Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lethal White

Our dog, Asha, is a blind and deaf Australian Shepherd. Before we found her at the Humane Society, we had never heard of such a thing. We did some research before we adopted her and have continued doing research since she became part of our family.

At first, we thought it was just a fluke - her blind and deafness. Then we realized that there is actually a term for dogs like her - Lethal Whites - and they are a problem among Australian Shepherd breeders. There are multiple colors of this breed. One of those colors is called Merle. When two Merle color dogs are bred, 25% of the time, the puppies will be blind and deaf or both. These blind/deaf dogs are called Double Merle or Lethal Whites. The term Lethal White can be misleading - you may think the the blind/deaf puppies don't survive long after birth due to genetics. The truth is that most of them don't survive because their breeders kill them when they realize they are blind and deaf.

Keep in mind, that breeders sell dogs for money. Many breeders will not sell "defective" dogs. Responsible breeders would never allow merle to merle breeding. I am not an advocate for breeding at all - there are far too many animals in shelters. But that's not what I am discussing here. Sadly, not all breeders are responsible.

None of this had occurred to us when we went to meet Asha. After we had decided we wanted her to come live with us, we asked the shelter workers how Asha came to be at there. They told us that when her breeder realized the entire litter of puppies was deaf and blind, he started drowning them - one by one. His wife saved Asha and two others - but the shelter could only take one. Asha is only alive because she wasn't the closet one to her breeder when he reached in to grab a puppy to drown. She is only alive because she was the lucky one of the three surviving pups to be taken in at the shelter.

Most people have said to us "what do you do with a blind and deaf dog. If they can't see and hear, what else is there?" Well, there's lots. She lives a very full, fun life and she is amazingly smart. She has only lived with us for three months, but I know we already take for granted the things she does. Here are just a few examples:

-she knows when its bedtime, we let her out to pee, then she comes back in and walks right to the stairs, goes up the stairs, turns left at the top, then turns right into the bedroom without hitting a wall or tripping on a stair.
-when we come home from our walks, she starts lifting her paws higher in anticipation for the front stairs.
-she runs out the back door and slows slightly at the edge of the deck before she launches off it just like our two dogs who can see do.
-every day when I leave home, I put her toys out around the house for her to find. She knows one of my favorite spots to put a toy is on the front couch and she goes right to the couch and looks for a toy when she realizes it is that time.

The list goes on and on. There are a hundred little things that she knows. Some we taught her, others she just knows. She loves to play with Buster and Maggie. She knows where they like to lay and will walk right over to those spots and start to play with them. Sometimes when she is near them, she'll put her paw on their back, just to keep track of where they are. And when we walk them all together, she likes to be between Maggie and Buster so she knows where we are going.

She is anxious and she requires more patience than I have, but she is becoming a really great dog. Having her has allowed my eyes to be opened to so many things. Before, I never wanted to know any details about the sad things that happen to animals. I worried that if I knew what went on in shelters or dog fighting operations, I would never get the images out of my mind. And I was right. I have slowly started to read things, to allow myself to become knowledgeable about what really happens. Many times I cry my eyes out while I am reading, most times it takes days for me to be able to stop thinking about what I have learned. It occurred to me that if I don't know, I won't help. Now that I know, there are things I can do. I can help other people have the courage to know too, because once we all really KNOW what goes on and how awful much of it is, we can change it. I don't want to say "there isn't anything I can do about it so I'd rather now know", anymore.

Here is a quote from a rescue group that I follow in Arizona called Amazing Aussies:

It is estimated that there are something like 4000 of these "Lethal Whites" born in the US every year. Approximately 2500 of these are silently suffocated, drowned, frozen, etc., in the privacy of the breeder's home or facility, and never have a chance. Of the 1500 or so that are dumped alive at the pound, in garbage cans and dumpsters, on the street or offered "for adoption" (sadly many are used as bait for dogfighting) on Craig's list, we are able to bring into the group around 100 a year, save perhaps that many again by assisting with placements in other parts of the country, and adopt out 60 to 80. We fight this fight every day and have done so for nearly 2 decades. It is time that people got outraged about this kind of cruelty, and ask their politicians to step up, regulate animal breeding, and made this kind of inhumane conduct illegal!'

As you read, some of these dogs have a fate worse than an early death. Blind/Deaf Aussies are favorite of people who run dog fighting operations. They find these dogs in shelters or more often on Craig's List and use them as bait because they don't know what's happening and can't fight back. That makes me sick to my stomach everytime I think about it or read about it because I have seen how Asha reacts when one of the other dogs gets annoyed and snaps at her. She gets this confused look on her face because she didn't see or hear the cues that they were annoyed with her. And that's what these sick monsters want.

The rarity of dogs like Asha is why it is so incredibly difficult to find information and help on how to raise her. So we do the best we can and hope that some day in the future, there won't be dogs like Asha and if there are - the people responsible will be punished and the dogs will have a safe, loving home to go to, instead of being drowned, shot or worse. We owe that to Asha's little brothers and sisters.

I encourage you to let yourself know the things you don't think you want to know. Once you do, you will find that you can't turn a blind eye anymore. When that time comes, the world will be a better place.
That's what Asha is dreaming about...


Tiffa said...

It truly is amazing how she has adapted so well. She sounds so much like my Airedale (who has no deficits!!!). We often hide her toys for fun and before she actually works to find them, she goes to the past 3 places she found them last time. Haha. You guy have worked so hard with Asha and the rewards are so worth it by the sounds of it. Keep posting the heartwarming stories. It breaks my heart what happened to the other puppies and indeed happens to so many puppies every year. It's disgraceful. I could never hurt a dog.

erin @ oliveourhouse said...

hi! i found your blog after googling around for "lethal white" blogs. we have a blind and deaf aussie- basil, who sounds just like yours! i guess a lot of them are pretty similar. but it's so funny to read about things they have in common- like lifting their paws real high when they know a step is coming. (is that not the most endearing thing?)

we absolutely LOVE basil (of course!) but also love that he has shown us that these "special needs" dogs are just like other dogs. we'll probably always have at least one white aussie from now on.

asha's littermates' fate is so sad, but probably so common. we aren't sure of basil's back story, but i'm not sure i want to know.

anyway, thanks for adopting! asha looks like a great dog!