Living with a deaf (and blind) dog: Keller’s amazing story

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Keller at three months old

Since it’s Deaf Dog Awareness Week, here’s the story of my deaf (and blind) Great Dane puppy, Keller.

I had always admired the Great Dane’s poise and nobility, and
last year decided the time was right to add one of these beautiful animals to my home.

The Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League had lots of
Danes that needed homes, and I got involved with their rescue efforts. One day, they contacted me because a Great Dane puppy was about to be euthanized and needed a home right away.

A breeder who claims he can breed “white” Danes had given this puppy to a customer as part of the purchase of another Dane. With Great Danes, and many other breeds, an all-white dog is the result of a
genetic defect. This defect can also result in deafness and, in extreme cases, blindness.

The new dog owner did not know what he had, but took the 8-week-old puppies to a vet for their initial checkup. The vet discovered immediately that one of the dogs was deaf and blind. He recommended the puppy be
euthanized because the dog wouldn’t have a very good quality of life. The owner left the puppy at the vet’s office to be put to sleep. Thankfully, one of the techs took the puppy home and contacted the rescue league.


Keller now weighs more than 100 lbs. — too big to go for a ride

I didn’t think long when the league asked if I could give this puppy a home. In the time between the phone call and picking him up, I wondered if I might be getting in over my head with a deaf and blind dog.

I had no experience with special-needs animals, but I knew this little guy needed a home and I knew I could give him the one thing he needed most: love. My only hope was that I would do right by this deserving puppy.

We got Keller in November of 2007. He’s a little over a year old now and I can say that his lack of sight or
hearing has not been a problem. He is a healthy, strong dog who runs and plays with his brother Merlin,
another rescued Dane of about the same age, and his sister Shiloh, a 7-year-old Shepherd/Collie mix.

It was a little daunting at first dealing with a puppy who could not see or hear me. Puppies need to know everything is alright. They depend on the sight of you and your soothing voice. My wife and I spent many
nights, in the beginning, sitting up with Keller, holding him, petting him until he would fall asleep in exhaustion.

Keller is truly an amazing animal. He has an incredible sense of smell and awareness of his surroundings. Many people are surprised to find out he is deaf and blind. He rarely bumps into things as he runs
through the house. I think he has formed a mental map of the layout of our home and back yard.


Keller loves his big sister, Shiloh

He knows when you are near. He knows if you are on the first
floor of the house or standing near his crate. He’s sensitive to creaks and
vibrations in the floor. He perks up when he senses you’re close by.

One really amazing thing is the way I get Keller to come
into the house from the back yard. Most times, he just follows his brother and sister, but sometimes he is very engrossed in some interesting smell and doesn’t come in right away.

I discovered I can clap loudly and he feels the vibration of the sound. He can also see bright lights. If I flash the light by the back door or clap, he runs directly to me. At that point, I get a big hug and lots of tail wagging because he is so happy he found me again.

If I want Keller to follow me, I touch his chin and he stays right behind me. I never need to remind him it’s dinner time; I just touch his food bowl to his chin and he runs to his apartment-sized crate and spins around
inside waiting for me to set the bowl down. We have developed quite a routine based on touch and smell.

People always ask how he gets along not being able to see or hear, and I reply: He doesn’t know any difference. I was the one who needed to adapt. Keller is just fine.

See videos of Keller:

Introducing Keller

Keller gets ready for bed

Keller’s new toy

Previous entry:

Living with a deaf dog: An update on Alan