IM this article to a friend!

May 19, 2003

Couple needs help to adopt deaf Dalmatian

From: Gainesville Times, GA - May 19, 2003

The Times

A Gainesville woman wants to open her home to a handicapped dog, but she needs a little help.

First-time homeowners Josette and Rodger Irey will move next month into a house on Jim Hood Road in North Hall. They have two small terriers, but were looking for a larger dog that could play outdoors with their three children.

"I was searching on the Internet for dogs to adopt and ran across a site about deaf Dalmatians," Josette Irey said. "They were so beautiful, and my heart went out to them."

Irey fell in love with a 2-year-old female Dalmatian, Gwinny, who was scheduled to be put to sleep until she was rescued by the Southern Hope Humane Society in Powder Springs. The dog has been staying at a foster home in Marietta.

In order to bring Gwinny to Hall County, Irey must meet strict requirements.

"You have to be cautious about everything, because if a deaf dog runs away, you can't call them back," she said.

Sue Lange of Alpharetta, who handles Dalmatian rescue for the Southern Hope group, visited the Ireys' property and is concerned about its proximity to busy Jim Hood Road. She said in addition to fencing the yard, the family will need to take extra security measures, such as padlocking gates and installing an "entrance pen" so that even if the outer gate is open, the dog is still behind an inner gate.

Irey estimates the fencing will cost about $1,000, which she doesn't have.

"We're spending all we have just to move into this house," she said. "My husband is a young, evangelizing minister, so we exist mostly on my salary (as a Hall County Magistrate Court employee)."

The fence wouldn't be just for her family's own use, she said. Once it's installed, she wants to serve as a foster parent for other deaf dogs who need a temporary home.

Rick Aiken, director of the Humane Society of Hall County, said there is a critical shortage of foster homes for all types of dogs.

"We have to euthanize dozens of dogs every day because we don't have room for them," he said. "Sometimes if it's a purebred we'll call a breed rescue group, but often the problem is that they don't have room either."

Aiken said the humane society won't euthanize an otherwise healthy animal simply because it has a handicap.

"We consider them adoptable," he said. "There are kind-hearted people who look for dogs with some type of disability. We do talk to them to make sure they understand the challenges."

The challenges of owning a deaf dog are considerable but not insurmountable, said Jane White of the Murrayville Veterinary Clinic.

"Deaf dogs can adjust very well, but obviously they need to be in a controlled environment," she said.

Such dogs can even play a special role, serving as therapy dogs in nursing homes and other settings.

"It's particularly good for people with disabilities to see an animal that is disabled," she said.

Indeed, deaf people often prefer deaf dogs, Lange said.

"They feel a kinship toward them. In the wild, dogs rarely bark. Body language is their native communication."

Lange, whose husband is deaf, teaches new owners to talk to their dogs through sign language.

"The trick is that first you have to get their attention, by waving your arms, stomping on the floor (they can feel vibrations), shining a flashlight if it's night, or using a vibrating (not shocking) collar."

Congenital deafness in dogs is linked to a lack of skin pigmentation in the inner ear, which makes mostly white breeds like Dalmatians particularly susceptible. Reputable breeders spay or neuter any puppy that turns out to be deaf. But the popularity of the "101 Dalmatians" movies flooded the market with indiscriminately bred dogs, Lange said.

"When one of those movies comes out, the Dalmatian rescuers just cry, because they know there will be more abandoned animals for the next two or three years."

A deaf puppy often ends up being abused, Lange said, because the owner doesn't realize it can't hear.

"They just think the dog is stupid and stubborn, so they yell at it and beat it," she said.

The dog also may bite in response to being startled, because it can't hear people approaching.

But once the owner learns to communicate properly, Lange said, deaf dogs can be wonderful pets.

"They're really attentive," she said. "They watch you all the time and love to be with you."

How to help

* For their own safety, deaf dogs always must be leashed or confined. Josette and Rodger Irey of Gainesville are seeking funds to build a fence suitable for deaf dogs. Contact: (770) 519-0643

* information on rescuing, training and caring for deaf dogs

* links to adoption shelters around the country (including the Humane Society of Hall County) and specific breed rescue groups

Copyright ©2003 The Times. All rights reserved.