Deaf Dog Donovan Brings Comfort to Others through His Therapy Work by Bruce Lecure
Australian Shepherds pick their owners. I have owned several of them in my life and they have all picked me. My dog Donovan is no different. He is a deaf blue Merle Australian Shepherd whom we adopted when he was 15 months old. The following story are the highlights of how Donovan picked us to be his new family.
In May of 2016, I began looking to adopt my twelve year old son’s first dog. He had wanted a dog for many years but I always delayed him by telling him that he needed to be old enough to handle the responsibility of caring for a dog. It seemed to me as though 12 years old was old enough for him to take on such a huge responsibility. I began browsing the local human society and rescue websites to see what dogs were available for adoption. I was convinced that my son would learn the most from adopting a shelter dog who really needed a home as much as he needed a dog to be by his side.
One day, much to my surprise, I saw the thumbnail of a beautiful Australian Shepherd whose name was Donovan and who looked so much like one of my Aussies who had brought so much joy to our lives but had since passed and crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. It seemed Donovan had been abandoned by his previous family who was going through a divorce and moving. How could someone have abandoned this beautiful dog? The rescue facility was having a great deal of trouble adopting Donovan out to the right family due to his deafness.
Donovan’s foster mom named him Donovan after the 1960’s rock star of the same name (because after all he is a rocker dog). Donovan’s foster mom enjoyed naming all of her large foster dogs after rock stars. His rescue biography described him as a superstar, a well behaved beautiful Aussie pup who just happened to be deaf. That four letter word D-E-A-F, made my heart sink. Were we really ready for a special needs dog? His deafness meant strike number one against poor deaf dog Donovan. It wasn’t until I did some reading about living with and training deaf dogs, that I realized Donovan didn’t have a problem with his deafness, it was me who had an issue.
The more research I did on living with a deaf dog, the more I started to get excited about setting up a meet and greet with deaf dog Donovan. When my son came home from school one day, I told him about this dog I had found named Donovan and I showed him a photograph of the dog. I expressed to my son how excited I was to find him (Aussies are rarely found in South Florida at the animal shelters). Then I explained to my son about his “special needs” of being deaf. My son became very quiet and a tear slowly ran down his cheek. He said, “Dad, I don’t want my first dog to be deaf.” Disappointed in his response, a tear ran down my cheek as I told him we would keep looking. Strike number two for poor deaf dog Donovan.
On the same rescue website, we found another mixed breed dog who seemed cute and adorable, a more “normal” dog that my son approved of. I made plans to make the two hour drive to Jupiter, FL to see the second dog we picked out for a meet and greet. My wife and son seemed excited to meet the second dog. Since it was a Sunday and the rescue was closed, we arranged to meet the second little dog at a local pet store parking lot. It seemed as though Donovan’s foster mom and Donovon had other ideas. The woman we were to meet showed up, opened the back of her SUV, and much to our surprise deaf dog Donovan jumped out of the kennel! He sat down right at our feet and flashed those big bright baby blue eyes at us. Within just a few seconds of meeting Donovan, we were all smitten with him. Donovan’s special needs never became a strike three. We never met the second little dog we drove 2 hours to adopt but we didn’t have to because Donovan had picked us to be his new family and we couldn’t wait to take him up on his love, loyalty, and affection!
For the past two in and a half years Donovan has been the joy in all of our lives. I have never known another dog who is so filled with so much love. He loves everything and everyone he meets, including cats, but especially kids. While I had never owned a therapy dog before, I thought this boy would be perfect for the job because of his calm demeanor and his deafness which can be an asset in loud medical facilities and school environments. I arranged for Donovan and I to be tested and evaluated by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. I thought to myself should I tell the evaluator that Donovan is deaf? No, I decided, why possibly prejudice the evaluator against him. So I told kept the fact that he is deaf to myself and no one noticed his deafness during the entire testing process. Donovan is a visual dog and he is so smart that to this day no one has ever noticed he is deaf unless I bring it up.
For over a year now, Donovan and I have been working as a Pet Therapy team in venues such as medical facilities, libraries, schools, and other special requests. He is on staff and is the canine face of the Balkan Pediatric Glaucoma Clinic at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, FL where he greet the children both before and after their medical appointments.
Donovan will soon be one of the first five members of the “Miami Hound Machine”, a pet therapy group sponsored by Miami International Airport. His incredible eyes mesmerize every one that he meets. His love brings joy and smiles to all, especially me!
Australian Shepherds are high energy working dogs and they can be very head strong and demanding. Deafness has never stopped Donovan. His deafness is one of his greatest assets and has never been a liability. I am convinced that his deafness keeps him calm in all noisy and stressful situations. His deafness also keeps him focused on the task at hand since he is not distracted by all of the extra auditory stimuli. There are days when I wish I could climb into his silent world of calm and joy.
I may never own a hearing dog again.
Coral Gables, FL