Friday, September 27, 2013

Adopting a "Less Adoptable" - Bella

Mom to Cordi, Darlene is no stranger to special needs pets. Prior to adopting Cordi, Darlene and her husband, Ed, adopted a deaf dog - not just deaf, but a black dog too.

We thought it only appropriate to let Darlene share her story of adopting a "less adoptable" pet...

“Bella Luna” (Beautiful Moon), or just Bella, is our Deaf Dog that Rocks!!

Favorites: Chasing butterflies, chasing Cordi (sister), chasing squirrels, chasing bunnies - A CATAHOULA FOR YOU!

Knows the following hand signals (though she doesn't necessarily listen all the time): "sit", "stay", "come", "eat", "give", "good girl", "no!", "easy", "kiss", "silly", "what?" and "go".

She shares her home with several cats, a 13.5 yr old lab (the boss) and a 1 yr old boxer mix (other 1/2 of mischief).

Months after our blue heeler, Willow, passed at the age of 12 years we were looking to adopt. The Catahoula breed peeked our interest, however the few adoptables we had sought out would need to be transported quite a distance at our expense. We backed off on looking for a while, then found Bella (then named Onyx) on There she was with the little "special needs" heart stamp beside her photo.

This enduring black Catahoula was found abandoned on a dirt road in Arkansas ... and then found her way into our hearts.

She would certainly have a story to tell about her first 4 months as a pup - was it abuse? An accident? Or perhaps an attack? We may never know, but when she arrived into the safety of rescue, Bella had a few scarred toes and a tail that is missing a few inches. And was she deaf before or after these other physical changes to her?

Whatever happened, we knew Bella definitely would be "different" and we knew adopting Bella would be opening a new chapter in our lives. I guess adjusting has always been apart of our lives, at least looking back over a decade starting with a FIV+ kitty and another we were fostering for a lady who told me there was "no place in adoption for a damaged kitten" (yea, we kept that "foster"). We don't even think about anything being so wrong that an animal doesn't deserve a home or that we can't adjust to something - adding a ramp, giving medications, etc. After all, anything throughout their life can alter what may start off as even the "perfect" animal.

So, a deaf dog? Why not! With some research on caring for a deaf dog, we decided we were up for the challenge. We drove two hours to meet her and knew she was ours! Life is about experiences and now ours includes signing along with all the fun and typical challenges that come with raising a dog from a pup to now, a young adult at 1.5 years.

The addition of a "deafie" has required several adjustments. For instance, off-leash training is a little different with a deafie. Bella obviously can't hear the dangers with passing cars and can't hear you calling, so until we are confident with her "checking-in" skills (that is when she looks at us periodically to check our whereabouts), Bella is on the leash while outside the fence. This can take some time and typically involves a vibration collar and feeling confident in that your deafie will respond to commands (hand signals rather than word commands). Thankfully, we have a fenced in yard, which I consider a must have for most deafies - she's got the freedom to romp safely and we know the perimeter to look for one another in. She is also very in tuned to her surroundings. If one of my other pups is reacting to a stranger at the door, she will follow suit. If they leave the room, she usually "checks in" with them too - getting up to see their whereabouts. Oh, and it is said that "deafies" get the best sleep in the house - this is definitely true for Bella! Whenever we need to wake her, we put our hand up to her nose so our scent wakes her slowly from sleep rather than abruptly touching or startling her with contact.

Bella knows many hand signals and this will only grow. There are some deafies out there that know an upwards of 20-30 signs. We have adapted to signaling and use it often, even with our hearing abled pups as well. It has become a part of our vocabulary. I've even caught my self using it with people I know! We sometimes require extra patience with Bella, which can be attributed to her deafness ... or the fact that she is still a puppy and "listens" when she feels like it. She is our only pup to have ever participated in agility and she has even won a costume contest (no stage fright for her)! We are very proud of her ribbons.

When Bella is out in public she wears a "Deaf Pet" vest to hinder people from abruptly coming from behind and spooking her. You can't guarantee (even with a hearing dog) that they won't react defensively, so the vest helps with that. With her vest on, people often come and ask us questions, which we enjoy answering. I get asked a lot if Bella barks - yes, she barks! Louder then the other pups too. We've noticed many people from the hearing impaired community tend to greet us and often themselves own a deaf dog.

If I had to say anything about adopting a special needs pet, it'd be education through research and following subject related chat sites are key to a special needs adoption. Everyone in the household should agree on making any adjustments that might be necessary to care for the animal too. There are adjustments (we got the Catahoula we wanted, but she was deaf), some minor and some major, when you adopt a special pet, but to us, Bella is worth every bit of "different" that she is.

If you're considering adopting a deafie, a source for valuable information and adoptable deaf dogs can be found at

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