Deaf, Mostly Blind Puppies Saved at the End of the Year

The puppies were set to be euthanized because they had special needs.

sleeping puppies with a stuffed bear
Zinnia (left) and Aster sleep with a buddy.

Mary Jo DiLonardo

There are two bouncing, yipping, napping balls of puppy fluff in my house. Thanks to a village of animal lovers, they’re here and weren’t put to sleep at the end of the year.

Right after Christmas, a rescuer in Tennessee got a call from a veterinarian. Someone had brought in a couple of young puppies to be euthanized because they were likely blind and deaf. Instead, the vet wanted to save them.

So the rescuer quickly picked up the puppies, which were very young Australian shepherd mixes. Apparently, their mother accidentally hooked up with a neighborhood dog the first time she went into heat.

Both parents were merles, which is the pretty swirly pattern in a dog’s coat. When puppies have two merle genes, there’s a 25% chance that they’ll be blind, deaf, or both. These two little ones are deaf and vision impaired.

Fortunately, the vet realized these puppies could have a great life and that’s where the rest of their story starts. The rescuer reached out to someone who reached out to someone else and eventually got in touch with Speak Rescue and Sanctuary, which specializes in special needs dogs. And they made their way to my house for fostering.

Emerging Personalities

deaf and mostly blind puppies being held
Aster (left) is blind and deaf and Zinnia is deaf with some vision.

Mary Jo DiLonardo

It’s only been a couple of days since the puppies arrived. They immediately got baths and their thick, fluffy fur puffed up like brand new cotton balls.

They’re settling into a routine of food, play, nap, over and over again with lots and lots of breaks to potty. They haven’t met a toy they didn’t immediately love or a finger they didn’t want to gnaw on.

They’ll snuggle for a second and then race around on still-wobbly legs, so happy when they’ve made contact with each other or a person or my incredibly patient dog, Brodie.

We named them Aster and Zinnia, for two lovely flowers. Not to sound too corny, but we can’t wait to watch them bloom.

Aster has blue merle patches in her coat, while Zinnia has red merle. Aster is blind and deaf but can smell her food in a second and can find me within an instant. Zinnia is also gorgeous and will just sit and pose to let us admire her. She’s deaf and has a bit of vision. In the beginning, she appeared to be the instigator of most of the puppy brawls but I’m learning they’re equally responsible for all the sibling drama.

It’s still early and we’re all trying to figure each other out. Although their impairments were preventable, they are happy, playful, and loving. Often people will have so much sympathy for special needs animals, but it’s all they know and they’ll live great lives.

Not 'Perfect'

I have fostered nearly two dozen special needs dogs. Most have been blind or deaf but a handful have been blind and deaf.

Not having those key senses makes these puppies rely on their senses of smell and touch. Training is all by touch. A tap on the back by the tail means sit, for example. A stroke under the chin means come.

I have become good friends with several of the people who have adopted my former blind and deaf foster puppies. A couple of these pups have gone on to do agility or earn their good citizenship training status. They all go on walks and play with their canine or feline siblings. They lead incredible lives.

And all of them were discarded because they weren’t “perfect.”

Gratitude and Expectations

Already, people have been asking about adopting Aster and Zinnia. The rescue will take a good, long look at the people who actually fill out applications. Then we’ll talk to those who might be a good fit.

It’s hard because these puppies are so cute that it’s easy to fall for their good looks. But really committing to a dog with special needs takes someone who is ready to devote time to training, while still dealing with the usual puppy issues like teething and potty training.

I’ve been doing this for a while, and there are still times when I just sit on the floor outside the puppy pen and wonder what I got myself into.

Fortunately, that doesn’t last long when I’m smothered in puppy floof and kisses.

I’m so grateful for the veterinarian who helped these pups, for the first rescue that swooped in to get them, and for Speak for taking them in.

Aster and Zinnia will be patiently waiting for their new people to find them. In the meantime, they’ll be napping, playing, and eating–happy that a whole bunch of people knew they were worth saving.

You can follow Mary Jo and her foster puppy adventures on Instagram @brodiebestboy.

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  1. "What is A Double Merle?" Deaf Dogs Rocks.