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Woman’s Dedication Wins Trust Of Special Needs Dog

Thor was given a second chance even as a special needs pup.

Thor was given a second chance even as a special needs pup.

By Amber Mahrou

With Valentine’s Day just behind us, love is in the air—especially for Sandra Holton and her loving, devoted companion, Thor. Although the two are inseparable now, their relationship was not always so heartwarming.  In fact, the story of Sandra and Thor is one of perseverance and uncommon dedication, and proves that love, while not always easy, is always worth the challenge.

It was more than a year ago when Sandra was introduced to Thor. Her roommate Joey, who is the proud pet parent of a Heaven Can Wait boxer, met Thor at an adoption event. Joey thought Sandra and Thor would be a great match, and when she saw how cute he was online, Sandra decided to meet the dog. Thor was well-mannered and just as handsome as his pictures suggested.  He seemed to know his commands well, so it was settled; he was going home with Sandra, joining her roommate Joey and their other boxer, Tye.

Of course, there is always a period of adjustment when you bring a new dog into your home, and when that dog happens to be a 100lb boxer who’s still almost a puppy, well, that does complicate matters, even if you don’t happen to be a petite woman like Sandra. Thor also had a few bad habits when Sandra took him in; he was a chewer who would demolish anything he could get his jaws around.  He’s such a big boy it meant that anything from countertops to all but the highest bookshelves was fair game.

But the biggest challenge with Thor had nothing to do with his love of chewing un-chaperoned objects around the house. Sandra’s biggest challenge with Thor was communicating with him.

Thor received training to help his owner communicate with him.

Thor received training to help his owner communicate with him.

You see, Thor is deaf.  Sandra knew he was deaf when she adopted him, but she wasn’t quite prepared for some of the more surprising challenges that came along. The first shock was Thor’s aggression. Having no way to communicate with him as you would a hearing dog, Sandra had a hard time convincing Thor that he was not her equal in the pecking order, and as a result his pushiness could be downright scary. He would jump on her, and at his size, one jump was enough to knock her down. He would mouth her hard enough to leave bruises and try to intimidate her into giving him treats by barking and growling. Concerned and not knowing how to get through to Thor, Sandra found herself putting him in his crate and appeasing him with treats for her own safety.

At times like this, Sandra wondered what she had gotten herself into. Had she made the right choice in adopting Thor? She read everything she could find about deaf dogs, and some of the things she read were disturbing. She read that deaf dogs could be aggressive, like Thor was, and that at one point deaf dogs were put down as a matter of course because it was thought that they could not be trained. But Thor was not always aggressive, and when Sandra saw how sweet and lovable he could be when he was not acting up, she knew there had to be a way.  Ultimately Sandra’s research led her to Deaf Dog Training.

Thor during his training session with Sandra.

Thor during his training session with Sandra.

Her internet search brought her to the website of “Sit Means Sit,” a large, well-known dog training organization with locations around the country. She gave them a call and was directed to David Heck, a local trainer who could help her with Thor. David at first came to do lessons in Sandra’s home, and his method employed the use of an electronic collar—on a very low setting, of course.

This is what allows Sandra to get Thor’s attention, since he can’t hear verbal commands. Using hand signals, David and Sandra were able to finally begin communicating with Thor and he turned out to be a much better student than they could have ever anticipated. In fact, it wasn’t long before Thor was able to join in Sit Means Sit group classes and he’s now not only is he participating in advanced classes which are essentially agility courses, he is also a better student than most of the other dogs in the class—and all of them can hear!

Sandra and even the trainer David are amazed with Thor’s progress. Once a destructive, pushy, disobedient dog, Thor is now confident and calm and learning more every day. He lives to please Sandra and will do anything she asks of him, from running up a narrow set of playground steps just to come to her to jumping onto a three foot tall cylinder at her command. The two of them are now so in sync that Sandra can communicate with Thor with just her eyes; he’s learned to read her expressions and her lips, and can understand some of her spoken commands now just by watching her. Thor is a happy, well-adjusted dog, and he’s learning so fast that Sandra and David are having a hard time trying to come up with a new challenge for him—it seems like he’s conquered them all!

Thor resting peacefully in his new "forever" home.

Thor resting peacefully in his new “forever” home.

There were certainly times when Sandra wondered whether she could handle Thor, but these days she says, “He’s so worth it.” Sandra is really glad she stuck it out with him, because he’s her pride and joy, and she doesn’t think he’d be in such a good place if she hadn’t held onto him. Her bond with Thor is so close and their communication is so natural, she even forgets he’s deaf sometimes. Thanks to Sandra’s dedication and unwillingness to give up on her companion, this is one love story that will last a lifetime.

Thor was rescued by Heaven Can Wait along with his two brothers.  Each was enrolled into our Pups on Parole program where they received the first steps of their rehabilitation and training.  All three dogs now have new adopted homes.  We congratulate Sandra on her persistence with a special needs dog.

Heaven Can Wait dog adoptions are held every Saturday at the Bone Appetit store on W. Tropicana and Ft. Apache.  You can see all of the available dogs ready for adoption on our website: http://ww.hcws.org

Thor and Tye hanging out together.

Thor and Tye hanging out together.


4 Responses

  1. What a great story! Love it!

  2. Happy to have found you on WordPress via “Our Engangered Planet and it’s Wildlife.” Many Blessings on you and Thor. Thank you for extending empathy and compassion and lending voice to sentient, living beings who cannot speak for themselves. Your future posts will be on our radar.

    ~Gerean Pflug for “The Animal Spirits”

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