Facebook Twitter



Pongo and Perdy may have their troubles on the screen, but in real life they're two lucky Dalmatians.

At least they can hear.Had they been born deaf, like many of their spotted peers, the stars of Disney's "101 Dalmatians" might have been killed off as pups.

Every year, hundreds of deaf Dalmatian puppies are destroyed simply because they cannot hear.

The breed has a genetic tendency to deafness - about one in 12 Dalmatians is born deaf - and the most humane way to deal with puppies deaf in both ears, says the Dalmatian Club of America, is to put them down.

"Don't feel guilty," says the club literature. "The humane approach is to put down the deaf Dals and concentrate on finding good homes for the healthy hearing dogs."

Some dog-lovers call the club's position heartless and hypocritical. Deaf Dalmatians might be useless in the showroom, they say, but with the proper training they can make perfect pets.

"It's inhumane to put an animal to sleep just because it's not perfect," says Pati Dane of Miami, who works in an animal clinic.

Ten years ago, she started taking deaf puppies home rather than see them put to sleep. Today she runs Dalmatian Rescue, which seeks out abandoned, abused and unwanted Dalmatians and places them for adoption.

The worst cases are often the deaf ones: 4-month-old Comet, who was found tied to tree with a handwritten sign, "I'm deaf, I've been abandoned. Please find me a home"; Zak, who was picked up running the streets of downtown Miami with a chain and padlock around his neck; Smushy Face, who was bought by children as a present for their mother last Christmas and dumped after the owners realized she was deaf.

A year later, Smushy Face has been renamed Dotty and lives with a Miami police officer couple and four other dogs, including another deaf Dalmatian.

"They are just like handicapped children," says owner Sally Campbell, who trained Dotty with hand signals. "They just need a little special care."

Firefighter Al Thiessen of Margate, Fla., uses sign language to communicate with his deaf Dalmatian, Kelly. The dog helps teach fire safety to deaf children in local schools.

"She shows them how to crawl low in the smoke, how to knock over the phone so they can dial 911, how to feel for the door handle and see if it is too hot," Thiessen said. "The kids see a deaf dog making it in the hearing world and they know they can, too."

But the Dalmatian club contends it is far more common for deaf Dalmatians to be sickly, frightened and sometimes aggressive.

"In the litter it is always the dog that is off by itself, the dog that howls and screams. It is not a normal, functioning animal," said Eva Berg, who chairs the club's research committee and breeds Dalmatians in Moraga, Calif.

Deaf dogs can turn into "fear biters," Berg said, snapping anytime they are startled.

But does that mean they should be destroyed?

"It seems a little hypocritical to call it more humane," says dog trainer Vicki Hearne of Old Saybrook, Conn. "Humane for who, the dog or the owner?"