Helping a blind, deaf merle Australian shepherd puppy

Two merle Australian shepherds are bred and produce a puppy who is deaf and blind. Animal rescue groups step in to help.
By Amy Abern

Kayla, a blind and deaf puppy, could easily serve as the poster canine for Best Friends Animal Help. Her story exemplifies the department's core mission: to provide people with animal welfare resources and education so they may effectively help animals in their own communities and beyond.

Kayla's story involves Wanda Thorpe, a woman in Montana who reached out to Best Friends Animal Help in Utah, which led her to Amazing Aussies in Arizona and eventually to Kayla's happy ending. During her journey, Wanda also learned a few lessons she'll have at her disposal to promote better animal welfare practices in her community.

Special-needs merle Australian shepherd puppy

Wanda, who is from Thompson River Animal Care Shelter, received a call from "Jane," who had become the self-appointed champion of Kayla, the only disabled member of an otherwise healthy litter of puppies romping around in her neighbor's backyard. The man living there had mated his dog with another neighbor's dog.

Jane said that both neighbors loved their animals, but neither party felt capable of caring for a puppy with special needs. Jane learned they were thinking of putting the puppy down. That's when she called Wanda.

"I knew we weren't in a position at our shelter to care for the puppy, either," Wanda says. "So I called Best Friends. I knew their reputation and I figured if anyone could help this poor girl out, it would be them."

Best Friends Animal Help

Wanda talked to Animal Help specialist Pat Prior. After listening to her story, Pat asked for a photo of Kayla. As soon as she saw the dog, Pat knew she wasn't looking at just any blind, deaf puppy. Kayla is a "lethal white," the product of two merle Australian shepherds. Sadly, when two merle Aussies mate, there's a chance for genetic defects like deafness and blindness. Wanda didn't know this, and neither did the shepherds' human companions.

Finding an animal rescue to help blind, deaf puppy

Pat provided Wanda with information on how to find rescues that might be willing to take in Kayla. She hit pay dirt with Amazing Aussies Lethal White Rescue in Arizona.

Then came the issue of transporting Kayla. Since Best Friends sits about halfway between Montana and Arizona, Wanda made a deal with the folks at Amazing Aussies: She would take Kayla to Best Friends if someone from Amazing Aussies would meet her there and take her home. Done!

Kayla enjoyed foster care at Wanda's house for a few days before heading south. "She is the sweetest, most lovable dog," Wanda says. "And she's so smart. As soon as she'd smell me coming into a room, she'd find her way over to me to be picked up and loved. She could sense vibrations. And when I'd open a can of wet dog food, she'd just go nuts."

Genetic defects in merle Australian shepherd offspring

While Kayla sensed her way around the house, Wanda conducted a little "lethal white" research on her own. She learned that the chances of passing on genetic defects from breeding two merle Australian shepherds run as high as 20 percent. She also discovered this particular phenomenon affects other breeds as well.

"I found out that this kind of thing could happen to certain breeds of dachshunds, too. Dachshunds are very popular in my neck of the woods. This is important information to know."

Pat told Wanda that if she really wanted to be a hero, she could encourage the people who had mated their Aussies to spay and neuter not just the mom and pop, but the entire litter. When Wanda did just that, they both bristled at the idea at first. But when Wanda explained the genetic dangers inherent in the breed, they agreed to the procedures.

When the time finally came to say goodbye to Kayla, Wanda found it difficult. "I know she'll be in the best place possible, and so this is a good thing. I'm just so glad she's still with us. Kayla is truly a gift to the world."

Consider making a gift today to help other dogs in need.

Photo above is of Gabriel, beloved dog of Karen Anderson. Thanks, Karen!

Caring for Pets