'Unadoptable' Dog Becomes Washington's First Deaf K-9

Here's Ghost, when he was known as 'Gator' in his puppy days. Swamp Haven

When the volunteers at a Florida animal rescue learned about a deaf young dog that was deemed "unadoptable" by workers at a shelter where the stray pup had been dumped, of course they made room for the little guy.

"Gator" became part of Swamp Haven, an animal rescue organization that takes "down-on-their-luck" dogs at risk of being euthanized primarily in Northeast Florida.

The group reached out to a partner shelter, Olympic Peninsula Humane Society in Washington state, which was starting a deaf dog training program, to see if they'd be interested in the charismatic dog. They were, but it takes 12 weeks to schedule transportation from Florida to Washington, so for three months, staff members learned to communicate with — and fall in love with — the special young dog.

"During his time with us, our vet's office, our trainer, as well as all of us at Swamp Haven, fell in love with his fearless outlook on life. We'd never had any experience with deaf dogs prior to Gator, so we had fun (and some growing pains!) learning how to communicate with him," Lindsey Kelley, founder of Swamp Haven, tells MNN.

It took a week for the pup to make it to Washington state. There were 48 different drivers who volunteered their time to transport Gator and his travel buddy, Barley, across the country. And boy, did they have some adventures along the way.

"By the end of the week-long trip, everyone had a Gator story," Kelley says. "Gator likes to put everything in his mouth (hence the name) so people had war stories of their car seat being torn apart or leashes chewed through or a tennis ball he popped in less than a minute."

A pup with a future

Ghost the deaf K9
Ghost and his trainer use special hand signals developed just for him. Swamp Haven

When he arrived at the humane society, trainers immediately noticed the pup's ball drive. Not only did he want to pop tennis balls, but he also wanted to chase them. The pup — now renamed Ghost — was obsessed and would do anything to play with them. And that turned out to be a good thing.

When the Olympic Peninsula Humane Society has a high energy, trainable dog like this, they call Barbara Davenport, who has trained more than 450 rescued dogs into narcotics dogs. Davenport works with shelters, humane societies and rescues throughout the state to train K-9 dogs for public service.

After getting to know Ghost, she thought he would make a good drug dog for the Department of Corrections.

"What caught my attention and let me know that Ghost was a prime candidate for drug contraband detection [was that] he has a lot of high energy and seems indifferent with people," Davenport says. "High-energy dogs need a good outlet, which often takes a lot of time commitment from an owner. Additionally, because he is deaf, owners would need to learn new skills to communicate with him. He was very focused and determined to locate his ball when thrown or hidden. This makes for a more trainable dog."

Ghost and his handler, Joe Henderson
Ghost and his handler, Joe Henderson. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services

Ghost has finished training with his new handler, Joe Henderson (right) who worked with Davenport to invent a new hand signal training system just for him. Ghost is doing great and loves to work, says Henderson, who works with Ghost, searching for drugs in prisons and other state facilities. He is Washington's first deaf drug K-9.

"It was definitely a team effort to save Gator/Ghost, we're so happy to be a small part of his journey," says Kelley, who was the first to recognize the potential in the energetic pup. "We'd love for his story to not only promote adoption but also to shine a spotlight on dogs that society usually categorizes as 'unadoptable.' To show that the seniors, the mutts, the heartworm positive, the bully breeds, the fearful and the sick are worthy of the best this life has to offer."

Photo of Henderson and Ghost: Washington State Department of Social and Health Services

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