Each year the last full week of September serves as National Deaf Dog Awareness Week. In recognition of these important pets, we had the opportunity to speak with an Ohio pet lover who shares her home with a deaf dog.
Amelia Binderfolder lives in Westerville, Ohio with her pit bull mix, Venus. Looking at Venus, right away, it is obvious that she is special. She sports a unique all-over white coat with tiny brown freckles, a somewhat unusual appearance for a pit bull breed. She is about two years old, but has an astounding puppy-like energy. Venus is also completely deaf, possibly a result of irresponsible breeding to achieve her distinct appearance.
Amelia adopted Venus from Speak for the Unspoken, a non-profit organization dedicated to foster-based rescue and specializing in rescue of special needs dogs. Their mission is to find these animals perfect homes and help them live happy lives regardless of their impairments.
Of course communication with a deaf dog is a bit different than with a hearing one. Amelia said that despite knowing Venus cannot hear a word she says, she talks to her all the time. “She can definitely read facial expressions as I talk,” Amelia said.
Venus also knows a series of sign language commands, some straight from American Sign Language, and others a slight variation. She was already well-trained before she came into Amelia’s life by her foster mother from Speak for the Unspoken. For simple actions like “sit,” “stay,” and “stop,” Amelia can make single hand gestures to her dog. Venus complies as if having heard the command spoken aloud.
“The only major difference is in getting her attention,” Amelia said. Since she cannot hope to get Venus to come when called, she must put herself in Venus’s line of sight and beckon at her to come. It is highly effective because Venus absolutely loves to be with people, especially her “mom.” “She never seems to like to be too far from her people,” Amelia said.
This benefits Amelia when it comes to the one major fear in owning a deaf pet: what would hap-pen if the pet were to get loose and run away? The few times that Venus has gotten free from the yard or leash, she has come back almost right away.
Perhaps somewhat as a result of her impairment, Venus is very cuddly. Amelia said that this is also just her loving personality. During our interview, Venus climbed and rolled all over, licking, nuzzling and definitely showing a craving for nearly constant touch with humans.
According to Amelia, every person who meets Venus immediately falls in love. Although Venus interacts well with humans, sometimes she is at a disadvantage with other dogs because she cannot hear. It is sometimes more difficult for Venus to understand when another dog is afraid and defensive, aggressive, or just wants to play. Because of this, Amelia takes a little extra caution when Venus meets other dogs. As Amelia said, “Social cues are sometimes lost on her.”
When asked the most important thing she wants people to know about having a deaf dog, Amelia’s answer is firm: owning a deaf dog is not that much harder than owning a hearing dog, and it is worth it. She adopted Venus because she felt inspired to take in a dog with special needs, and wanted to adopt Venus because she was also possibly less likely to be adopted due to negative stereotypes associated with her breed. It is clear that never once has she regretted her choice for any reason. “With good training, communication with a deaf dog can be just about as easy and natural as it is with a hearing dog,” she said.
Amelia’s mother chimed in, adding that she was initially not convinced when Amelia wanted to adopt Venus, but that now the happy-go-lucky dog has completely won her over. She calls Venus the sweetest dog she has ever owned, “And I’ve owned many dogs… now I will never own another breed.”
Without a doubt, Venus has settled down comfortably in the hearts of all who know her. In the future, Amelia hopes to open her heart and home to more special needs dogs. “I will hopefully own another deaf dog in the future, hopefully another deaf bully breed,” she says, rubbing Venus’s belly as the dog lays sprawled over her lap. She laughs as Venus seems to encourage that thought with wet kisses to her face. – Kelsey Hardin
To follow Venus and her life in her happy home, like her Facebook page, “Venus The Wonder-Bull.”
Kelsey Hardin is a crazy cat lady and graduate of the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio. Living back in Columbus where she grew up, she spends her spare time writing, cuddling cats, crafting, spending time with friends, and catching local concerts and theatre shows.