Mon. Sep 26th, 2022

Fourteen-year-old Maya, a Jack Russell Terrier, obeys her owner well, although she has never heard one of her commands.

Maya can’t hear anything – but she does understand sign language.

Joanne Sparkman, of Gladwin, realized Maya was deaf when she was about four months old. Maya doesn’t miss a beat, though.

Sparkman and Maya have communicated through signing for the past 14 years.

“She learned sign language and she knows her commands,” Sparkman said.

When Sparkman and her husband, Matthew, suspected Maya was deaf, they tried yelling and making loud noises while Maya was turned away from them. The dog never flinched. They took her to the vet, and sure enough, Maya was diagnosed as hearing impaired.

Looking for a solution, Sparkman got the book, “Living with a Deaf Dog,” by Susan Cope Becker. Through the book, she taught Maya sign language and learned tips on how to give her a high-quality life.

“I knew it was doable,” Sparkman said of teaching Maya sign language.

Maya was bred from Sparkman’s male dog, Aztec, and a friend’s female dog. Neither one was deaf. Maya is mostly white, a color which is sometimes associated with deafness in the Jack Russell breed.  

While teaching Maya sign language, Sparkman sat on the floor, made eye contact, and taught Maya how to recognize her name. Then they worked on the command to come and other commands. In exchange, Maya would get a treat. The Sparkmans also taught Maya to come back inside the house when they flashed the outside light on and off.

There are a couple of commands that Maya doesn’t always follow – stop playing and to go to her crate – but Sparkman thinks she understands them just fine.

“If she’s doing something fun, she won’t look at you,” Sparkman said.

Maya, the oldest of Sparkman’s six-dog pack, was a gift for Sparkman’s daughter’s fifth birthday. But Sparkman said Maya is really her own “baby” and more her dog than anyone else’s.

Maya loves other dogs, but she loves people even more. One time at a park, she saw a mother and her children lying on a blanket with a baby in the center. Maya ran right over to them and crawled up and rolled on the blanket.

“She just loves attention,” Sparkman said.

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