Deaf Pets and the Evil Dalmation Breeder Lady
Not long ago, I read a deeply disturbing article about a Dalmation breeder who regularly euthanizes puppies born deaf, refusing to adopt them out under any circumstance, even to the experienced and outraged pet owners lined up and begging for the puppies to be spared. The indefensible reason given was that these deaf puppies would not be able to hear danger, might run into traffic, be killed and traumatize the children.
But more than all of this, this story disturbs me because I have a deaf animal myself…. my very own Johnny, the star of this cartoon. Though he is certainly different, and presents a unique set of challenges to me as his guardian, he is an extraordinary creature, the great love of my life, and I can’t imagine him ever being the subject of a debate over the worth of his life.
Sure, there were days in his kittenhood I thought his screaming would drive me out into traffic. There were other days when his intelligence and sensitivity made me cry with love. I wouldn’t let him walk alone in the street any more than I would my other cats. But is he more likely to be run over and killed if he got loose? I doubt it. Johnny is actually my most intelligent cat, and very careful. At a very young age, he learned to
"hear" by feeling the floor for vibrations, and always keeps one paw on some hard object wherever he is. He sleeps in his soft bed, but always one end of him is out on the floor (my ex-husband said he looked like toothpaste squeezed out of the tube). In this way, he often “hears” sounds before the other cats do.
He also learned very young that other cats have an ability he doesn’t have. He’s not sure how they do it, but he understands that they often know things before he does - for instance that someone will shortly appear at the door (they heard the bell) and to trust them and follow when they go off to the other room.
Johnny also learned a form of sign language that we made up together, and has a large vocabulary. He knows signs like, “come here”, “gimme a kiss”, “stop that”, “hungry?” and “be quiet” (when he finally learned it… that last one was tough to teach him, and took a long time because he so loves to shout).
Actually, Johnny can sense danger better than other cats (well, he’s a little paranoid, but, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you!) He used to go out on our roof in the old building, which was right next to our apartment door. One day he was out sunning himself when I heard an unexpected commotion. I looked out the door to see a group of unruly teenage boys whooping and hollering as they let themselves out onto the roof. My heart went into my throat. They were just the type of group that might like to get hold of a cat and do lord knows what with him… or a woman. Or both.
From my position in the hall, in one frame I could see both the boys (closer to me and slightly off to the left), and Johnny (straight ahead, about 15 yards, and peeking around the corner of a jutting wall). The boys were between us, but in a position that they couldn’t see Johnny or me, thank God. But Johnny had seen them, and clearly gotten the same vibe I did. He was crouched very low, with only one blue eye and one white ear peeking around the corner.
We made eye contact, but he didn’t move. I gave him the signal for “wait” and “be quiet”. He did. We stayed silent and breathless for one tense minute, waiting for the right moment. Shortly, the raucous party moved a little further off to the left, and looked over the far wall of the roof. I then motioned Johnny to “come”, “FAST”. He shot to his feet, and took off racing across the roof, into the hall, and directly into the apartment. Before the first thug could say, “sh- wh wazzat!”, we were in the apartment with the door locked.
I don’t think we would have been that lucky, or well coordinated, if it were another one of my cats in that situation. Precisely because he can’t hear, Johnny has learned to communicate visually, and learned everything he knows by watching. None of my other cats know those signs.
The vibrations of the feet on the roof alerted him to approaching people. His uncanny psychic sense, which is overdeveloped as a deaf cat, alerted him to the danger. His knowledge of certain signs, which he would not know if he were a hearing cat, allowed me to tell him, and him to understand, when it was safe to run when he could neither hear nor see. Finally, his trust of me, that we developed through a lifetime of love and respect, enabled him to act in the exact right moment.
Johnny is intelligent, observant, alert, full of sound and fury and drama, desires and demands… he’s more personality than some people I know. And more worthy of life than some others, I don’t mind saying. Johnny, the total nut, inspired my true calling, this cartoon. Without him, I’d still have a life full of love with my other pets. But I wouldn’t have this treasure to share with you. And to think that evil Dalmation breeder lady would have had him destroyed at birth. Unthinkable. Disgusting. How many priceless, irreplaceable, unique, precious and inspiring souls has she destroyed?
Johnny is evidence that deafness is no defect. Perhaps a hearing cat would have a more “normal” life. But without this trait, Johnny wouldn’t be what he is, which is absolutely extraordinary.