One couple's love of their dog has grown into a nationally recognized web site and is now the spot to match deaf dogs with forever homes.
It all began with the couple's rescue dog Nitro and a story we did right here on WDBJ7 three years ago. That story sparked the beginning of what is now called "Deaf Dogs Rock."
It was 2011 when Chris and Christina Lee adopted Nitro, a deaf puppy who had been rescued from a Salem riverbed.
The Lees use sign language to communicate with Nitro. But when the Lees first adopted Nitro, they'll tell you straight out that they were nervous.
'"The emotions we felt when we first got him; how stressed out we were and how worried we were," Christina Lee said.
They tried to find resources online and could not find any, but after taking a deep breath they realized training their deaf dog with sign language could be done.
The first command Nitro learned was "watch."
"Every time they make eye contact with you you get a flash and a treat," Christina Lee explained. "It conditions them to always watch you." Flash is the sign for good and is basically a hand going up before the treat is given.
Once Nitro was trained to always watch Christina Lee, other commands were taught including sit, turn around, and stay.
Nitro is rewarded with the flash of a hand and something that transcends sound - a doggy treat. Nitro also goes through the agility course like a pro.
The Lees' experience with Nitro is something WDBJ7 reported on in 2011. That story was seen nationwide. The result? (Click here to see the original story: http://www.wdbj7.com/news/local/2011-story-about-nitro-the-dog/24823010)
"We had people calling us from Minnesota. We had people calling from the West Coast," Chris Lee said. "They had seen the story, had heard about the story, and just wanted advice."
"We started getting a lot of emails, people asking for help, asking to re-home deaf dogs if we knew people," Christina Lee said.
And thus Deaf Dogs Rock was created - a website all about deaf dogs.
"There are posts you can read 'So you've adopted a deaf dog, What next?' or 'Should you adopt a deaf dog, is it right for me?' So helping people through that process, I think, has been really rewarding," Chris Lee said.
"We have video on how to teach you the signs. We have positive reinforcement training tips. We have redirection tips. We have crate training tips. We have potty tips," Christina Lee said.
The site also includes photo galleries. The newest is titled "The Ears Have It," featuring photos of deaf dog ears that people have sent in.
"They can send us their photos. We talk to them," Chris Lee said. "They tell their story. We can put their photos on our site. I think it helps the the whole idea of community."
Probably the most rewarding aspect of the website for the Lees is that it's become the go-to place for deaf dog adoptions. Shelters from Georgia to Pennsylvania rely on the website to place deaf dogs.
"Philadelphia animal control for example. We started listing their dogs for them and normally they would be put to sleep. If a deaf pit bull or a deaf boxer came in, it would automatically be put to sleep," Christina Lee explained.
Christina Lee coordinates volunteers to transfer puppies from one vehicle to another as the pups head to their new homes across many state lines.
The Deaf Dogs Rock Facebook site also helps get the word out. "I had three deaf puppies last month. Within 24 hours I had 5,700 shares." Christina Lee said. Click here to visit the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/deafdogsrock
The numbers of successful deaf dog adoptions tell the story. Since the web site started three years ago, 600 deaf dogs have been placed in forever homes.
Bobbie Wiggins with Angels of Assisi in Roanoke adopted a deaf puppy named Riley. Watching the two of them together shows just how much these two love each other.
"Lots of love, lots of joy. He is my five year old little girl's best friend." Wiggins said.