Once upon a time, I fostered a Great Dane puppy. Long story short, a backyard breeder’s most recent litter had resulted in 2 deaf puppies, one male and one female, both of which had been returned after she had attempted to sell several times, and she was getting ready to take them to the pound. I agreed to go and take a look at the puppies, thinking I would maybe bring home the female as a trial companion for Ernie while I found her a forever home. Instead, I came home with Garp: When I arrived at the breeder’s home, I was escorted down to the basement that had been converted into a dog room. Right away, Garp, then ‘Tank,’ ran up to me and started tugging on my scarf and running between my legs. I was smitten. On the ride home, he laid in the passenger seat of my tiny Honda with his head in my lap. I renamed him ‘Garp’ after one of my favorite John Irving novels. When we got home, Ernie immediately took Garp under his wing as a pit bull in training.
Garp was only 4 months old, but Ernie could easily walk underneath him, and his paws were as big as my hands. When I took him to the vet the next day, he weighed in at 85 pounds. I scheduled his neuter immediately, knowing that my vet charged for anesthesia by the pound and Garp wasn’t getting any smaller.
I met an awesome trainer when I took Garp to the groomer (he was absolutely filthy, but already way to big for me to wrestle into my miniscule bathtub). She had never worked with a deaf dog before, but had trained dogs using hand signals and offered to work with Garp and I for free in exchange for the experience. She was also affiliated with the doggie day care I took Ernie to and offered me a discounted rate whenever I wanted to leave the boys there. Like most deaf dogs, Garp was a velcro dog and was already really good at looking to me for cues, so we were able to teach him ‘sit’ and ‘lay down’ pretty quickly.
‘Stay’ was a challenge, because he didn’t like to be much more than an arm’s length away from either me or Ernie. He took to the halter lead really well and was soon walking politely on a leash. Garp loved Ernie and the two of them would wrestle for hours. I later found small puncture wounds around Ernie’s neck where he had let Garp drag him across the living room.
Living with a deaf dog had its challenges and rewards. You cannot be a lazy dog owner with a deaf puppy; no calling out “Hey, get out of the garbage!” I had to physically pull Garp’s head out of the garbage when he started digging around in the trash. I was afraid to let him off of the leash anywhere because unless he was looking right at me, there wasn’t much I could do to get his attention. My stepdad helped me build a vibrating collar for him out of a remote control car motor, which helped a little bit, but wasn’t strong enough to wake him out of a sleep. Letting him out of his kennel was always a trip, because he missed all the audio clues that I was home, like car crunching up the gravel driveway or my keys in the lock. He’d usually be asleep, and I’d open up the kennel and reach in a goose him. He’s wake up and immediately start crying with excitement. Perhaps a little cruel, but very entertaining.
Garp didn’t usually wake up during the night; he didn’t hear the squirrels scampering over the roof or the cats fighting outside that usually woke Ernie up. He’d stretch out in a great white lump at the bottom of the bed and sleep until I woke him in the morning. One night, I woke up to sounds coming from the kitchen. Bleary eyed, I looked down at the foot of the bed. Garp appeard to be passed out as usual. Ernie was asleep on the pillow next to me. I could still hear the sounds coming from the kitchen. I lay in bed, listening. The sounds continued.
Up until that point, I’d harbored a secret fear that, in the event of an intruder, I’d be frozen solid by my fear and be unable to move. This night, however, I got up and grabbed the closest thing I had to a weapon–a knitting needle. Waking Ernie up, I walked down the hall and turned the corner into the kitchen. My heart was pounding and I was absolutely certain I’d see a masked man rooting around my house. As I turned the corner and peeked into the kitchen, however, I saw Garp with his head in the sink, licking the dirty dishes from dinner. What I thought was Garp sleeping at the foot of the bed was actually my down comforter I’d kicked off in a fit of restlessness.
My plan had always been to keep Garp until a friend, S, graduated seminary and moved into his own house. S had flown up to Michigan (where I lived at the time) and had met and fallen in love with Garp. It was the perfect situation, I thought. S would get an awesome dog, Garp would get an awesome home, and I could still see Garp and keep tabs on him. Unfortunately, S was offered the opportunity to go to South Africa for a year and wasn’t able to take Garp. I was devastated. I knew I couldn’t keep him forever, but it was going to be hard to find a home for Garp that I’d feel comfortable leaving him in.
I put out feelers at my vet’s office, the groomer’s, the doggie day care…nothing. The lady at the doggie day care offered to board him for me, but I couldn’t imagine leaving him over night at the kennel night after night. Garp was a people dog and needed to go someplace where he could get all the attention he needed.
I finally chanced upon a Craig’s list ad. A young gay couple was looking for a dog; they had just bought a house and were particularly interested in a deaf dog, because one of the guys, Z, was deaf. I exchanged a couple of emails with Z and agreed to meet him at his house with Garp. I met Z and his partner at their cute little brick two story house. They had already installed a 6 ft. privacy fence in preparation for a dog. Garp behaved beautifully, and I was able to show the guys the hand signals for all of his tricks, which had expanded to include ‘off of the couch,’ ‘get over here now,’ and ‘move out of my way.’ We agreed that I’d bring Garp back that Saturday for a trial weekend.
I bawled my eyes out all the way home. This monster of a lap dog had grown on me. I walked he and Ernie down to the Dairy Queen for one last vanilla cone. Snuggled in my bed with him one last time. Saturday morning came. I collected all of his favorite toys, his halter and leash, and a bunch of treats. I loaded Garp into the car and drove him to Z’s. They were so excited about Garp; they showed me the bed they’d gotted and all the new toys they hoped he’d like. Trying not to make a scene, I told them to feel free to rename him; it didn’t much matter what you called him because he couldn’t hear you anyway. I showed them again how to fit the halter lead. I gave Garp a final hug and walked quickly out of the gate. I looked back, but he didn’t. He was busy picking through the new toys he was being offered.
Z sent me an email that Sunday afternoon to let me know they were really excited about having Garp and had agreed to keep him. He thanked me for giving Garp a chance and for giving him a good start. That was 2 years ago, and Z still sends me updates and pictures of Garp, now ‘Prince.’ He looks happy and healthy, and is absolutely doted on.