Seeing into darkness is clarity . . .
This is called practicing eternity . . .


Friday, October 17, 2014

The Festival of WAG

At this year's Wagfest, Lottie Moon and her sis Kimba did double-duty. Long-time representatives of Speak!For the Unspoken Special Needs Rescue, Lottie and Kimba also were representing our new family venture, Sky Dogs. Since August 1, we have been the new owners of an agility and training facility. The former Buckeye Region Agility Group (BRAG), which has been my training club for almost 20 years, recently decided to close its doors. It was an opportunity for me and Joe to step up and take on the fun, and burden, of a wonderful club and facility. We are calling it Sky Dogs, named after my 14 year old agility Pomeranian, Skye.

So Lottie and Kimba represented Speak, and all the wonderful that is a part of rescuing these beautiful special-needs souls, and they also represented Sky Dogs, to show how training and fun can enrich all dogs, even those with special needs. I'm teaching a Deaf Dog Basics class this session at Sky Dogs, and we have 2 deaf dogs enrolled in Agility Level 1 this session. Next session I have a Deaf Dogs Agility on the calendar, and also a Special Needs Basic class, expanding to include both deaf and blind dogs. There was so much interest at Wagfest, partnering with Speak and offering special needs classes at Sky Dogs worked very well for both of our groups' interests.

Lottie and DM puppy Othello
Lottie and DM puppy Hazel Grace

And as usual, Lottie and Kimba were rock stars. It was super hot, it was Africa hot, but luckily there was lots of water, and ice, and ponds available for doggy cool-downs. Lottie is not much on swimming, but Kimba decided she wasn't a bit afraid, and she swam and swam and swam! It was her first time in the water, so we'll have to make sure she has plenty more opportunity to practice her doggy-paddle. 
It was hot.  It was Africa-hot.

Kimba also went to the Brilliant K-9 booth, and was fitted with her new harness. Joe chose the tie-dye pattern for her, which fits the little flower-child nicely. Lottie wore her zebra stripes harness, as usual. We love the Brilliant K-9s for our blind/deaf dogs, because they are so comfortable and allow us to guide our blind girls through crowds so easily. Terry was so wonderful when we met her last year at the Columbus Pet Expo and she fitted our Speak  dogs with harnesses, I always like to give a shout-out to this wonderful company. Check them out at

Friday, October 10, 2014

Deaf Dog Awareness Week. Yes, really.

     Since last month was National Deaf Dog Awareness Week (Spetemebr 21-27, 2014), I thought I would reflect on how deaf dogs have affected my life . . .  Wow.  Where to begin?


If you've read this blog, you know the beginning of my work with deaf dogs: it all started with a dog named Dhalia, who is completely deaf and blind. She was adopted by a friend of mine, and I was asked to help with training her.

 I became thoroughly entranced, and this fascination with Dhalia led me to search for my own deaf and blind dog to train, and I adopted Lottie Moon. Lottie came to live with me in February 2012, and from that day on, my life has never been the same. Lottie's multiple handicaps are in reality, not handicaps at all. She is happy and bold and fearless and relentlessly determined. She can do anything my other dogs can do. And she is an inspiration to me every single day. After adopting Lottie, I was contacted by a local rescue who knew about by blind/deaf girl, because they had a deaf aussie that needed a home. I took in little Hope, and eventually I found her a wonderful, loving home to call her own. About this time, Dhalia's owner was hatching her idea for a rescue specializing in blind/deaf dogs, and Speak for the Unspoken was born ( This was the perfect outlet for me to foster, transport, educate and promote the amazing abilities and wonderful, joyful temperaments of these unfortunate outcasts of the dog world, deaf and/or blind double merle dogs. Speak has saved hundreds of dogs in almost two years, and it has been a joy and an honor to be part of such a beautiful cause.

  Along the way, I have fostered many, and welcomed 3 more deaf dogs into my family: Keebler the Chihuahua, Kimber the Aussie, and Spring the Border Collie.


  When a friend commented to me one day that deaf dogs would not be able to be competitive in agility, I decided I had to prove him wrong, and I started my search for a talented deaf border collie. I found my beautiful, crazy nut Spring, and brought her home to Ohio from a breeder in Texas ( I wanted a training challenge, and I certainly found it in Spring (

 Because of the deaf dogs in my life, whether permanent family members, or merely passing through on their way to their new lives, deaf dogs have made me a better trainer ( (, and more importantly, a better person. I will never be as quick to judge, as quick to assume, as quick to condemn, as I was before deaf dogs entered my world. I have recently started teaching deaf dog obedience classes, and in October I will start teaching deaf dog agility classes  (

 I have seen so much prejudice against deaf dogs that is completely unfounded, and my goal is to continue to work to enlighten as many people as possible that deaf dogs are not to be pitied, not to be feared, but to celebrated and cherished. Deaf Dogs Totally Rock!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Umwelt (Wolf Park Part 2)


When Beth asked me to speak on working with disabled dogs at her Wolf Park training seminar, she told me that the theme for this year’s gathering was “empathy.”  She wanted participants to consider the world as interpreted by their dogs, and work to improve their empathy, and therefore their understanding, of their dogs.  On the first day, presenter Pat Goodwin of Wolf Park talked about “umwelt,” and this became a theme for all of us during each presentation throughout the weekend.

Umwelt is a German term that usually translates literally to “self-centered world.”  The concept of umwelt to behaviour was discussed and theorized by Jakob von Uexküll, who theorizedthat organisms can have different umwelten, even though they share the same environment. An organism creates and reshapes its own umwelt when it interacts with the world. The umwelttheory states that the mind and the world are inseparable, because it is the mind that interprets the world for the organism. Consequently, the umwelten of different organisms differ, which follows from the individuality and uniqueness of the history of every single organism. Uexküll's writings show a specific interest in the various worlds that he believed to exist ('conceptually') from the point of view of the umwelt of different creatures.
As I thought about this term in relation to blind and deaf dogs such as Lottie, I realized how appropriate it was to always keep in mind.  As a dog trainer, I always try to put myself in the mind of my dog, or my client’s dog.  And I think that I’m pretty good at it, and I’m guessing most trainers feel the same way.  Yet sometimes we have a dog who we just can’t figure out – why isn’t he behaving as we think he should?  I thought about the day, over 2 years ago, that my friend Victoria told me she was adopting a blind and deaf Australian shepherd, and asked me to help train her.  I remember distinctly trying to imagine what it would be like to 1) be a dog and 2) be blind and deaf.  I decided it would be awful, and lonely, and sad.  And I thought secretively that this poor dog Victoria was adopting should be euthanized.  There are so many healthy young dogs who can see and hear in shelters, why save one who must live such a sad and compromised life?  I couldn’t imagine how I could get any joy from a life in darkness and silence.  But then I met Victoria’s new dog, Dahlia.  I met a happy, confident, sweet, loving and joyful dog who was 100% blind and 100% deaf.  And I suddenly realized that I must not be as good as I thought I was at putting myself in the mind of a dog.  Because despite what MY brain told me, this dog behaved completely different than what I thought she should.  Obviously, her umwelt was quite different from mine.

Keebler, who is deaf
Once I became entranced with Dahlia and adopted my own blind and deaf dog, Lottie Moon, I realized that when I told someone I had a deaf and blind dog, everyone would respond in the same way.  People would wince and say something akin to “that’s so sad.”  To which I always respond brightly, “No it’s not.  She’s the happiest dog I know.  She has no idea she is blind and deaf.”

So this concept of umwelt really hit a chord in me.  We must always remember that we are coming from our own umwelt, and we must try to step away from that if we are to truly understand another.  Lottie’s umwelt without sight or sound is so completely different from mine that I really cannot conceive it.  Yet knowing her, and seeing her joy everyday despite her limited senses has made me a broader thinker, a better person, a more compassionate being.  A humbler being.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Speak! at the Columbus Pet Expo!


Lotte Moon, always smiling

This was Lottie's third year at the Columbus Pet Expo, and the first year that she was officially representing Speak! For the Unspoken, Good Deeds and Special Needs Rescue.  Two years ago, Lottie and I attended as part of the Petsmart booth, and last year we attended as representatives of the brand-new rescue, Speak!, but we didn't actually have a booth.  We just walked around wearing our Speak! shirts, and showing everyone how amazing the white blind/deaf dogs are.  We were such a hit last year, we knew having a booth would really be the bomb!  So our third year was busy and colorful, and all the Speak! dogs really outdid themselves -- We were a hit! 
Lottie and Kimba "watching" Joe just out of frame!

The booth was so visually stunning, but even the brilliant colors couldn't outshine our white dogs.  Lottie loves this work, she really enjoys showing everyone how amazing she is, I just love to watch her in action.

Lottie loves this work.
Kimba with Lottie

                                                                                                This year was Joe's first year, and he was just as amazing to watch as the dogs.  He brought his blind/deaf puppy, Kimba, and had a blast talking to people and showing them how incredible our double merle dogs are.   
Lottie and Kimba showing off their skills for treats

Kimba's PR debut
Kimba was remarkable.  She, like Lottie, loves the attention and seems to really understand her role in educating the public that double merles are not dogs to feel sorry for!  They don't know they have disabilities, and they are the happiest, sweetest dogs you'll meet.


Cowboy working the booth
 Cowboy attended on Sunday, and this gorgeous boy had no trouble attracting admirers.     After 3 days of PR, all the Speak! dogs were tired, but happy, and no doubt dreaming of next year. . .  
Lottie with Cowboy, exhausted on the way home

My favorite photo from the weekend.  Little Kimba showing she is truly magical!

Lottie and Kimba

May I help you?


Dahlia and Lottie Moon

There's a lot of cuteness in the Speak! booth

Me and my girl

Lottie "watching" the border collie frisbe demo

Lottie loves this work

The best booth at the Expo!