FROM READERS: Meet the dog who changed the way I view disabilities

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:32 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Jonathan Bommel's dalmatian, Arey, performs a trick at Andy's Frozen Custard in Columbia.

Jonathan Bommel is a local musician who sings for the band Glasshouse. He enjoys spending time with his dog and does art in his spare time.

When you think about a dog who is deaf, what image do you get in your head? What about blind? Or any dog with a disability? Well in the past year, I've had a firsthand experience with a hearing impaired animal; my Dalmatian, Arey. And it has really opened my eyes to something about which I had really never thought: How does an animal with an impairment live a normal life?

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Short answer, they live awesome.

Having lived away from home for a few years, and having seen a marginal amount of adult life, I decided that I was mature enough to get a dog. I went around to a few shelters, saw some great animals, but due to finances, I was not able to adopt one yet. Once I finally was able to adopt, my first attempt sadly fell flat. I got approved for adoption, but as soon as I went to the shelter to pick up the sweet little brown dog I was going to name Evie, I saw her being led into a mini-van with her new family. Great for little Evie, depressing for me, the hopeful doggy daddy.

That same day, still in a slump, I decided to make a last second trip to Columbia Second Chance's adoption center in Boonville, Mo.

As soon as I walked in, one of the first things I saw was a skinny little Dalmatian with very few spots for his age. I asked about him, and they told me that he was the sweetest little guy, but he was deaf, and also required special food. I had been looking for a 100% "healthy" dog all this time, so my initial reaction was hesitation, but I decided to take him out for a test walk.

A few minutes in, and I began melting into a viscous puddle of former manhood. He broke me. I put in an adoption application, and went home to do some research.

Via the glorious internet, I found out it wouldn't be too expensive, and saw many examples of brilliant dogs that know 35+ commands just through hand signals and sign language. I watched a few training videos, and after not much time I knew I would be up to the challenge.

After two weeks of waiting, I was able to pick up my little buddy. Things were difficult for a while, but over time, and many nights of him literally sleeping ON me for security, he became comfortable, and we started training.

Training a deaf dog is much like training a hearing dog, but with hand signals instead of vocal commands. Signal+action=treat, signal+action=treat, and repeat until they get the point. Arey now knows many hand signals, and we're always working on more. Honestly, I sometimes forget he's deaf. Most of the time I don't even notice it. Having a loss in one of his senses makes the other senses even more keen. He can feel the vibration of hands clapping and feet stomping from about 40 ft. away, and his nose is always ... always, to the ground.

Some deaf dogs have issues with being suddenly awakened, or strangers entering the house, but my Arey is fearless and friendly toward everyone, and he loves playing with other dogs.

I highly recommend adopting a pet with disabilities. Do your research, calculate the cost, and the time requirements. But in the end you will have a best friend that is thankful and loving for your care. Just as a final recommendation, I suggest to absolutely adopt from a shelter, Second Chance, or foster community! All of these places need as much help as they can get.

As for Arey, at times, he has difficulty telling when a cat is not reciprocating his friendly advances, but he is learning. He just wants to sniff and love. Sniff, love, repeat.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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