Maggie-Mae... A Very Special Pet
Maggie-Mae was born with the "Double Merle" gene... she is mostly pink and white... and is deaf. She was born in August, 1993 and was on death row at the local pound for the terrible crime of having no hearing, and thank God the people at the shelter cared enough to seek me out, knowing that I had taught my other dog Brytni, A.S.L (American Sign Language) as a fun thing because I had the skill and she learned readily.
We went to the same wonderful doggie school that I had taken Brytni to and had a blast! The owner of the school had the training skills and I had the sign language so together we gave it a shot. This proved to be a lot of fun and certainly added amusement to the curriculum whenever we practised recalls and I could be seen drawing enormous circles in the air to get Maggie-Mae to come. We graduated from both the Kinderpuppy and Senior Kinderpuppy with very decent third places! In August 1995, Maggie-Mae went on to earn her CGC and then became a St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog.
Maggie is the most fun dog I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. In March, 1996, Maggie-Mae and I learned "Clicker Training" with a flash-light and in thirteen short weeks Maggie and I had been on national TV not once, but twice and had even received an invitation to the University of Guelph, Ontario, where Karen Pryor and Gary Wilkes were presenting a Clicker Training seminar. I am very proud to announce that Maggie-Mae has recently achieved the "Honour Roll" on Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot The Dog home page!
Life is now a whirlwind of demonstrating to Seniors, Brownies, Cubs, Scouts and schools with deaf children where I have found her to be an amazing teaching tool in that we always focus on "Different Abilities" rather than the negative connotations drawn from the word "disability". Just recently we have started introducing a little about responsible breeding and how Maggie's deafness could have been avoided by researching the breed first! We are regularly invited to visit the seniors at the local residences where it is not unusual to see someone struggling out of their wheelchair to sign to Maggie to take a bow, give five, speak or pull a handkerchief out of a pocket.
I was asked to list the ASL signs Maggie-Mae knows and was stunned to find that she now responds to over 100. The most fun ones are: What do you think of choke chains? She gets the chain she used to wear and puts it in the garbage. What are you most proud of? She brings her Therapy Dog collar to me. Upon entering my home Maggie pulls my boots or shoes off, (recently Maggie has started to do this for visitors to our home, whether they need help or not), and the list and the fun goes on...
I am extremely proud of Maggie-Mae and what she has accomplished, but I feel compelled to add a little about the responsibility of being the guardian of a dog with special needs. Living and loving a dog with special needs is not for the feint of heart nor for the person with very limited resources. If the person that bred Maggie's parents had researched the Australian Shepherd Dog breed, they would have found out about the Double Merle gene and how it is caused within this breed. My dog is deaf, has a mild visual problem and severe allergies because of that breeders' ignorance (ignorance in the true sense of the word)!
Every day, no matter what I do, I am reminded about that ignorance like when I have to home cook her food because she has severe food allergies. Maggie-Mae is allergic to every known brand of dog food. When I try to balance my cheque book I can't help but blanch at the thousands (yes, thousands) of dollars spent trying to find out what else she is allergic to. Because her skin is so pink and lacks pigment she cannot go out in the sun given the threat of sunburn and the ensuing likelihood of cancer should she get burned. Just recently we found that she also only has 50% of vision in her left eye! I have no doubt that there will be more medical problems become evident as she grows older.
Because I have invested many hours in her training and numerous dollars in her health, Maggie does not suffer. Far from it. Maggie-Mae is a very happy little dog with the indomitable, engaging spirit of the Aussie. My concern is for the white pup being sold as "Unique". What will happen to him when the medical problems and responsibility of being the guardian of a dog with special needs become insurmountable and the dog gets dumped at the pound and what if no-one cares enough to try to save him? This suffering can, and should be avoided at all cost!
Please, I urge anyone who is thinking about breeding any animal, RESEARCH the breed before making any decisions that will ultimately affect the health and quality of life of any creature!
Maggie-Mae spent the first 6 months of her life being pushed and pulled around in an effort to train her and later left to her own devices when she was nearly run over three times, then tied up in a barn because she was considered "un-trainable and stupid" once the people realised she was deaf!
Knowing Maggie-Mae as I now do, I imagine she must have been desperate for the companionship that her family should have provided along with the communication in a manner that she could have understood! When I met Maggie I had no idea that she would suffer with the allergies and vision problems too... all I saw was a little pink and white puppy who needed a home in the worst way and just happened to be deaf. I dare say I too could be criticised for not researching her genetics before jumping in with both feet and taking her into our home just hours before the vet was due to come and euthanize her. We didn't have the luxury of time!
When Maggie-Mae joined our family, I made a commitment to her that I would do whatever I could to make her life as comfortable, and as happy and productive as I possibly could. Now there have been times when I was totally unprepared for what was going to happen... it terrifies me when I think of the time her lead broke and she walked out into traffic thinking I was behind her... she nearly got hit on the way across the road and then again on the way back when she saw that we weren't together! I will never forgive myself for letting her run up to a new dog, just to say hello, and then it bit her and left her bleeding and confused. I could have avoided that if I had been thinking... but as much as I think I have a handle on this deaf dog "thing" it is times like that when I know that I still have so much to learn and I feel absolutely mortified for letting Mags down. I have a 7 year old foster son who has Cerebral Palsy along with a myriad of other medical conditions, and Maggie-Mae and Justin are fast friends. They go on the numerous, required medical appointments together. How would I ever explain to him if something happened to his best friend? I shudder to think about the consequences and how much confidence our little Justin would lose!
Daily I spend an enormous amount of time and energy in trying to find out the allergens that continue to pester my girl. I continue that struggle to keep to my original commitment that I made over 5 years ago and in return I have the funniest, most spunky and loveable dog I have ever known!
Maggie-Mae used to scratch, lick and chew herself on her paws, flank and in her "arm" pits until she had bald patches (hot spots) and was bleeding, particularly around July and through until December/January every year. Another problem was chronic ear infections with no definitive cause (hates water so won't swim). Maggie was treated with steroids for 3 years and when steroids do nothing to alleviate the distress it should be a good indication that it is primarily food allergies that are causing the problem! All animals are different so allergies could manifest themselves in a different manner for different dogs. I can only tell you what we had to endure, watching Maggie suffer every year and for her to have to wear an Elizabethan Collar for almost 6 out of the 12 months... horrible!!
We spent hundreds (read thousands) of dollars at the traditional (allopathic) vet with absolutely NO definite results. We had blood tests done and the skin scrapings and each time we got different results back! We even went so far as to have a serum made up but didn't feel at all comfortable giving it to her because of the risk of anaphylactic shock! I knew there had to be a better way to help my Maggie so I researched everything I could get my hands on!
To diagnose the cause of all the above problems I finally went to a holistic vet who did a Hair Analysis (similar to DNA testing) and only then did we see any kind of improvement in Maggie-Mae!!! It was with the help from our new vet that we began to understand that Maggie would experience "Allergen Overload" (my words, not hers), an accumulation of allergens through the year and then with additional allergens like rag-weed her immune system would be unable to cope and only then would we see the symptoms!
Later, in 1997, we engaged the help of an acupuncturist, and then the time that Maggie-Mae spent enduring the discomfort of allergies was reduced to about 6 weeks in the height of the Ragweed season.