Deaf dog learns sign language in prison

Dog newsNo, he wasn’t in prison for any crime, although, in a sense, he was in prison because he was deaf.

As reported in the Fulton Sun, a deaf Dachshund was given up by a breeder to a Missouri animal shelter. The shelter figured they would have a hard time finding a home for a deaf dog, so they enrolled him in a Missouri Department of Corrections program called “Puppies for Parole.” The program sends dogs with behavior problems, or a simple lack of training, to inmates in the Missouri prison system, who then train them to make them more adoptable. The program is run entirely on donations rather than tax dollars, and so far has succeeded in having 150 dogs trained and adopted.

This Dachshund went to the South Central Correctional Center in — wait for it — the town of Licking, Missouri. They named him Zeus, and, since he was deaf, the inmates had the great idea of consulting with hearing-impaired prisoners to learn some simple signs to teach the dog. They trained him to recognize signs for no, sit, stay, stop, lay down, and heel.

After 8 weeks of training, the prisoners figured the one-year-old Dachshund would make a great pet at a school for the deaf. The superintendent of the Missouri School for the Deaf, Barbara Garrison, loved the idea. When he arrived, they renamed him Sparky, due to his high energy. (Hmmm, one can see why that name might not be such a big hit in prison.)

Sparky is now getting along great at the school. He can’t hear a thing, so students have learned that they must get his attention by signing. They are working on teaching him additional signs, for concepts like outside and food.

Of-course dogs ordinarily learn to follow gestural commands, but that’s when they are augmented by verbal ones. The fact that Sparky has been able to learn some sign language in this way is really a very noteworthy thing, and a tribute to his trainers.

It’s a wonderful story, from every angle.


Twelve prisons in Missouri participate in the “Puppies for Parole” program. The Director of the Missouri Department of Corrections is quoted as saying that the goal of the program was to “make the atmosphere of the prison a little bit safer, and it really has done that.” That’s in addition to probably saving the lives of 150 dogs and counting, and placing one particular deaf Dachshund in an environment where he will both give and receive a lot of love. A story like this underlines how dogs are really such a great gift from God to human beings, and how, properly cared for, they can bring almost unlimited smiles and happiness; sometimes even in the unlikeliest of places.

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