(Courtesy of Claudia Moder of Green Acres Boxer Rescue of Wisconsin)

  By: Claudia Moder
Green Acres Boxer Rescue of WI

at: http://www.geocities.com/greenacresboxerrescue/BoxerBriefs/DeafWhites.html

One of my abiding "life theories," so to speak, is that all people have equal value. I learned this while I was growing up, watching my stepfather chatting amiably with everyone from a restaurant bus boy to Billy Joel. My mother always put her money directly into the cashier's hand and didn't toss it on the counter. I learned that the "right" way to live was to be respectful towards everyone, regardless of race, income, or level of ability. Now that I spend so much of my life with dogs, I've extended this philosophy to my way of thinking about them. Somewhere along the line I fell in love with the Boxer breed and I feel I have a responsibility towards all needy Boxers, regardless of breeding, physical appearance, or (perceived) disability.

Depending on which statistics you read, up to 25% of each Boxer litter is comprised of white puppies. Of those white puppies, approximately 18% are deaf. Deafness may be present in one or both ears. A BAER test may be performed to determine the degree of deafness, but the test is rather invasive and uncomfortable for the dog. In rescue, we see a significantly higher than average percentage of deaf Boxers, because they are much more likely to be dumped. I can say without hesitation that of all the Boxers I have fostered in my home, the deaf ones have brought me just as many moments of hilarity and joy as have their hearing counterparts. I never think of them as being disabled. When I need to get the attention of one of the deaf ones, I simply stomp my foot (to cause a vibration) or flip a light switch. I then use hand signals to convey whatever it is I need to say. And then, the odds are fairly good that they'll ignore me just as successfully as their hearing playmates do.

To me, a Boxer is a Boxer is a Boxer. If a breeder endeavors to bring a litter into the world, he/she must take responsibility for each life that is created. As long as he is viable and healthy, a deaf white Boxer deserves a spot on someone's couch as surely as his littermates do.

For the record:

· White Boxers are not albinos.
· White Boxers are just as healthy as their colored counterparts. Boxers are prone to a number of health issues including cancer, thyroid problems, and cardiomyopathy. These dreaded illnesses are distributed across the breed as a whole and there is no evidence that white Boxers are more at risk.
· The only additional health consideration for the white Boxer is an increased risk of sunburn, as is the case with many white animals.
· White Boxers are not rare. Beware of any breeder who tries to sell a "rare" white Boxer at a higher fee. 20-25% of the world's population of Boxers is hardly rare.

The history of the white Boxer is an interesting one. At one time, white Boxers were highly regarded and stigma-free. Most people say that the white Boxer fell out of favor during wartime, when it was discovered that a white dog was too easily seen at night and therefore not a good messenger or watch dog. Eventually, all white Boxers were removed from the stud books and in time the breed standard was re-written to exclude them specifically. For many years, white Boxers were culled (killed) at birth (even today there are breeders that continue to maintain this ghoulish practice.) Because the breed standard dictates that Boxers may be fawn or brindle, with not more than one-third of the coat being white, white Boxers became a mark of shame for many breeders. Although the American Boxer Club never directly condoned the culling of white Boxers, its regulations did not provide breeders a means to sell or place the whites. Many decades later, the ABC relaxed those regulations. Today, each breeder is expected to place white Boxers in good homes with an enforceable spay/neuter policy. Although white Boxers are just as healthy as their colored counterparts, deafness is linked with the recessive white gene and therefore it is essentially taboo (and rightly so) to breed a white Boxer.

Caesar was my first experience with a deaf dog. His former owner was moving into an apartment that did not permit dogs, so he surrendered Caesar to our rescue. Caesar was one of the most striking dogs I had ever seen. He had one blue eye and one brown eye, and quite a regal air about him. At the same time, though, he had the same goofiness that is so endearing in Boxers. Caesar knew a number of hand signals and was quite well behaved. I don't recall that he ever got into any trouble at all in the time that he lived at my home. One day we took some of the dogs to a "meet and greet" day at a local Petco store. A couple stopped by and subsequently fell in love with Caesar. They had not had a deaf dog previously, but seemed quite willing to learn and to do whatever was needed to provide a good home for Caesar. A week or two later, they adopted him.

As time went on, I began to sense that they had a bit of frustration with Caesar. He was a headstrong dog and I suspect that he may not have conformed to their lifestyle as well as they would have liked. Eventually, they called me and asked me to come and retrieve the dog. They felt that Caesar was challenging them and they had become nervous around him. Since I'd had Caesar at my home for quite some time before he was placed, I felt that he was a "good" dog and wanted to give him another chance at finding a forever home. He was just one of those dogs with whom you must be quite assertive, or he would surely take advantage. If a dog becomes confused and can't recognize an alpha within the household, he may just decide that he is the Big Kahuna.

Soon after Caesar's return, I got an email from a couple that had already adopted a young deaf pup from our rescue. Michelle and Jason had dedicated themselves to Bella and had had great success in training her. Although I could scarcely believe that they would want to take on the challenge of raising a second deaf dog, I invited them to come and meet Caesar. Bella and Caesar got along famously and Caesar really seemed to warm up to the couple. Within a week, they had adopted Caesar. Today, he is still doing very well and Michelle and Jason report that they are very happy with both dogs. I'm sure it is challenging for them at times, but they have told me that they feel they couldn't have selected two better dogs.

As rescuers, we understand that not everyone is equipped (or even willing) to raise a deaf dog. We do have some additional requirements for adopting a deaf Boxer, in the interest of increasing the odds that an adoption will be successful. An adopter must take the dog to at least one series of training classes. We feel that it is imperative that the dog and guardian learn how to communicate with each other. There are standard hand signals in place for obedience training, and deaf dogs are fully capable of learning those hand signals. We also insist on a fenced yard, or some sort of enclosure for the dog. If a deaf dog gets a hankering to run, it is almost impossible to call him back (unless you have a vibrating collar, which is a wonderful product manufactured specifically with deaf dogs in mind.) Lastly, we prefer to place deaf dogs in a home with a hearing dog (although we did make an exception in the case of Bella and Caesar).

Last year we placed a deaf Boxer named Bandit with a young couple who already had a female Boxer. Bandit was originally surrendered to us by a family who said, "He's a nice dog, but we just can't work with him the way he is." As if all would be fine if Bandit would just get over this deafness thing that was inconveniencing them so. Evidently the breeder had been well aware that Bandit was deaf as a post, but had passed him off as a hearing dog. I would surely rather have Bandit in a loving home that wants him than to think of him living with a family that harbors even the slightest bit of resentment towards him. Bandit's new family owns a Harley Davidson dealership and Bandit has a very important customer service position at the shop. Actually, I suspect that he just runs around wreaking havoc in the shop, but he's happy and that's the important thing.

Currently I have a young whippersnapper named Lily at my home. Lily makes me laugh every single day. I don't know what is in her feet, but the folks at Nike should check it out and file for a patent. As I attempt to watch television in the evenings, there is a white streak bouncing off the couch, the bookcase, the wall, and so forth. She plays with the other dogs until, one by one, they tire out and leave her stranded. The only time Lily's deafness becomes apparent to me is when I come home at lunchtime to let all the dogs out. Generally, she is fast asleep inside her crate, whereas all the other dogs hear me coming from the time I pull up in the driveway. For the past couple of weeks I've been taking Lily to some obedience classes. Despite her limited attention span (she is only seven months old), Lily has already learned several basic commands via hand signals. Last week, the instructor put out a low jump. Lily refused to jump until I did it myself, so we jumped the hurdle together, over and over again. I could see that the other people in class were pretty impressed with my performance. We haven't had much luck finding a home for Lily so far, but we know that the right home will materialize eventually. Sometimes it saddens me that so many people pass her by because of her deafness, but on the other hand I wouldn't want anyone "settling" for our Lilliput.

For those who may be contemplating the possibility of adding a deaf dog to their family, there are many helpful resources available. I found Susan Cope Becker's book, Living with a Deaf Dog to be enormously helpful. There are also numerous Internet sources, like http://www.DeafDogs.org as well as a popular email group for owners of deaf dogs. Lots of people have raised happy, healthy deaf dogs. That is not to say that everyone has the level of patience required to train a deaf dog. But I would argue that training any dog is a bit of a chore. You just have to adapt to a different way of thinking when working with a deaf dog. I have never had any formal instruction in how to train a deaf dog - I just tune into the dog's abilities and go from there.

I find something to love about each and every foster dog that passes through my home. I loved the way Evan (deaf) would rest his paw on my leg as I was eating or the way Kenny (not deaf) would get his lips caught in his teeth while he was waiting for a treat. Some of them have wonderful manners, and some of them steal food off the counter. Some of them give me kisses, and some of them poop in my garden. But at the end of the day, when I usher them all into the bedroom for the night, it occurs to me that what I have seen on bumper stickers really is true - that God doesn't make mistakes. When I awaken with a jolt in the middle of the night to extricate a Boxer paw from my backside, I am once again reminded of how I attached I am to these lovable, clownish, breathtakingly beautiful dogs. And the deaf ones don't need working ears to know that.

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January 2005 Newsletter



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