"(There are) none so deaf than those who refuse to listen"
-adapted Mathew Henry
Commentaries, Jeremiah 20 (1708-1710)
It was love at first sight when I first spotted my new "mama," Connie Bombaci. When mama, an educator, first came to meet me, our hearts immediately met. You see, I was a Dalmatian with special needs. From birth, I was what approximately 10% of all Dalmatians congenitally are at birth: completely deaf. Nearly twice that number is deaf in one ear.
Mom was seeking a companion for India, a playful Black Labrador pup, and visited the Connecticut Humane Society. That was in October of 1993. I was 18 months old and had never experienced being part of a family. I was kept outside from the day I was born and didn’t know the warmth of the inside of a home. I wasn’t housebroken and no one ever took the time to try and communicate with me so I could understand. I grew very lonely and tried to get attention from my backyard pen by barking. This met with great disapproval. The lonely hours grew longer, and the veterinarian mama took me to also suspected malnourishment.
All that changed when mams took me home. She didn’t care that I had the challenge of being deaf. (She later learned that deaf animals were usually destroyed.) Mama also wanted a lot of people to be able to "talk" with me and decided before she even brought me home that she would teach me American Sign Language (ASL). Of course, she didn’t know any herself so Papa went out and bought a pocket manual for ASL. Within the first 24 hours, I knew the sign for "cookie" (my favorite) and "sit."
When she introduced me, Hogan, to her friends, she was cautioned I’d be "too much of a burden." But the didn’t stop her! Viewing the challenge with the same devotion and energy she brought to her profession as Associate Principal at a public high school, she jumped in with both feet. Mama’s eyes lit up and she became immediately animated whenever she described with incredible depth and warmth her desire to communicate with me: "These (deaf) dogs are no different in any way from other pets – they love to play; they want to be loved; they like to be with people; and they love to be touched. We just need to communicate with them in a way they can understand."
Well, not only did she save me and promise me a home for life (Hogan means ‘shelter’ in Native American), but she brought the greatest gift to pet owners with deaf dogs around the country and then around the world. Using more than 50, 60, 70 signs in American Sign Language, together we proved that communicating with deaf dogs produces fun-loving, happy pets. And my little sister, Georgia who was also deaf, understood, as well. (She was supposed to be a foster pup, but Mama couldn’t give her up!) Both of us comprehended signed words and short sentences the same way that India, our hearing sister, understood spoken word. In fact, mama even said that, in some ways, deaf dogs were easier to train than hearing dogs. And our success helped erase the stigma too often associated with dogs born deaf. There’s no need to destroy us! We can and do learn. And we make wonderful pets.
Mama’s high energetic style and passion for working with deaf dogs became contagious. When Jack Hanna came to visit us to tape an episode for his Animal Adventures nationally broadcast television program, he was nothing short of amazed. Upon learning in less than a minute how to tell me to ‘sit,’ his response was an unbridled, "oh, wow – cool!"
Mama did more that just teach us ASL. We began helping other deaf pups and their families by taking our message to the world. Our work was been featured in over 95 newspapers across Connecticut, local and national television networks including Dateline NBC and CNN news. Using email, we communicated with people all over the USA, not to mention in Australia, New Zealand, Poland, and Canada. (I helped by licking her face and then sleeping at her feet!) Her encouragement, support, information, and knowledge in working with deaf dogs have helped families keep their deaf pets and learn to communicate with them. Jane, our great friend from New York who found us on the Internet commented, "I wouldn’t have kept Spotty who has turned out to be a bundle of love in my life," and Dave in the MidWest wrote, "With your help, I found that a hard-of-hearing animal is no more trouble than one with normal hearing."
We went to organizations, schools, churches, and even a college course to demonstrate how we can make wonderful family members if people just remember that we have some special needs. We'd
Adopting any pet is a real responsibility and commitment. It takes time, true dedication, and deep love. The rewards are endless.