Animal rescue is all about recognizing that every animal deserves a chance: a chance to live and a chance to be happy. Sometimes that means putting in a little extra effort for a dog with special needs because they deserve to be adopted too.
Mary Jo DiLonardo fosters puppies through Speak! Rescue and Sanctuary, a St. Louis-based Australian Shepherd and Border Collie rescue. In May of 2022, she wrote about her experience with one blind and deaf puppy, who reminded her of the value of taking a chance on a special needs dog.
Blind, Deaf, And Worthy Of A Little Patience
Calla Lily, an Australian Shepherd mix, was being sold for free on Facebook alongside the rest of her litter. She, fortunately, ended up in Speak!’s care.
Lily “lost the genetic lottery” and was born a double merle. That means both her parents carried the merle gene, and when two dogs with the gene are bred, their offspring have a 25% chance of being born with hearing and vision abnormalities like she was. It’s considered irresponsible breeding to allow two carriers of the merle gene to mate.
But regardless, little Calla Lily made her way into this world, and she would need a patient, experienced rescuer to help her navigate it without sight or hearing. That’s when DiLonardo stepped up as a foster.
“I have fostered nearly two dozen special needs dogs. Most have been blind or deaf, but Lily is now my sixth blind and deaf puppy,” she wrote in her essay.
Lily Thrives In Foster Care
Calla Lily came to DiLonardo’s house alongside one of her seeing/hearing siblings. DiLonardo wrote:
“Lily’s sister, Ivy, can see and hear and they both wrestle like mad in the house and the yard. Ivy pounces on her unsuspecting sibling, but Lily dishes it back in full. She is feisty but loving, so playful, and incredibly happy.”
Under DiLonardo’s care and with her sister and foster brother by her side, Lily gained confidence exploring her new residence and playing in the yard.
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Training her wasn’t easy, but Lily quickly showed how eager she was to keep up with the other dogs at her foster home. Lily learned swiftly how to adapt to her hearing and sight deficiencies.
“It can be daunting. We work on touch commands to learn to sit, stay, and good job for going potty where you’re supposed to. There are a few bumps as they first map the yard and rooms, learning when to stop just short of the house or the fence or the deck stairs. But it didn’t take Lily long to figure out how to race out to the pine straw and do her business, then do a few joyful laps before carefully finding the back door and making a beeline right for the water bowl across the room.”
The Aussie puppy also showed how grateful she was to her foster mom for allowing her to grow and figure things out in her own time.
“She will snuggle with you (when she’s tired) and loves to be carried, either perched high in my arms and tucked under my chin or sprawled across my forearm like some sort of floofy kitten,” DiLonardo wrote.
Mostly what DiLonardo observed over her time fostering Calla Lily is how much joy the pup can find in each day even though she can’t see or hear.
“I admit I love watching her sleep. She sprawls in an utter calm and deep relaxation. Then she wakes up, ready to tackle the world (or at least her toys and her sister) with abandon.”
A Bittersweet Goodbye And A Happy Hello
The tough thing about fostering is turning your foster pup over to their new adopters. It’s bittersweet to see your hard work and dedication result in a happily ever after for a deserving dog.
After what she witnessed as a foster parent, DiLonardo felt hopeful that Calla Lilly was ready for her future family. Whether anyone was ready to take care of her particular needs was more uncertain.
“While pups with no special needs are sometimes adopted quickly, I know that we will need someone special for this special girl. A lot of people just see the cute fluff or the smiling photos. But the perfect person has to be patient and loving, smart and resourceful,” she wrote.`
On June 13th, 2022, DiLonardo’s hopes were realized. Lily was adopted into a loving family fully prepared to help her thrive despite her disabilities. A caption on DiLonardo’s Instagram noted:
“Her new parents have two gorgeous Aussies and were excited to add another one to the family. It takes people with such kind hearts to open their homes to a special needs pup. Now appropriately named Joy, this puppy will have the best life!”
Fostering saves lives, and Joy is just one example that shows it is worth the effort. Follow sweet Joy and her wonderful new life on Instagram.
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