Deaf shelter dog learns sign language and finds forever home

Tracie Pfeifle was determined to find deaf Rosie a forever home, so she taught the Pit Bull sign language — something that caught the attention of adopter Cindy Koch, who is also hearing impaired.

Pets waiting for forever homes behind the bars of a shelter kennel often face an uphill battle in finding a family. But for pets with disabilities, adoption can prove to be even more of a challenge.

That certainly seemed as if that would be the case for Rosie, a brown-and-white Pit Bull Terrier who found herself without a home in Nebraska. Smart, loyal, and irresistibly sweet-tempered, staff at the Central Nebraska Humane Society (CNHS) still struggled to find Rosie a home because of her disability.

“You can get most dogs’ attention by saying their name or making a sound, but she can’t respond to that because she is deaf,” explains CNHS volunteer Tracie Pfeifle.

Pfeifle began volunteering at CNHS back in January, when she took a special interest in Rosie.

“I asked which dog could use the most attention,” Pfeifle told the New York Daily News in March. “[Rosie] was pretty scared at first. I don’t think she had a good first four years of her life.”

When Pfeifle watched perfectly wonderful families pass Rosie by when coming to the shelter to adopt a new pet, the dedicated volunteer got a bright idea — what if Rosie and potential adopters could find an easier way to “speak” with one another?

That same day, armed with a bag of treats and an American Sign Language dictionary, Pfeifle started teaching Rosie hand signals.

“We started using treats and putting the treat up to your face and saying ‘good girl’ with your thumb and then she figured out that we were communicating with her,” Pfeifle tells KHGI Nebraska TV News.

Within weeks, intelligent Rosie learned the signs for “good girl,” “sit,” and “outside.” Pfeifle says the process of training Rosie isn’t very different from what it is like to train a dog without a hearing impairment, and the new knowledge gave Rosie a confidence she never had before.

“It’s amazing to watch her come into her own person,” Pfeifle says of her buddy Rosie. “She reacts well with others now where before she was reserved.”

Pfeifle’s hard work has now paid off tenfold — Rosie has finally found a happy home.

Cindy Koch says she knew right away she and Rosie would make a perfect pair. Koch, who is also deaf, shared an instant bond with the dog.

“I’m deaf and we want to relate to her, and understand how she feels — want to communicate with her through signing, teach her signing,” Koch tells KCTV.

Since heading home from CNHS, Koch says she and her family have been able to teach Rosie many new signs, and they hope to teach her many more.

“I’m going to teach her my sign language, how deaf people communicate,” Koch explains. “She’s a smart dog, she can pick up fast.”

As for Pfeifle, saying goodbye to Rosie is bittersweet, but because she is joining such a wonderful new family it is more sweet than bitter.

“It’s what I hoped would eventually happen [and] she couldn’t have gone to a nicer family,” Pfeifle says.

With Rosie adopted, Pfeifle plans to work with another deaf dog at the CNHS shelter — Pit Bull-Great Dane mix Noah. CNHS staff is hoping that Noah and his buddy Saint will be able to find a home together, Executive Director Laurie Dethloff says, because Saint is Noah’s guide and touchstone.

“It’s going to be behaviorally and emotionally a lot more stable for both of them to have each other to learn off of,” Dethloff explains.

If you think you might be interested in adopting Noah and Saint, contact the Central Nebraska Humane Society today. The shelter says they will teach any potential adopter the necessary signs to communicate with Noah.

Sources: KCTV, KHGI Nebraska TV News, New York Daily News