Apollo's Gift

A friend called the other morning. His voice was hoarse. He explained that his vocal cords needed to be warmed up because he hadn’t spoken yet. I told him to get a dog. I’m always telling him to get a dog. Everyone needs a good dog. But this time I had a great angle. A dog is the perfect tool for keeping your vocal cords flexible. The last thing you utter before sleep is, “you can’t possibly have to pee again, just go
lie down” and the first words you scream in the morning are, “it’s only 6 o’clock, leave me alone, puh-lease!” He was amused but he passed on the offer to borrow one of my dogs for practice.

My roommate doesn’t have my vocal flexibility. She has no need of screaming or even talking. Her dog, Apollo, a white Boxer, is deaf.

People are fascinated when they first learn about Apollo. We humor their silly questions. One of my nephews was so surprised that he asked, “Does he walk into walls?”. My cousin was pleased that Apollo can bark. She wanted to know if he sounds to other dogs the way a deaf person who’s learning to talk sounds to us.

Other people ask if it’s difficult caring for a dog that’s abnormal. We don’t humor those people. Apollo is a constant reminder to us that “normal” is not the same thing as “average” or “typical”. He’s not an aberration. He was just born with something that most other dogs don’t have – adorable little pig ears that are decorative instead of functional.

A handicap? I don’t think so. While Kevvie, the old lady, is shaking in terror during a thunderstorm, Apollo is sleeping like a rock. While Ripley, the fireball, is trying to dodge and kill the monster inside the vacuum cleaner, Apollo is waiting patiently for a really good suction massage. And he has an advantage when we interrupt an incident of doggie malicious destruction. While everyone else runs for cover hoping we’re not really yelling at them, Apollo just turns his head away - the deaf dog equivalent of putting his hands over his ears and humming – because if he can’t see the anger on our faces, then it’s not there.

Unlike people, other dogs don’t seem to care that Apollo is deaf. Most dog communication is silent anyway. Have you ever been in a room with three fiercely possessive dogs who have gone off to three separate corners with their bones and suddenly, without any detectable signal, they swap bones and corners? How eerie is that? And just how difficult could it be for Apollo to interpret Ripley’s “read my lips” message of bared teeth when she’s tired of playing? Or the out-of-the-corner-of-her-eye glare that Kevvie gives him when he gets too close to her dish? Even the cat’s raised, hooked paw speaks a thousand words.

Apollo doesn’t know that he’s deaf so it doesn’t affect him. He cruises the communication super highway with ease. If he’s not interested in obeying our hand signals for obedience commands, he looks away with a devilish gleam in his eye. If he wants to go through a closed door, he readies his nails and cocks his eyebrow, daring us to ignore him. When he’s upset, he snorts. When he’s happy, he squirms. And it’s no more difficult for us. To get his attention, we stomp on the floor to send a vibration his way. To show our displeasure, we point at him and scowl. To praise him, we smile and mime applause.

He may sleep through a few raucous renditions of “there’s someone at the door” or be a few seconds late for lunch because he didn’t hear the dog food cabinet open but that doesn’t mean he isn’t like everyone else. He sheds. He chews. He has bad breath. He sleeps on the sofa when we’re not home. He licks himself in front of company. And he understands the power of sound - that funny vibration he can make in his throat. He knows when to use his amusing, chortling growl to enliven a wrestling match. He even climbs onto the bench of our deck and stands surveying his territory, barking in single, well-spaced woofs to proclaim himself “king of the world”.

Apollo is no different from other dogs. Well, with his pig ears, stub tail and smashed-in face, he’s very different from the German Shepherd with pointed ears, a long tail and a tapered muzzle but inside, he’s a regular, everyday Fido. Just a dog. A sweet, kind, wiggly (and usually pleasingly quiet) dog.

Maybe I should change my strategy and sell my friend on a deaf dog.

Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com

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