By Mark E. Smith
“Special-Needs Dog Finds Happy Home with Special-Needs Family” – that could be the sappy, sentimental headline to this story. Or, maybe not.
Indeed, we’ve been raising a new addition in our family, 16-week-old Lola, a French Bulldog that we’ve had since she was 8-weeks old. We’ve been huge English Bulldog fans since getting our archetype of a Bully, Rosie, several years ago, as it’s tough not to love such original characters – licking, lumbering, drooling souls, who just want to hang out with you. So, with Rosie trained and settling in to adulthood – basically sleeping, with intermittent excitement over my coming home from work or dropped food from the table – we thought it was time to get her a playmate, or lounge mate, as the case may be.
However, rather than get another English Bulldog, my wife and I thought that we’d take inspiration from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, seeking to create a kaleidoscope of ethnicities among our Bullies, opting for a French Bulldog. By breed, English Bulldogs are extremely lovable and loyal, but admittedly lazy. In comparison, French Bulldogs are just as lovable and loyal, but more active and comical, with ridiculous Mighty Mouse ears that standup.
After quite a search, we found Lola, who’s everything a French Bulldog should be: Lovable, loyal, and comical as heck, complete with ridiculous Mighty Mouse ears. What’s more, Lola is snow white, with a black ring around her left eye, looking every bit the part of a petite, French version of Petey from the Little Rascals. Oh, and did I mention that Lola is completely deaf?
Lola has congenital deafness that’s genetically linked to her pigmentation – white dogs of her breed are prone to deafness. However, what’s especially interesting to me is that Lola has no clue that she’s deaf.
Now, you’re likely saying, “Mark, she’s a freakin’ dog – of course she doesn’t know that she’s deaf!”
Fair enough, but she’s 100% adept, where deafness doesn’t seem to have any impact on her. In fact, she comes running when we set her bowl down even when she’s not looking – I suppose feeling the floor vibration. The only notable difference between Lola and a dog with hearing is that she doesn’t react to startle noises. A banging hammer next door or a compacting garbage truck gets most dogs riled up. But, not Lola – she remains completely calm, oblivious to such noises, happily playing, sleeping, and hanging out. Surely, in the wild, hearing is a vital sense, a protection mechanism; however, in a suburban home, where she lives a lush life, Lola doesn’t seem the least bit at any disadvantage over other dogs, acting and responding typically, right down to potty training and learning the type of gesture commands that are used for obedience with many dogs.
Of course, the big Bully, Rosie, is oblivious to Lola’s deafness, too – though, sometimes looking puzzled as to why the pup doesn’t awake when she barks at her, wanting to play? Nevertheless, Rosie has caught on to getting Lola’s attention with another sense: A whack with a paw!
Certainly, some people have general hang-ups toward disability, including when it comes to dogs, as I’ve learned. Both English and French Bulldogs of registered blood lines are very expensive, and hard to come by. But, whenever a pup has a disability, as with Lola’s deafness, price and demand drop. Due to her deafness, Lola was about one-third the price of her siblings, and some of our friends even questioned why one would pay for – or want – a deaf dog?
I’ve observed that people’s reactions to dogs with disabilities says a lot about how we view disability in our culture as a whole. The fact is, if I didn’t tell someone that Lola was deaf upon meeting her, one wouldn’t know – Lola’s just an adorable, loving, smart, attentive pup of pedigree. Yet, the minute that we, as humans, label her as disabled, her literal value becomes less. The dog’s own adeptness at living without hearing is proof to me that disability is more abstract and subjective as a label than many of us realize. While disability is very clear-cut in some cases, as with my cerebral palsy, it’s more a projected label on others who are far less physically impacted, and it’s startling to realize how quick we are as a society to devalue even a pet strictly based on the label of disabled.
I absolutely agree that I have a disability, that I’m disabled by virtually any definition, and I have no concern with anyone labeling me as such. But, I can’t say the same about my silly little dog, Lola, whose adeptness and complete unawareness of our labeling her as somehow less capable truly transcends what we call disability. And, there’s tremendous inspiration to watching her live so unabashedly as her entire self – a dog being a dog, hearing or not – unconcerned and unaffected by the social baggage that we humans label as disabled.
In actuality, then, I have to change the headline to a more realistic, less projected tag: “Dog Finds Home with Family.” Sure, there’s no sap in that headline, but at least it’s accurate.