized she had more than housebreaking challenges ahead of her as she tried various techniques to gain Moe’s attention since facial cues are vital for a deaf dog to follow in order to know what is expected of him. “I got beanbags and tossed the beanbags to get him to look at us.” Buchholz saw her goal as making Moe the best he could be so he could get adopted but did incorporate some hand signals for the basics, like come and sit.
The Deaf Dog Education Action Fund says the only way to definitively know if a dog is deaf is for a BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) hearing test to be done. Since BAER testing can be expensive, however, there are other informal methods that can reveal a hearing problem: squeak a toy, call his name, whistle or ring a bell.
Buchholz said Moe did not have the BAER testing. It was clear from his lack of reaction to sounds that he was deaf. And it hasn’t gotten in his way at all.
“Moe is as tough as nails. He got along with other dogs. He did great at doggy daycare. He loved people….. He had to compensate by being overly alert, overly attentive … he could feel the air move when someone approached from behind. His peripheral vision was so strong … and his other senses so heightened by the lack of hearing that he had to be so much sharper in other ways.”
Buchholz disagrees with the myth that deaf dogs are more prone to biting, since they may startle easily. Not true, says Buchholz, “I never worried about it. … He would lay on the back of the couch like a cat, would rest his head on your neck, lean forward and look at you.”
South Elgin’s Anderson Animal Shelter (Anderson) has its share of animals with special needs, like two-year old Gwendolyn, who is a white, blue-green eyed and deaf pit bull. Brought in as a stray, her disposition is so sweet, says director Anna Friedman, Anderson’s Volunteer/Community Outreach Coordinator. “We use her to assess new dogs for social testing. She’s a good read for dog-to-dog temperament testing,” Freidman says. Freidman adds that Gwendolyn is not only helpful with socializing difficult dogs, “she’s wonderful with kids.”
Friedman says Anderson is skilled at working with special needs animals and putting them up for adoption when other shelters might not—like five-year old Dallas, a Boston terrier/pug mix who’s deaf and missing an eye. Dallas’ young life has been full of bad luck—she was bitten by a dog and lost an eye when treatment didn’t work. Later she was hit by a car and only saved from euthanasia by a vet who insisted on treating her injuries, though her hearing couldn’t be saved. Anderson’s Adoption Manager, Lesya Kercheval, fosters Dallas and says, “she is very playful; likes to play with balls … and has no discomfort from her lack of hearing … she knows some basic hand signals.”
Eight-year old April, a cocker spaniel-mix, is living proof of what happens when pet owners neglect their pet’s medical care and why places like Anderson are critical to their survival. Kercheval says, “She was given up (by) owners who were moving back to Mexico. She came to us last June and was eight years old at the time. She became blind due to eye infections that were not treated. It was neglect and her blindness could have been prevented. (She) just beat breast cancer and gets along fine, though she too is deaf and missing an eye.”
Friedman doesn’t think that deafness is a quality that detracts from a pet’s adoptability. However, says Friedman, “When there are ongoing medical costs, that certainly hinders the adoption.” With deafness in dogs, however, an owner need only be willing to teach some basic hand-signals, maybe a vibration collar and some sunscreen for pink noses. An added benefit, Buchholz says while chuckling, is that a deaf dog doesn’t hear your every movement—you can move around the house without him following you everywhere!
H.E.L.P. (Homes for Endangered and Lost Pets) is an all-volunteer not-for-profit pet rescue serving the Fox Valley area. Homeless pets are referred by local police departments, veterinarians and shelters where they receive medical care if needed and then placement into foster homes. H.E.L.P. is not a shelter. H.E.L.P. believes living in a foster home benefits both the animals and their future adoptive families.
Visit them at: www.H.E.L.P.inganimals.org or call (877) 364-2286
Anderson Animal Shelter, located in S. Elgin, Illinois, is a not-for-profit low-kill animal shelter that provides services for approximately 2,550 animals per year. With an on-site veterinary clinic, Anderson is able to meet its goal of spaying/neutering every animal before it’s adopted. In an effort to make certain medical costs affordable to the community, the shelter operates a public low-cost spay/neuter and vaccination clinic. Anderson is dedicated to eliminating euthanasia of healthy, adoptable pets.
Visit them at: www.andersonanimalshelter.org or call 847-697-2880.
Photograph of Moe provided by: Sue Buchholz
Photographs of Gwendolyn published courtesy of Anderson Animal Shelter
Photograph of Dallas provided by: Lesya Kercheval