YPSILANTI, MICH. - Braille is one of the happiest dogs you’ll ever meet.
The two-year-old Australian Shepherd was born fully blind and deaf as the result of merle-to-merle breeding, but it hasn’t stopped him.
He’s learned tricks via touch and tactile cues and can even play the piano.
“With a deaf and blind dog, you use what they have, which is their sense of touch,” Braille’s owner, Rose Adler, 28, of Ypsilanti, explained.
So far, Braille has earned his Novice Trick Dog title, given out by the American Kennel Club after learning 5-10 tricks, and is working on earning his intermediate and advanced titles next.
Braille is what’s known as a double merle.
Merle is a dog coat that distinguishes breeds like Australian shepherds and the Alapaha blue blood bulldog. A dog with one copy of the gene will have a lighter coat, but a double merle, like Braille, has two copies of the gene, leaving their coat almost entirely white from a loss of pigmentation.
When two merle dogs are bred together, the puppies have a 25% chance of being born a double merle. The pigment loss results in a very high chance of being born blind, deaf or both, and sometimes without eyes.
Adler has provided Braille with a loving, supportive home, which has five animals between herself and her roommate — two cats and three dogs.
Many double merle puppies are abandoned or killed by their owners. It’s an irresponsible form of breeding that’s preventable, Adler said.
She got interested in merle puppies after her friend, Amanda Fuller of North East, Md., adopted one. She and Fuller founded the nonprofit group, Keller's Cause, after Fuller's dog.
A rescue group found Braille on Craigslist, where he was listed for free by his breeder. The puppy was flown on Delta from Texas to Ohio to be fostered by Speak for the Unspoken, which specializes in special needs rescue animals.
Adler, searching for a puppy, “fell in love” with Braille there.
“I meet a lot of people who are like, ‘Why don’t you euthanize that dog?’ Or they say, ‘Aww, he’s blind.’ Look at him,” Adler said. “He doesn’t know he’s blind. He’s happy. He’s worried about what he’s going to have for dinner.”
Braille runs around his Ypsilanti home, joyfully nuzzling against people and playing with his best friend, 5-year-old Pixel, also an Australian Shepherd. In the backyard, Braille tosses around his favorite toy, a jolly ball (a dog-proof soccer ball) with a rope.
“Braille has taught me that a bad situation is what you make it,” said Adler, who is the online learning senior media developer at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor.
And Braille, who travels around with Keller’s Cause helping educate people through events and demonstrations, is making the most out of life. He loves going on hikes, napping with the cats and kayaking with his owner.
“He’s probably the happiest dog I’ve ever met,” Adler continues. “He’s never upset about anything; he’s confident, he loves to play and snuggle. He has trust in everyone he meets. It’s one of the things that amazes me (most) about him, he’s never met a stranger that he didn’t trust.”
She said Braille didn’t have to be born with disabilities, though.
“Our (double merle) dogs were given these disadvantages in life because a person made a choice to breed their dogs together without doing the research first.”
Adler hopes to put an end to avoidable disabilities in dogs by raising awareness.
“This dog was born with the short stick in life, but he’s happy, and he’s happy with what he has and what he can do. He doesn’t worry about what he can’t do,” she said.
“It’s OK to live a life that others do not understand.”
© 2017, Detroit Free Press