July 22, 2011|By Erika I. Ritchie
The biggest challenge Katie McDaniel faces with her recent adoption of a blind and deaf Aussie pup named Ranger is to remember that he is blind and deaf.
“If he doesn’t have his transmitter on, I have to go and get him,” she said. “I’m always talking to him because he seems so normal.”
McDaniel, an artist and her husband, Bob McDaniel, a chemistry teacher at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, didn’t think they’d have a “ghost of chance” in adopting him after reading about the rescue of “Cooper” by the Lake Forest-based Lifeline Animal Rescue in the Register in April. When they found out he was going to be on view at the Pet Expo in Costa Mesa with his trainer Tim Welch, they instantly dropped all other plans and bee lined it to the show.
“He was a sweet little white ball of fur and all tongue,” Katie McDaniel said.
The couple lives in Laguna Woods Village in an upstairs unit and didn’t have a yard. But they’d adopted an 18-month-old Chesapeake Bay retriever in December from the Irvine Shelter who they were training as a therapy dog.
“What greater undertaking could Christmas have than be a big sister to another puppy who has special needs,” Katie McDaniel wrote to the rescue group. The couple also explained that they did not have specific practice or experience with the challenges of a blind and deaf puppy but said they have time and patience.
When Francine Shute, vice president of the rescue group, received their email, she felt like they might be a good fit and scheduled to meet them.
“I felt like they had the time and desire to learn about his handicap,” Shute said. “They were also willing to spend time and resources. They seemed like they were coming from a place of really wanting to help.”
Since his rescue, Ranger, whose full name is Staff Sgt. Ranger Mac Sawgunner Retired, named for their son’s two tours of service in the Army’s 3-75th Ranger Regiment, has been the life of the party at the McDaniel’s home.
At first Katie corralled him in the kitchen so he could begin getting his bearings. He became fast friends with Christmas who after about two weeks jumped the fencing and brought Ranger toys. Since then the barricades have come down and Ranger navigates well through the couple’s home. Ranger has two ways of communicating. One is with a vibrating collar that teaches him to seek his owners. The other is using his scenting skills.
“He knows how to seek Tim,” Katie McDaniel said. “Now because I’m with him 24/7, he’s redefining his nose skills. He follows scent downwind and is learning to distinguish between a rising scent in a bright and warm day and the confluence of smells and descending scents on a cooler, darker day. It’s simply a matter of nose immaturity.”
Each week Ranger goes to a dog social. There he has become fast-friends with a grey pit bull female named Sharky. In the Laguna Woods Village neighborhood, he’s become a favorite. He’s also bonded with a border collie-mix service dog named, Coral.
Welch, who operates Redefined Dog Training in Long Beach, still continues training the now almost 8-month-old pup once a week.
“He’s learned everything quite normally as in the learning curve of a regular dog,” Welch said. “Normally in training a dog we use tactile stimulation and voice. Then we stop the touch and just use voice. In his case we made the signals all tactile.”
He is told to sit by a tap on his behind. Tap on his shoulder means lie down, touch his nose and he stays. Two taps on his side means he can go and play.
For the McDaniels, Ranger’s addition to their home is a gift.
“He’s wonderful and Christmas loves him,” Katie said. “He’s an ideal dog. People never know he’s blind and deaf when they meet him.”