Why Deaf Dogs Rock – Interview with founder Christina Lee

Deaf Dogs Rock Logo

‘Oh, that one, he’s not going to be adopted anytime soon, he’s deaf’. This is what a worker at one of the rescues where I have volunteered said, when I asked her why a particular dog wasn’t being shown to the public. ‘Nobody wants to deal with a deaf dog, they all want ‘perfect dogs’.

Some dedicated dog rescue organizations show that this statement is simply not correct — and we’re glad we can introduce our audience to one of them: Deaf Dogs Rock.

Through my volunteer work at different animal rescues I was always amazed by the deaf dogs at the shelters. I always wanted to learn more about their personalities, ways of communication and why some dogs are born deaf or become deaf with time. After we interviewed Blind Dog Rescue Alliance last year, I always had it in mind to find a reputable organization to add to our ongoing serious of interviews. Fortunately, we found a wonderful rescue dedicated to deaf and hearing-impaired dogs.

Deaf Dogs Rock is dedicated to helping and advocating for deaf  or partial hearing-loss dogs by rescuing dogs in shelters, assisting deaf dog owners, and educating the public about these wonderful, capable animals. Deaf Dogs Rock is a non-profit corporation in the state of VA run by a group of dedicated volunteers. We had the great pleasure of interviewing Christina Lee, the founder of Deaf Dogs Rock, and learned a lot of important facts about deaf dogs.

How did your adventure in dog rescue begin? It all started with my first deaf dog Nitro. A friend of mine worked at the City of Salem Animal Shelter here in Salem, Virginia. The AC officers spotted an 8 week old skinny white deaf boxer puppy at the Salem River. They knew they could not adopt it out to just anyone so they called me and asked me if I would adopt this pitiful little deaf puppy. I told them I would ask my husband but I thought it would be a long shot. We already had 3 dogs and we weren’t really looking to adopt another dog, especially a “special needs” puppy. When I asked Chris what he thought after showing him a photo of the puppy he said “yes” and I was shocked.

We ended up adopting our Nitro the next day but we ended up staying up most of the night learning as much as we could about ASL and training deaf puppies. What we discovered was most of the information on the internet was slightly outdated so we ended up going into training for the first year at Field of Dreams Training Center in Vinton VA. Although they had never had a deaf puppy in their classes they were pleasantly surprised how well Nitro excelled in all of his classes. Before long the local TV station did a story on him and it went National and my email box started filling up with questions and deaf dogs in need of homes so Chris and I decided to launch Deaf Dogs Rock to help others to have one site to go to and feel like part of a special community who can help with deaf dogs and the challenges they face, and to also list deaf dogs up for adoption.

Why did you decide to help deaf dogs in particular? What continually fascinates you about them?

Nitro 1

I adopted Nitro and when I realized most shelters put deaf dogs to sleep the minute they walk into the shelter, then it sort of hit me like a brick. I would look at Nitro and just think about all the deaf puppies and dogs just like him that were never ever given a chance so I knew Nitro and I had to do something to change people’s perceptions about them. They are not hard to train, just different to train.

You have many cute dogs on your website available for adoption. Approximately, how many dogs in total do you have listed on your website?

Right now we have about 125 deaf dogs listed. We have had as many as 200-300 listed at one time (in the beginning). We are getting a lot more traffic these days so a lot more dogs are being adopted because of our Deaf Dogs Rock Website.

Approximately, how many dogs have been adopted through DDR? It’s hard to say at this point because I only stared keeping track (the best I can) about six months ago. Six months ago I added an “Adopted Deaf Dog” section so I could start moving our adopted deaf dogs over to the Adopted Deaf Dog section so I would at least get some idea of how many are adopted off our website. On a good month, 30 deaf dogs are moved from our available for adoption to our adopted section. This month right now I think we are right at 24 for the month of May. For 2013 I estimate the number will be between 250 and 300 deaf dogs going to new homes from being listed and networked from our website.

739987_10200557651090032_1879114279_o-001What happens to dogs that don’t have the chance to be adopted?

If they are at a reputable rescue they can remain in foster care for years. We have one listing Ziggy who has been with his foster mom now for 3 years. If it is an Animal Control center then they usually get put to sleep. If a puppy is at an Animal Control many times through our network of rescues we will sponsor the puppy to be pulled, and also we help get the puppy transported to a rescue where we know the puppy can learn basic training, but also a rescue is going to have very strict guidelines for potential adopters looking to adopt a deaf puppy.

How do you locate and rescue dogs?

Ha! How do I find them, well I don’t, they find me! Deaf Dogs Rock has such an amazing group of deaf dog followers and rescue organizations that if a deaf dog is networked on Facebook, I can almost guarantee DDR will be tagged in a deaf dog listing. Once DDR is tagged then I send the organization a message with guidelines of what they need to send me to get the dog listed on Deaf Dogs Rock.

How can I find out if my dog is deaf?

What are the indicators? They sleep deeply and don’t wake up to noise. A person can pull up in your driveway and they might not notice although they do feel the vibration sometimes. Once they are asleep if you jingle your car keys and they don’t wake up that is a very good indicator. If you call your dog and he doesn’t turn around to make eye contact then that is another strong indicator your dog is either deaf or partially impaired.

Why are mostly white dogs affected?

The most common cause of congenital deafness in white dogs is pigment related. If there is un-pigmented skin in the inner ear the nerve endings die off or atrophy and die off in the first few weeks of a white puppies life resulting in the pups inability to hear anything. Sometimes it happens in both ears which is called Bilateral Deafness and sometimes it happens in only one year which is called Unilateral Deafness.

What are the most common reasons people give up their deaf dog?

It depends. Sometimes it is life change like having a baby so a family might worry about a deaf dog being startled by a baby. Sometimes a family thinks they can raise a deaf puppy without fencing so when the puppy comes to live with them and has nowhere to safely run and exercise the high energy deaf puppy resorts to chewing and destroying furniture. Some folks don’t realize how much of a time commitment training a dog or a deaf dog in general takes. Many times a family will adopt an 1 or 2 year old deaf dog and the resident hearing dog at home protests by attacking the deaf dog so the deaf dog is the one who has to go. I do get puppies from breeders who don’t feel right about selling a deaf puppy to anyone because they know a potential adopter needs to be someone special willing to go that extra mile to raise a deaf puppy. DSC_0011

What can people expect from a deaf dog, compared to a hearing dog?

The two are very much the same because when we train a puppy we are teaching them our communications skills. With a hearing puppy we teach them verbally but with a deaf puppy we teach them through visual hand signs. The main focus when training a deaf dog is to make sure the dog is looking directly at you. For this reason we start off all dog and puppies on a leash or a tether so we can tap them, teach them the “watch me” sign and then start teaching them commands through hand signs.

Your website is very informative and a great resource; you give tips and answer many questions. For newbies, can you tell us in a nutshell what are the most important things to know in terms of training and handling your deaf dog? How do dog owners communicate with deaf dogs?

To read up on positive reinforcement clicker training and substitute the sound of a clicker with a visual sign like and open flash of your hand . I start signing “watch me” and every time the puppy makes eye contact I give them an open flash of my hand to mark the correct response to my sign and then treat as a positive motivator. I start by signing for everything I do with the dog. So the first step is learning the simple signs or you can make up you signs but make sure you are consistent by using the same signs for the same commands. We do feature a short video on DeafDogsRock.com by Alisha McGraw where her video can teach you most of the signs you need to know. Also I highly recommend “tether training” you deaf dog the first week you have it because it bonds you to the dog and it also teaches then a lot in a short time. You can go to our Training Blog on Deaf DogsRock.com to learn more about deaf dog tether training.

Can dogs lose their sense of hearing with time or are they mainly born deaf?

Absolutely they can lose their hearing as they get older (senior dogs) or they can lose their hearing from infection or blunt force trauma to their head.

Who is the perfect adoptee and how is your adoption process?

Someone who can offer a safe and loving environment for the dog. Someone who is patient and will not ever punish the deaf dog with his hands but always redirect with a toy or treat. A home where the dog lives inside with the family but has access to secure fenced yard. A person or family willing to step up and be the deaf dog’s advocate. What I mean by advocate is help the dog become the best Canine Good Citizen he can be by taking the deaf dog out and socializing the dog. Also by enrolling in positive group clicker training classes (we use a visual marker instead of the sound of a clicker to mark the correct behavior) or at the very least for them to do their research on how to properly engage and train a deaf dog themselves. If you look on DeafDogsRock.com and go to our Deaf Dogs Rock Canine Good Citizen (CGC) and Therapy Dog Wall of Fame those are the kind of adoptees our friends in rescues look for when it comes to potential homes for deaf dogs.

If I already have a deaf dog and need help with general questions, can I contact you?

Yes I do get a lot of emails and I try to help as much as I can. I usually will direct a person with a problem or challenge to post their question on our Deaf Dogs Rock Facebook page because we have the most amazing Deaf Dog owner community. We have 12,000+ followers on FB and many of these deaf dog owners are very experienced and have been through years of training and raising deaf dogs. Whenever a question goes up within a couple of hours there will be anywhere from 30 to 150 comments under a particular question.

Can you describe a rescue experience that has moved you?

There are so many but one of my favorites is Indy’s Story. I got a message from one of our followers that a deaf boxer puppy had been returned to the shelter because it was deaf just after only 24 hours. I was going to list the puppy on my website but I had a FB friend who had been following DDR since day one and she had white boxers. She had mentioned a few weeks earlier she had learned all the signs and she really wanted to adopt a deaf boxer so instead of listing the puppy I sent her a text.

It was her day off and she was going to sleep in until she received my text I had the perfect deaf boxer for her but I needed her to get out of bed and drive from Ohio to Hamilton Co Indiana. Her head was spinning.

She tried getting the shelter to hold the dog for her to make the long drive but they don’t hold dogs. When I told our DDR FB followers what was going on they took it upon themselves to flood the Humane Society of Hamilton County with messages to “please hold the puppy for Vicky until she can get there”. The Humane Society’s phones were also ringing off the hook from our followers asking the staff at the shelter to hold the puppy for Vicky. One lady who lived near the shelter in Hamilton Co somehow saw what was going on and she took off work early to go “sit on the puppy” until Vicky could arrive from Ohio.

All of our followers in Australia, England, Texas and all over the country waited in anticipation for the outcome. After a few hours the shelter placed a photo on our DDR FB page and asked us to “call off our dogs” that they would indeed hold the puppy until Vicky could get there to get her new deaf puppy.

Vicky did not get home until 1am in the morning so everyone on FB had to wait for an update until the next morning. We had folks all over the world waiting on pins and needles but we had a huge FB Celebration the next morning when we all got news. We also had one of Vicki’s friends keeping us all updated throughout the day through text messaging. It was one of the most heartwarming adventures that it felt like we all went on together. You can read Indy’s Happy Tail in detail under our Deaf Dogs Rock Happy Tails section.

What are the biggest challenges your rescue center faces?

We are not a rescue center in the conventional sense of the word. We are a website which advocates for deaf dogs through education, networking, sponsoring deaf dogs, paying for neuter/spay surgeries/medical, transporting deaf dogs out of a bad situation into rescues we work with all over the country and even in Canada. Deaf Dogs Rock also provides training resources, inspiration through our Happy Tails and CGC – Therapy Dog Wall of Fame and we list deaf dogs in need of foster homes or forever homes.

What do you need most for your mission, and how can people get involved? In general, why should people adopt from a rescue?

Every community needs volunteers to either walk the dogs, go play with the dogs or even clean kennels. Most of my rescue friends put in 60 to 70 hours a day and they can only do so much. The dog need to be stimulated and given affection so they don’t go crazy being locked in a kennel until the right family comes along. If a young person can just commit to maybe 2 hours a week that makes a huge difference in a rescue dogs life while they are waiting for their forever home. We need people to consider fostering deaf dogs. Many of the rescues and shelters are over flowing with dogs so every family willing to sign up to be a foster family will save a life one dog at a time. People should consider adopting from a rescue because the only chance these dogs have is if families open their hearts and their homes to them. Deaf dogs may not be able to hear with their ears but they can certainly hear and know love through their hearts.

Do you have any upcoming events you want to share with our community?

We just got back from the National BlogPaws Conference in Tyson’s Corner, VA. Last year we won the Halo Foods Nose to Nose Social Media Award for the Best Cause Blog so we got to go back this year and we were awarded $2000 to go to our favorite Service Dog Foundation which was Saint Francis Service Dogs. Nitro and I came back and we presented the check to them today so that was very exciting. This weekend we will be at the 7th Annual Woofstock Dog Festival in Downtown Roanoke. My husband built the most amazing Deaf Dogs Rock kissing booth so we have some of our followers with well trained dogs coming into do meet and greets.

[PP: CONGRATS ON YOUR AWARD!]

If you could give pet owners one piece of advice, what would it be?

Give up your Starbucks everyday and put the money you save towards Positive Reinforcement Group Training Classes. My best advice is when you adopt a deaf (or hearing) puppy if you spend the first year of your deaf dog’s life doing consistent training and socialization, then you will have an amazing deaf dog you will be proud to take anywhere for the next 10 or 12 years.

What makes rescue so rewarding? What keeps you going?

Knowing that I can change people’s perceptions through advocacy, education and inspiration. If I can change how shelters view deaf dogs, I can buy the deaf dogs time to get a rescue or foster to make a commitment. I will never ever forget the day I saw a listing in the Philly PA Craigslist with the title “Deaf Dogs Rock” where the Philly Animal Control put an add up for a deaf pit bull which said “If you don’t believe a deaf dog rocks then just click here” and the link went back to our website. Can you imagine an animal control officer giving a deaf pit bull in Philly a chance at adoption? Somewhere someone at the AC of Philly saw our site and had an “Aha” moment. All I have to do is look into Nitro’s eyes and I know in my heart he would want me to do this for all the dogs out there just like him. My Nitro is my heart dog and deaf dogs like him deserve a chance at a happy life.

Do you have pets of your own?

Yes I have two deaf white boxers Nitro and Bud. I also have three hearing dogs Tallulah, Lexi and Bailey. I have three horses also and we live on a farm in Virginia with all of our animals.

Do you want to share websites and links with PackPeople?

If folks are thinking about adopting a deaf dog they can view our adoptable deaf dogs here: http://deafdogsrock.com/category/available-dogs

hear-with-heartsWebsite: http://deafdogsrock.com

Twitter: Deaf Dogs Rock

Facebook: Deaf Dogs Rock

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