I first saw Petunia in a storefront at a neighborhood mall where several animal rescue groups operated a cooperative animal adoption shop. I was immediately taken by how beautiful she was. She is pure white except for a tiny gray spot near one eye and a gray patch on her rear and her eyes were tiny and blue.
When I read her story it made me want to take her home even more... Petunia was rescued from a pound in a rural Utah town and her rescuers had been working with her to get her used to being touched and handled. She is a white factor Australian Shepard who was born blind and deaf. When I did some research, I learned that her condition was the result of breeding two parents that have what is called a “blue merle” gene. According to the data when two blue merles are bred, there is one in four chance that a blind, deaf, or blind and deaf puppy will be born.
Petunia was six months old when we adopted her and she had never been inside a house. I really had no idea how to teach a blind and deaf dog even with the most basic things... like going outside to go potty. My hope was that she would follow our other three dogs around and do what they did. I thought that by becoming part of the “pack” she would learn from them by association and have a reasonably happy life.
The first six months were very difficult. We were up at three or four o’clock every morning to take Petunia outside. She couldn’t hold her bladder and leaked while she was asleep. In the end, Petunia is the one who taught herself how to go potty outside and how to get around the house.
Right around the time Petunia turned one years old, things started to change. I began to notice that there was a rhythm to the things she did. Petunia woke up at the same time every day, waited in the same place to be fed, went outside by herself to go potty, and went to bed at the same time every night. She has even taught herself a little game that she plays with a tennis ball. She will lay somewhere that is close to a corner and push the ball until it bounces back to her.
I also realized that I had inadvertently been using touch signals with her and Petunia had learned to associate them with certain things. For example, Petunia had learned that if I touched her head as we were going in or out of the house, it meant that the door was open and she could run through. The most amazing thing that she does is that she can run out the dog door at the back of the house and run full speed around the corner of the house and down the driveway, and turn just inches before she gets to the gate.
She has never hit the gate !
Petunia is now eight years old and a beloved member of our family. I have had a number of shelter dogs in my life but Petunia has by far been the most challenging to work with and the most rewarding. She is the namesake and mascot of my studio business, blindwolfspirit, these last six years and Petunia has fans around the world.
There are all kinds of resources to help dog owners deal with the challenges of adopting shelter dogs. I hope Petunia’s story will help to encourage other people to consider adopting one, even perhaps a special needs dog.
I have never regretted
my decision to bring Petunia home !