By Debbie Bauer
Here is my handsome, clever, fun-loving boy Vinny on our recent trip to Purina Farms. This picture was taken at their Visitor Center and he is smiling, which is his normal state of mind. You see, on this day, it was Saturday morning and the Visitor Center was full of children! In fact, we struggled at times to get a picture, as children were running up to him trying to pet him and say hello. Vinny loves children! They are just at his nose height and he thinks they smell divine!If you’ve followed this blog for very long, you know that I love to travel with and do all sorts of activities with my dogs. This blog just happens to focus on my dogs that are double merles and are therefore blind and/or deaf. But I do have other dogs too – dogs that can see and hear and aren’t double merles. I enjoy doing things with them as well.
I am a dog person through and through. My life does revolve around my dogs much of the time. And I love all my dogs – even the ones that can’t see and hear. Living with them, those differences fade from the forefront. I don’t focus on what they can’t do. We spend our time figuring out how to do more and more together.
I realize that to most people we meet out in public, my dog is an oddity. I mean, it isn’t every day that people meet a dog that can’t see or hear at all, right? People think I am some sort of rock star to sacrifice my life to care for this poor dog with such devastating disabilities. But this is not reality …
You see, that is only their perception. I have my own perceptions of the situation, too. To me, my dog doesn’t have any devastating disabilities. He is funny and smart and capable of doing anything – it just happens that he can’t see or hear. He loves to play. He likes new adventures. He has a personality. I am not a rock star. I am just a person, just like these other people, who happens to see past the differences to see all those things that a blind and deaf dog has in common with me. And I have chosen to make him my friend.
Some people say that me teaching Vinny to do fun things and earn dog sports titles is somehow encouraging people to want a blind/deaf dog just like him. They think that me enjoying my partnership with my dog is encouraging people to breed more dogs like him or to go out seeking a dog just like him. I guess they think I should hide him away somewhere where no one will see him – to keep him a secret that I’m ashamed of?
Again, I don’t do these things with my dog because he’s blind and deaf. I do these things with my dog because he’s my dog and we like doing things together! I like earning ribbons and titles with my dogs – all of them! I like traveling with my dog and watching him explore and learn about new things.
I hate to think about what would have happened had I hidden away all of my differently-abled dogs! When I started this blog, there was hardly any useful information out there about working with blind and deaf dogs. So many were killed. So many people didn’t think they were capable of learning anything at all – not even to be toilet trained!
Without my brilliant dogs showing the world that they are feeling, thinking and learning dogs, there are many dogs that would not have been given the chance to find great homes. Today, there are many differently-abled dogs out there having great fun doing activities with their people!
I love my dog just the way he is! But I would love him just as much if he had been born able to see and hear! It is not his fault that he was born this way. He wants to play and learn and explore. I want these things for him too. I don’t want to hide him away.
Yes, that means we do get a lot of attention. I use the attention we receive to help share with as many people as I can. I share about the consequences of breeding two merle patterned dogs together. I share about the realities of living with a blind and deaf dog – it’s not all a piece of cake! There are challenges. There are rewards.
I share with rescues and fosters and shelters how to teach these great dogs and find the best homes for them. I share to dispel myths. I share with fellow trainers so there will be more who can help clients with differently-abled dogs across the country and even around the world.
I’m proud of my dogs. Please don’t expect me to hide them away somewhere. How would you feel if someone expected you to hide your dog away somewhere? I know you’re proud of your dog too.
With anything that brings attention, there comes the risk that someone else wants to recreate it for themselves. If someone makes a movie about Dalmations and the dogs are so very cute, then so many people want a Dalmation whether it is the right breed for them or not. If someone makes the world agility team with a pyrenean shepherd and it’s super fast, then many people want a pyrenean shepherd. If people see me working with a blind and deaf Collie, will people want to get themselves a blind and deaf Collie too?
You get the idea. It’s not the fact that my dog is blind and deaf that may make people want to imitate me. It’s like this with anything – that is why we have fads. Someone thought something was cool and wanted it too. Education and advocating is the way to stop the double merle epidemic. Hiding them all away just won’t work.
I cannot stop the attention I receive from doing what I love with my dogs. My wish, though, is to teach compassion and responsible breeding. And to promote adoption of differently-abled dogs whenever it is the best match for that person. And always, I promote positive reinforcement training. This is the message I want people to get when they see me with my dogs. Don’t create more of them – but for the ones that are already here, make their lives as full as possible!
About the Author
Debbie Bauer, HTACP, operates Your Inner Dog in the Effingham, Illinois area and has over 25 years of teaching and consulting experience working with dogs and their people. She specializes in working with dogs that display shy, fearful and reactive behaviors and also has extensive experience working with dogs with special abilities, including deaf and blind/deaf dogs. Bauer has trained dogs in a variety of fields, including therapy work, flyball, herding, print ad and media work, obedience, rally, agility, musical freestyle, conformation, lure coursing, tricks and scent work. She has over 13 years of experience with custom-training assistance dogs, including medical alert dogs, to match the specific needs of each person. Her special interest lies in educating the public about dogs which are homozygous merle (often called double merle), and about how deaf, blind, and deaf/blind dogs can live happy fulfilled lives as part of a family.