SALEM – For Nitro, it might be just a few more pictures in a magazine.
But for owners Christina and Chris Lee, who live near Masons Cove in the Salem area, having their deaf dog recognized in not one but two national magazines is a pretty big deal.
Not because the articles are about them, but because it helps bring even more attention to what smart pets and amazing therapy dogs deaf pups can be – and ultimately, it helps find more homes across the nation for dogs that might otherwise be euthanized because they can’t hear.
“We’re very excited about the exposure, and have already gotten a few donations which we have been able to donate to a couple of spay and neuter surgeries this month for deaf dogs,” Christina Lee said in an interview Tuesday.
Nitro started making headlines not long after the Lees adopted the abandoned the white Boxer puppy found along the Roanoke River in Salem three years ago.
The Lees began teaching Nitro American Sign Language – and more recently, to his new deaf buddy Bud, another white Boxer who is almost 2. Christina Lee started working with Nitro every day, frequently that first winter in the aisles at PetSmart and, after the Salem Rotary Dog Park opened, letting him interact and play there – always keeping his eyes on her, since he couldn’t hear her call him.
Lee’s bond with Nitro became her passion for deaf dogs all over, and she founded the website DeafDogsRock.com, along with a Facebook page.
“We’re averaging getting about 300 deaf dogs a year adopted through our website,” Lee said. “Our website will be 2 years old exactly on Aug. 1,” she added.
Her husband, an associate professor at Roanoke College who teaches math, computer science and physics, is totally supportive of her efforts. “He sees me working six to eight hours a day on the website and answering emails,” she said, as Chris drove the two, Nitro and Bud to PetsMart to buy a gate for their front porch to give the couple’s five dogs more safe area to play.
One of the aspects of promoting adoption of deaf dogs is that it also provides joy for deaf people. “We have a lot of deaf families adopting deaf puppies and deaf dogs,” too, she added. “We’ve been getting response from the deaf community from the beginning, but now it’s huge.”
One of those relates to Sam, an Aussie shepherd from Wythe County that Lee was able to save and match. “Sam’s dad is completely deaf and he’s teaching Sam Sign Language and all kinds of tricks,” she said “We get Sam mail twice a week.”
She also is now getting listings of deaf dogs from all over the country. Last week, she was able to match up a Craig County man whose own Old English Bulldog had just died, with a deaf American Bulldog in New Jersey whose owner had to give him up. The two owners met half way in Hershey, Pa., and “When Quincy, the deaf Bulldog, met Charlie Tinsley, it was love at first sight,” said Lee, who gave Tinsley some training tips. Quincy is Charlie and Mary Tinsley’s first deaf dog and lives with them on their 65 wooded acres in Craig near Patterson Creek. They report he is adjusting well to the change in location and ownership, and Charlie is setting up training sessions to teach Quincy signs and hand signals.
“We’re getting a lot of good connections across the country,” added Lee. “If a deaf dog comes up, they will go and pick up and put it in their shelter and we will network it together.”
She said the DeafDogsRock.com’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/deafdogsrock, has more than 10,000 likes. She estimates more than 115,000 viewers are connected through social media networking.
The Lees are making sure to give back to other organizations that rescue and train dogs. In May, they presented a $2,000 check on behalf of BlogPaws to Saint Francis Service Dogs, a Roanoke County-based program that trains service dogs for people with various disabilities who can be helped by the dogs.
BlogPaws randomly selected one nominee for Best Social Media to win the $2,000 check to go to their favorite charity. Deaf Dogs Rock was selected for the donation going directly to Saint Francis Service Dogs, Lee explained.
You’ll see Christina and Chris, with Nitro and Bud around Salem, at the Salem Rotary Dog Park, at PetsMart and around the area in their “Deaf Dogs Rock” SUV with the license plate, “DF DG RK” and Nitro’s pictures on it.