Ruby: New Signs, New Beginnings

The three-year-old, black and white pit bull pictured in the listing of pets available for adoption had soft eyes and a goofy smile. Her name was Penguin, she was at Dakin Humane Society, and she was deaf.

Nancy Starr, who lives about 300 miles away in upstate New York, was sent the link to Penguin’s listing by a friend who knew of her history of adopting deaf pit bulls, and training them using American Sign Language (ASL). Nancy and her husband Matt, who are both deaf, had lost two of their beloved pit bulls the previous year, and had just suffered the loss of a deaf pit bull foster dog.

“We thought she was adorable and loved her colors,” recalled Nancy. “But I didn’t click on the link when I first received it from my friend because I was not ready for another dog. The next day, I decided to click on the link and read her blurb. I liked what I saw.”

Their reserve was melting. Because of the distance, a Zoom meeting was set up so Nancy and Matt could see Penguin at Dakin, running freely and showing off her carefree, infectious charm. “We loved what we saw, and how mellow she was,” said Nancy. “Just by watching her, we wanted to give her a good life.” Shortly afterward, Penguin, now renamed Ruby, was headed west. Dakin volunteer Jody Del Valle drove her halfway to Rochester to lessen the trek for Nancy and Matt.

After two weeks in her new home, Ruby is settling nicely. The couple noticed she is getting used to unexpected motion, whether it’s from ceiling fans, the TV, or Nancy and Matt using ASL to communicate.

Signing will be the bridge between the couple and their dog. While Nancy wants Ruby to have some time initially to adjust to her new home, she and Matt will teach her, as they taught their other dogs, sign language for various actions such as stay, wait, no, bad, eat, bed, greenies, OK, go for a walk, and bye-bye.

“She already knows sit, and we’re trying to teach her to come to us,” explained Nancy. “We sign potty to her and she goes to the sliding door, which is great. Her eye contact is strong, and if she sees something new, she tilts her head, which is so cute.”

Raising deaf dogs can bring challenges. “One of the biggest ones is not being able to call them if they get away,” said Nancy. “You can try to train a deaf dog to always look at the person and hopefully they’ll see the sign to come back. While they can’t hear our words, they can see our signs and our actions. Deaf dogs are just like any other dogs…it’s just that they learn differently, visually, through sign language and hand gestures.”

Ruby’s new family adores her loving and playful personality. According to Nancy, “Being deaf ourselves, and because we’ve had deaf pit bulls in the past, we wanted to continue rescuing them because they are often ignored and rejected. We were drawn to Ruby since she is deaf – we knew she was the one for us. I believe in fate and that things happen for a reason.”

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