Four years ago, I met a wonderful woman. Her name is Patricia. She is a Navy veteran, and a cancer survivor (no wonder we get along so very well) AND she is Momma Spotter for TN Safety Spotters.
Patricia started with one abandoned dalmatian puppy found almost frozen in a snowbank. Through patience, repetition and time, she taught Lottie Dot basic and advanced obedience, then Canine Good Citizen and finally, Lottie Dot gained her Registered Therapy Dog certificate. Lottie Dot volunteered 8 years at our local VA hospital, retrieving balls in the physical therapy department to encourage hand/arm usage, and visiting patients to share her love both at the VA and for 7 years at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. She is now retired from regular hospital therapy visits. Patricia and Lottie Dot are a R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dog) team as well, and Lottie Dot loves to encourage children with learning disabilities to read. It’s amazing that a child who won’t read one sentence out loud to a teacher will read for 10 minutes out loud to a dog. I’ve also seen Lottie Dot work her magic at a presentation to teach children how to be safe around a dog. There was a girl absolutely terrified of dogs there, so terrified that she wouldn’t enter the room that Lottie Dot was in. Her wonderful teacher convinced her to come in. Working with Patricia, this little girl was giving Lottie Dot some treats by the end of the program. Lottie Dot’s gentle demeanor and patience with a fearful child was a joy to see. Lottie Dot continues to visit some of the R.E.A.D. classes where she’s been a volunteer for 8 years.
Then came Izzy. Izzy is also a Canine Good Citizen, a Registered Therapy Dog and R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dog) team, in addition to being a K9 Life & Safety educator. Izzy took Lottie Dot’s place at the VA, and for some of the R.E.A.D. classes. She can stop, drop, and roll on command and will happily demonstrate “crawl low and go” to escape smoke, as well as dialing 911 on a special keypad. These behaviors are used quite a bit when Izzy goes to work with Momma Spotter at the Fire Museum of Memphis – the children who visit will always remember “the fire dog with the blue eyes who taught me dial 911”. Izzy’s striking blue eyes also capture the adults she meets, as well as provoking questions about her sight. Izzy also participates in parades and loves to be out in public. She got so much attention at a petting booth fundraiser that the top of her head wasn’t white anymore! This past fall, Izzy took the stage with Germantown Fire Department’s LAFF troupe. This program from the fire department teaches fire safety through a variety of skits to children of all ages. Izzy fit right into the skits and wasn’t scared of any of the costumes at all!
Then a year ago came Astro. This young pup has achieved Canine Good Citizen and will be testing for his Registered Therapy Dog Certification next month. He’s already been “helping” at the museum, and is working on his salute so he can also volunteer at the VA. He LOVES to fetch a thrown ball. Being just one year old, he does like to play a bit more than his older sisfurs. He’s settling in nicely as part of the TN Safety Spotters pack, as long as we don’t talk about the time he opened (and scattered across the entire house) that box of cornstarch, or the collars he’s chewed up, or the time where he found the mud in the backyard… boys will be boys I guess. HA!
This past summer, all three dogs gave a fire safety presentation at a local assisted living facility to celebrate one of the resident’s 101st birthday. The dogs loved the attention, the residents loved watching the dogs perform, and the birthday boy was THRILLED that actual dalmatians came to his party!
All three of these dogs are also part of the “It’s Cool 2 B Kind” program to counter the bullying problem in our schools. Most recently, they traveled to Atlanta to assist in a presentation at a school there.
These dogs also travel to the Nashville 9-11 Stair Climb: 343 Firefighters climb 110 stories in remembrance of the 343 FDNY Firefighters that died at the Twin Towers on 9/11/01. Lottie Dot, Izzy, (and soon Astro) provide their special spotted brand of comfort, love and encouragement to the first responders that participate in the climb.
As if all their accomplishments above weren’t enough, what makes these dogs REALLY special is that they are all deaf! Yes, you read that right, deaf. Patricia has worked many, many hours teaching the dogs to watch her so she can sign a command. They’ll even watch her instead of a moving treat. How many of you dog-parents out there can say that?
My very first dog, when I was just a baby, was a dalmatian. According to my baby book, my first word was “Get”, apparently telling the dog to get out of my room. Who knew I’d fall in love with spots all over again some forty-plus years later?
I hope you’ll get a chance to meet my fave spotted loves in person one day. They’ll wiggle their butts to see you, and you’ll be gently nuzzled, especially if you’re upset. You might even be leaned on – it’s their way of reminding you that they are here for you! If you’re too far away from west Tennessee, consider “Like”-ing their page on Facebook and follow their many adventures!
Without Patricia, these four deaf dogs would have probably been put down. Instead, she is proving that dogs don’t need ears, they can (and do) hear with their hearts.