“He’s friendly and he likes to play a lot. In the morning when he wakes up, he jumps on our bed and cuddles,” said 12-year-old Nikki, who has a lot in common with the new puppy her family adopted a few weeks ago.
The 8-month-old Cavapoo – a cross between a Poodle and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – was named “Butter” and came from a rescue for senior and disabled dogs. This fluffy rescue pup is deaf, a condition Nikki can understand since she was born with moderate to severe hearing loss in both ears. The condition was not diagnosed until Nikki was nearly two years old.
Nikki fell in love with her new dog and told her friends that his hearing loss makes him “just like me!” But how this Merrick, NY family found this special pup in need of a home is another story.
“It really is fate that we got this dog! I wasn’t even looking for another dog,” says Nikki’s dad, Dave Kramer. As the Kramers were not thinking about getting a dog, more than 100 miles away, Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) Walk4Hearing Senior Manager Ronnie Adler was. After the death of the Adler family dog a year ago, they decided to start the search for a new pet, and Ronnie began scouring rescue sites near her hometown in Pennsylvania. “I saw Butter and I just thought he was the cutest thing! Then I saw in the description that he was deaf, and I thought, I have to find him a home,” said Ronnie.
She and her husband agreed that a hearing dog would be safer for them, since Ronnie and her husband both have hearing loss. So, Ronnie went to work reaching out on Facebook searching for anyone who might want a new furry friend who is deaf. Ronnie knows a lot of people connected with hearing loss, as she’s managed the Walk4Hearing events across the country for 17 years now and keeps in touch with many families and friends she’s met through the Walks.
HLAA holds Walk4Hearing in 20 cities throughout the country each year to raise awareness and funds for hearing loss. Ronnie often gets to know participants and their families who return year after year to the events, designed to bring hope to people with hearing loss in their hometown communities.
“I see a lot of new faces each year, but many familiar ones too. Once you experience the magic of a Walk, you keep coming back! It’s a special bond that I feel particularly with people who return year after year,” says Ronnie.
The Kramer family has participated in the New York City Walk4Hearing for 10 years now, raising nearly $60,000 for the cause. They love that the Walks have helped to empower their daughter.
“When we first went to the Walk, we saw a place where hearing aids and cochlear implants were normal. We felt part of a community, and that lessened the challenges we were facing. We saw so many older kids with great speech, doing great things. It gave us hope of what was to come for Nikki,” said Dave.
Dave calls Nikki fearless. She plays basketball, volleyball, and her favorite sport is softball. Nikki is an honor roll student and has a host of friends she texted to share the news of their new dog, adding that this one would be extra special because of his hearing loss.
Dave says Nikki’s resilience is bolstered by the Walk4Hearing community of support the family has experienced for so many years now. They keep participating to give back to the community that made them feel connected, and to give others with hearing loss the same hope they felt. Through the Walks, Dave and Ronnie have become friends, and the two are connected on Facebook.
Dave happened to see Ronnie’s post late one evening. He said, “I was just scrolling through my feed, and I saw the post that Ronnie shared about the dog. I clicked on it, and as soon as I saw he was deaf, and was a Cavapoo, I said to myself, we have to get this dog! I was so excited that I woke my wife up to show her the picture.”
Then next morning, the Kramers filled out the application, and the rest is history. Butter, now renamed “Mookie” after the popular New York Mets baseball player, officially joined the Kramer family, now a two-dog household, just a couple of weeks later. Mookie is now fitting in nicely and is learning from their older dog, named after the Mets stadium, Shea. The Kramers have arranged for a trainer, who has experience with dogs who are deaf, to work with Mookie.
Experts say training a deaf dog can require extra patience, but animals often adjust very well. It can also be helpful to have a hearing dog in the household. Hearing loss in pets is common, and like in humans, is often not diagnosed.
“Ronnie has been as excited as we are for this dog. I can’t believe she did this for us. It really is all because of the Walk that we have Mookie! I never would have been following a dog rescue in another state,” said Dave who says he’s now trying to help Ronnie look for a dog for her family to return the favor.
by Meredith Resnick, Director of Strategic Communications, Hearing Loss Association of America