Born in late November 2010 in a litter of puppies from an unknown mother and father was a little, white mixed-breed male. We do not know what the first months of his life consisted of, but, at some point, he went exploring, as puppies do, and never heard his name calling him back. You see, this white dog with a brown patch over his right eye could not hear his name or the barking from his mother because he was born deaf.
So, one day while he was out, he was found by county animal services and taken in as a stray. Although the life of an animal at the services shelter is better than fending for himself, it is only for a short term until he is adopted. In January 2012, after more than a year of not being adopted, Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue found him. It only took one look into his eyes by one of the volunteers and he was transferred to Honor’s facility, from a cold walled cubicle to a lovely pastel cottage with windows and an outside run. Patches found his new beginning.
Not being able to hear, he became hard to handle and excitable to new people and things. Although this adorable and loving dog with big loving eyes has put fear in some, he also took the hearts of others. As a result of his deafness, his sight proved to be one of his keenest senses, so the staff and volunteers whom he saw the most became important. One such volunteer, Tracy Brown, was the first person to be captured by his love and soon found out that he was deaf. Once again, looking into his puppy eyes, she saw a dog searching for love and a way to communicate.
When time permitted, Brown researched deaf dogs and found that there was a way to talk to this wonderful dog — sign language. Not the same sign language that we would use, but a combination of hand signals related to dog commands and a lot of positive reinforcement. Because of her devotion to the dogs at Nate’s, she undertook a difficult task and started working with him several days a week for several hours each time, and was able to teach him the simple commands that most dogs learn in their early years and, more importantly, to give him a chance for a forever home.
Now, this is where I enter the picture. While searching for a dog after a 15-year hiatus, I joined a core group of volunteers and became intrigued with the difficult dogs. Having looked into Patches’ eyes and seeing the love he had to offer, I assisted Brown with training him. So, the question became, how does a deaf dog living in Florida find a forever home in Ohio? The Internet? No — at a friend’s gathering in Chicago.
Because I am proud of the work that is done at the rescue center, I keep photos of some of the dogs on my phone. While on a recent trip I was showing photos of my rescue dog and a photo of Patches sequenced. After the remarks of how beautiful he was, I explained the challenges he and his future parents face with his deafness, and that was enough for one young couple. On my return to Florida, we started weeks of exchanging emails, phone calls and text messages. Soon, this lovely couple wanted to finalize information for Patches’ adoption.
With the generosity of his new parents, Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue and volunteers, we were able to make the arrangements for me to drive him to his new home. So at 6 p.m. Nov. 15, 2012, after a tearful goodbye, Patches’ journey from Nate’s Honor Animal Ranch in Bradenton to his new home in Ohio started.
After 22 hours of travel and 1,090 miles of me driving and him sleeping, we pulled into a driveway on a quiet residential street in Lewis Center, Ohio. As he exited the back of the car, into a cold he did not yet know, he saw two strangers with hands extended and many treats waiting just for him.
It only took minutes for a dog that did not like surprises to adjust. Patches quickly understood that these two people wanted only to give him love and he quickly settled down to treats and kisses. After checking out his new house with its strange smells, he was going to meet his new sisters. Sisters? Wait, first a long car ride, then new parents, a new home and now sisters?
Molly, a 10-year-old border collie, and Ripley, an 8-year-old border collie, entered the room one at a time, cautious to meet their new brother. The family room was quiet as the sniffing began, and then you could feel the tension change. The tail wagging started and a feeling of calm came over the room. But, how do two dogs that communicate between each other by barking, talk to their new brother, Patches? The remainder of the evening brought mixed tension as the dogs figured out what was what. When it was time for Patches to get some sleep, he was led to his sleeping crate (only after Ripley had gone in to check out Patches’ sleeping quarters) and he fell sound asleep.
Several hours later, his new family woke to early morning cries. Not remembering where he was, Patches had awakened in a strange home and became scared. The situation was quickly resolved by moving him to a position in the family room next to his new parents, and soon he fell fast asleep again.
On my waking the next day, I went to the family room wondering what I would find. To my enjoyment, I found Molly on her bed, Ripley in the arms of her mother, and Patches was curled up with his new dad. The next day brought more wonder, from his seeking out his new parents for treats to his playing tag with Ripley and Molly in the yard; Patches had a lot for which to be thankful.
So, on the third day of this excursion, with Patches curled up sound asleep and with wet eyes, I wished him well in his new life and left for home, knowing we all had a lot for which to be thankful.
Although this “tail” is of a special dog, I believe it represents hope for all the animals that are in a shelter and the dedicated love that the staff and volunteers give to these animals. It is my belief that no dog should remain in a shelter forever or put to sleep because they he is labeled “unadoptable.” The right person and the right training are available so that this hope can be a reality.
Bob Swiatek is a resident of Lakewood Ranch and a volunteer at Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue.