Rescue Stories

Why Deaf Dogs Rock: Interview With Non-Profit Founder Christina Lee

She has made it her life’s mission to help get deaf dogs off of shelter euthanasia lists and into forever homes.

The sweet story about six year old Connor and deaf boxer Ellie instantly stole our hearts last year. In case you missed it, Connor is severely delayed developmentally and uses some sign language to communicate. His mom Brandi decided to foster Ellie and was shocked at how instantly the two connected and how they were even able to communicate with some sign language. Brandi knew she couldn’t separate the two so she adopted Ellie, making her a permanent member of the family. And how can we forget Julia, who is also hearing impaired, and her deaf dog brother Walter? Julia’s mom knew that mixed breed puppy Walter was meant to be adopted into their family when he would smell her neck the same way her daughter did as a baby. Sister Julia quickly taught him some signs so that the two could communicate, and they’ve been besties ever since!

Unleashed recently had the pleasure of chatting with Christina Lee of Deaf Dogs Rock, who has made it her life’s mission to help get deaf dogs off of shelter euthanasia lists and into foster homes and eventually forever homes. Her website is also the best resource for anyone looking for information, training tips, adoption help, and anything else you could imagine pertaining to hearing impaired dogs. You can also see all of the deaf dogs available for adoption across the country, and they are ADORABLE! Without further adieu, here is the inspiring Christina Lee.

How did Deaf Dogs Rock get started?

We adopted Nitro (above) in November 2010 when he was just 10-12 weeks old, and 9 months later we launched Deaf Dogs Rock. Nitro was a little deaf boxer puppy that a breeder had dumped at a river and was later found by Animal Control. One of the local shelter directors asked if I would be interested in adopting a deaf puppy, and it all started there.

I had three rescue dogs at the time, I wasn’t really looking for a dog, certainly not a puppy and I didn’t know anything about deaf puppies. That was the first one I had ever really met. I actually left it up to my husband. I said, you know what? I’m not going to say no. He’ll say no and then I’ll be off the hook. And he saw a picture and said, I think we should do it.

Before we launched, if a deaf dog came into a shelter, it would be put to sleep immediately, they wouldn’t even consider adoption or rescue agencies. And now, when you go to our website and look at the adoptable deaf dogs, probably over half of those are shelters listing their deaf dogs who are up for adoption. That took a lot of work, because I use to send so many letters to shelters who would say “we are going to put this dog to sleep and somebody needs to take it.” You literally had to stop and educate them, and say let me share some links with you or let me share what could happen if you give this dog a chance. And so many shelters wrote back and said, we had no idea. Now we have the resources on our website that help volunteers get started with beginner sign and watch me training. There’s enough materials up there that you don’t need to know anything and you can put a leash on a deaf dog and start working with them pretty quick. 

What is the most common question you get asked?

An email I get everyday is, “I just purchased a puppy or I just got a puppy from the shelter and I noticed he’s not responding to me, should I take him to the vet and get a Baer test?” Baer tests are extremely expensive, they are a brain auditory test. I always tell them to wait until the puppy is asleep, and jingle some keys, or use a squeaky toy. And if they don’t wake up, they are most certainly deaf. 

Why are most of the dogs on your adoption page white?

There’s a genetic disposition towards dogs that are white in color to be more inclined to be hearing impaired. White dogs don’t have color pigment in their ears which causes the hair in their ears to be white as well. Without that color pigment, those little nerve endings atrophy and die off in the first few weeks of life. But there’s no way to tell the color of the hairs in the inner ear by looking at the visible color of the dog’s ear. It’s important to note that although many dogs with white ears will be deaf, many deaf dogs have colored ears as well. 

Are certain breeds more prone to deafness?

There are one hundred breeds on the breed list that are prone to deafness. Most of the bully breeds are on there because there are so many white bully puppies. And then you have the Aussie Shepherds, the Danes and the Merle breeds. And I probably get requests asking for help from Catahoula puppy owners at least once a day. 

What’s the most common misconception about deaf dogs?

People think a deaf dog is more aggressive. And that’s an old myth. Studies have been done and they are actually twenty percent less aggressive than a hearing dog. If you take a deaf dog that has been tied outside since it was puppy, then obviously you might have issues. But if you take a regular deaf dog that has been socialized with other dogs and has been treated like a regular dog, they are not going to be any more aggressive than a hearing dog. We do a little bit more training with our dogs. We make sure to touch them a lot when they are asleep so they don’t startle when you wake them up.

Are deaf dogs similar to hearing impaired people in that other senses are heightened when one sense is compromised?

Most definitely. If you look on our extraordinary deaf dogs page, there are so many dogs doing scent work and they are even winning major scent titles. Deaf dogs are also being used a lot more as therapy dogs, because if I wanted to take a deaf dog into a correctional facility for mental health therapy, that dog would just soar because correctional facilities are extremely loud. A regular hearing dog would have a lot of anxiety in that situation, whereas deaf dogs are unable to hear all the noise. So people are slowly finding out, and it’s taken a couple of years to get there, that they do really well with therapy work. 

Anything else you would like people to know about deaf dogs?

Go to the website to become educated so that if you hear of a deaf dog in your area they can send people our way, or if they see one at the shelter they can say, “Hey! Go to Deaf Dogs Rock and they can list the dog for adoption.”

Also, my deaf dogs love people and they love little kids. My little Boston Terrier Bowie especially loves children. Once you get to know a deaf dog, they are just like regular dogs. Why should they be put to sleep? Just because they can't hear?! That’s ridiculous. 

Were you always such an avid dog lover?

My mom always brought home rescue dogs so I kind of got that from her. We always had lots of animals when I was little. We have horses here and chickens. Dogs are my life though, they are in my DNA. I get that from my mom.

If you came to my farm right now, between the horses and the chickens and the dogs, you would notice our fenced in front yard and our two fenced in yards in the back. We even have a fenced in one acre horse pasture just for deaf dogs, so that all the local people who have deaf dogs who are unable to go to dog parks, can come out here and let their dogs run and play so that they can be off leash and also be safe.

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