I never set out looking for a special needs dog, but when I saw Arlo's picture online something just clicked. It was a blurry, pixelated picture of a white puppy standing about 15 yards away, and I was captivated. I read the bio that he was blind and deaf and my first thought was "I think we can do this" and I dove into research. There are only a few resources online for training and caring for blind and deaf dogs, so I thought I must only have a fraction of the bigger picture. I reached out to the rescue, told them what I had learned so far, and shared my interest but concern that we may not be a good fit for him. They assured me we were. But how could they know? How could they be so certain that my husband and I could handle a blind and deaf dog after only a 15 minute conversation?
The answer was clear within 4 days. Arlo was a permanent member of the family and I had quickly learned the lesson that blind and deaf dogs are just dogs.
That's not to say adjustments weren't in order. Arlo communicates through touch and smell which was a language we had to learn with him. Also, he operates through familiar spaces based on memory. Suddenly it was very important to push in our chairs after dinner, to keep cabinets and drawers closed, and to not move the furniture all at once (as I loved doing). It's also not to say that there aren't still challenges. You can't tell a blind and deaf dog "no" so we need to anticipate his bad behaviors and curb them. Arlo gets scared sometimes of things we can't see or understand. We have no way to tell him there's nothing to be afraid of.
But for every "limit" Arlo has, there are at least twenty areas of limitlessness that make him no different than any other dog. Arlo loves to play, to cuddle, to walk and hike (and he doesn't chase squirrels!), to EAT, and to be a goofball. He's brimming with joy and a need to both love and be loved. I wouldn't trade him for any dog in the world.
And then we adopted our sweet, silly Amelia. When I was talking to Arlo's trainer about her she asked, "Is she special needs too?" I replied "She's deaf" and the trainer said, "Oh. So, no."
Deaf dogs thrive. Dogs' primary form of communication is body language, not sound, so deaf dogs are at no disadvantage. Again, it took adjustment for us to learn to speak with our body but Amelia responded to many things without any training at all, based solely on instinct. The fact that deaf dogs are seen as damaged in any way is down right laughable. Any person willing to put in the time that they should to train any dog would be able to communicate with a deaf dog. They're wonderful. And they don't bark when the doorbell rings!
Here's the thing about dogs with special needs: they need lots of love, patience, time, and care. But here's the thing about all of that: every dog deserves that dedication. Every dog is a responsibility, and no dog should be adopted without consideration of that responsibility. Anyone willing to give as much of themselves as a dog will give back would love a dog like Arlo or Amelia. That's because Arlo and Amelia are dogs. Just dogs.