It’s a dog’s world

Deaf, visually impaired dog gets all of family’s love

Life in the Houston household has gone to the dogs.

Well, just one dog: Calvin. And in Calvin’s case, that’s a good thing.

Calvin, now 11 months old, had a rough start to life. The double merle border collie (both mother and father are merles) was a rescue puppy, put up for adoption by the Oromocto, NB, SPCA.

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“Merle is a colouring,” explains Calvin’s keeper, Carol Houston, “kind of one of your more desirable colourings so (breeders) can get more money for them. You’re supposed to breed a merle with a solid colour, of any breed. Every puppy has a one in four chance of inheriting the merle gene twice.”

Merles have white or mostly white coats and are often blind or deaf or both — Calvin is completely deaf and blind in one eye with limited vision in the other. Houston laughs while tossing a ball for Calvin to fetch, “He obviously has some vision because he doesn’t usually bump into things.”

The story of Calvin’s adoption by the Houstons of Little Harbour is a tear jerker. Carol explains: “The Oromocto SPCA did a Facebook post because a New Brunswick animal protection officer seized him and his brother from someone’s property.”

Carol, who is a huge animal lover and always had border collies as pets growing up, laughs: “A friend (who knows she has a heart as big as all outdoors when it comes to animals) shared the post. And my daughter, Paget, saw it. And then there was no turning back.”

Mom and daughter drove four-plus hours to an open house in Oromocto to meet the puppy and then drove home.

“We stayed for more than an hour and just enjoyed playing with him and interacting with him. There were lots of people there who had a deaf dog, or a blind dog. There were deaf families who came in, people who had border collies.”

All during the drive home — “we didn’t tell the boys where we were going,” she chuckles about keeping the secret from her husband Tim and son Zachary — mom and daughter enthused over the puppy. “I said I love him and I want him so badly,” Carol says, ruffling Calvin’s fur as he played beside her. “But I knew that he would have a great home no matter who was chosen for him because there were so many families that came in that day.”

But the next day the Houstons received a call that changed their lives: “They said out of the hundreds of applications received, they selected us to have him.”

Carol and Paget were thrilled. Paget and the pup had a special connection right from the start: Paget, who is now in her first year at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., lost her hearing in one ear when she was in Grade 6. “Paget said, ‘he’s hard of hearing, I’m hard of hearing, he was meant to be our dog.’”

Calvin is strikingly handsome with his longish white hair and is clearly a very special boy who steals the hearts of everyone he meets. He is obviously loved and cared for and, despite his deficiencies, he lives a perfectly normal life with the Houstons, their chickens and a rescue cat who has an autoimmune illness.

Carol has been working with Calvin to teach him doggy sign language — through hand and touch signals. “We had to figure out a way to communicate with him so we made up some signs. My daughter made a closed hand gesture for sit,” she demonstrates with an obedient Calvin. There are also commands for lay down, shake a paw and roll over, among others, in addition to a sign for “good boy” which elicits an immediate tail wag from Calvin.

She also does obedience with Calvin and a trainer in the Thorburn area and hopes to try agility next.

Through the love and support of the Houstons, Calvin is an amazing dog. But many canines that are merle are not so lucky. If they are not thrown away or killed for being born with disabilities, many do not get as lucky as Calvin did with an adopted family.

Carol gets frustrated at hearing the stories of merles and double merles that are not as lucky as Calvin.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said, “because this is completely preventable. Special needs pets are still valuable and lovable.”

There are rescue organizations across the country that are committed to rescuing these dogs. If it wasn’t for the Facebook post with the photo of Calvin, Carol would be as oblivious to merles as most of the population.

“This is the result of irresponsible breeding,” she said hugging Calvin. “It’s 100 per cent preventable — don’t breed two merles and you won’t get double merles,” she shrugs. “If we want to prevent throwaway dogs, education is key.”

It’s that simple.

For more info on double merles visit: www.doublemerles.info

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Jackie Jardine
Jackie is a Pictou County native and proud graduate of St. Francis Xavier University. She is a writer, editor and fledgling home cook. She has been in the newspaper business for almost three decades and jokes that she started when she was in her teens! She enjoys traveling, socializing and volunteering in her community.