Ellie, an American Staffordshire terrier, was born deaf, but that’s never stopped her from living her best life.
She was adopted by owner Michelle Alfaro from Rescue Warriors Corp. when she was just 8 weeks old. She was the runt of the litter, and because she is white, Alfaro was told there was a chance she might be deaf. By this point, Alfaro already knew Ellie was the dog for her, so the fact she might be deaf wasn’t going to be a deterrent to adopting her.
“Once you make the decision to go meet a dog, you’re going to go home with it,” she said.
After having Ellie for a few weeks, Alfaro suspected she might be deaf because the puppy never stirred when she came home after work and deactivated the house alarm.
She was told she could bring Ellie in for a test to determine her hearing ability, although it wasn’t 100 percent accurate. A far-less-scientific method proved effective in determining Ellie could not hear. While she was sleeping, Alfaro banged together some pots while standing behind her, and Ellie never flinched.
Alfaro worked with a trainer both to help socialize Ellie around other dogs through puppy training classes and one on one to teach her signs and learn how to communicate with her. Today, Ellie, who is almost 4, knows many signs, including sit, stay, down, place, paw, other paw, turn and bark.
Alfaro can also communicate with Ellie by pointing. For example, if she wants to tell her to take a drink, Alfaro can place three fingers by her nose and then point at her water bowl.
“Pointing is something really versatile to her, because she is always watching us,” she said.
Even before learning Ellie was deaf, Alfaro was committed to training her because of the negative view some people have of pit bulls.
“With her stigma, I wanted to get her as perfect as I could get her,” she said. “I wanted her to be a perfect example of her breed.”
Ellie is almost always looking at Alfaro, which makes hand signals an easy way to communicate. There are times, though, when her inability to hear can pose some challenges, such as when Alfaro needs to get her attention quickly.
“If she’s not looking at me, I can’t tell her anything,” she said.
To help communicate with her when she is otherwise occupied, Ellie wears a low-stimulation collar that Alfaro can send a signal to. The collar also indicates she is deaf, so others know Ellie can’t hear.
Ellie loves to visit the Whalon Lake Dog Park, especially when her boyfriend, Echo, is also there. The two are the best of friends, having found each other on their own while playing there.
“We’ve always seen Echo (at the dog park), and they’re really drawn to each other,” she said, adding that Ellie has the most fun at the dog park when Echo is also there. Alfaro has even become friendly with Echo’s owner, and the two will often text each other to plan to meet up at the dog park so the dogs can play together.
Ellie has a lot of energy and loves to run, and she’s a perfect running partner for Alfaro, who is training for the Chicago Marathon.
Another favorite pastime of Ellie’s is sunbathing. Ellie is trained to ring a bell when she has to go outside, but she’s learned to use that to her advantage on nice, sunny days.
“She runs out of bed and rings the bell to go outside,” Alfaro said.
Because she’s all white and has such short fur, Ellie can get sunburned. When she spends a lot of time outside, Alfaro has to put sunscreen on her to protect her skin from harmful UV rays.
Ellie lives with Alfaro and her parents, and she’s truly become a family dog since being adopted, Alfaro said.
“I’m like Mom to her,” she said, adding that her dad is Ellie’s best friend. Alfaro’s mom was the hardest for Ellie to win over, but now they have a special bond and that’s who Ellie listens to most, she said, adding that Ellie loves to “butter her up.”
Alfaro hopes to adopt more dogs in the future, and she’s committed to seeking out special-needs dogs because she has had such a positive experience with Ellie.
“People don’t give (special-needs dogs) the chance they deserve. They are passed up,” she said. “There are so many special-needs dogs out there.”
As for Ellie, she’ll always be Alfaro’s sidekick.
“She’s always by my side,” Alfaro said. “She’s super loyal.”
(Photos by Chad Merda and Chris Cheng)
Wilson is one of the many fabulous pooches from the Forest Preserve District of Will County's dog parks who will be featured in our 2020 dog park calendar. All proceeds go to the Will County Humane Society.
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