Special-needs young Australian shepherd mix to become search-and-rescue dog

Imagine you are deaf and blind — and you’re a dog. Your future might seem pretty bleak, so just imagine the jubilation you and your rescuers would experience if a canine handler were to recognize your abilities and not only adopt you, but put you in training as a search-and-rescue canine.

Helping a blind and deaf Australian shepherd mix

This scenario just played out for a young Australian shepherd mix named Helen Keller, who was named after the inspirational woman who blossomed under the tutelage of a gifted teacher. The folks at the Humane Society for Boone County, Indiana, reached out to Best Friends’ Community Animal Assistance for help with placing Helen.

One email from specialist Linda Gage to Best Friends members was all it took to get out the word that this special-needs girl needed a special home.

FEMA worker takes interest in special-needs dog

Special-needs Australian shepherd mix named Helen and another dog at home
Helen and friend

At the receiving end of the email was a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) worker, who went to the shelter to meet Helen. The worker learned that not only was Helen smart, but she had compensated for her lack of sight and hearing with her sense of smell, and that made her an expert at tracking.

The adopter, whose name has not been publicly released, had three other dogs in the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue system. "She was very interested in Helen’s abilities in this area," says Merry Walker, administrative assistant with special investigations at the shelter. "She worked with Helen for a few days and then decided to adopt her and work with her to get her certified as a search-and-rescue dog."

A bright future as a search-and-rescue dog

At about five months old, Helen had been surrendered to the shelter, where she had been assessed. "As far as we can tell, she has no hearing and about 10 percent eyesight — she can see light and shapes — and is 100 percent puppy," noted a report from the shelter soon after Helen arrived. "She bumps into things, but she is learning her surroundings very quickly."

Blind and deaf Australian shepherd mix dog sleeping in a chair
Safe and content

Linda could not be more pleased that the message she sent out seeking a home for Helen worked. "I was so thrilled to hear that not only did Helen have a potential home, but to be a search-and-rescue dog was the icing on the cake," says Linda. "Animals, and people for that matter, who are deaf and/or blind are referred to as having a handicap or a disability. To me, they have a gift."

Merry and the employees at the Humane Society for Boone County are pleased as well. "To our great joy," Merry says, "Helen now lives with her adopter and wakes each morning to a purpose in life." The shelter’s director of sheltering, Dee Dee Prather, adds, "Helen's future is very bright."

Community Animal Assistance at Best Friends

Community Animal Assistance (CAA), an important department here at Best Friends, is a critical piece in achieving No More Homeless Pets. Each week, the team takes over 500 calls for help from all over the world. We recognized early on that sometimes all it takes is some helpful advice to keep pets in homes and out of shelters.

Photos courtesy of the Humane Society for Boone County