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Leppy the Wonder Dog
We are adopting a dog named Leppy. His foster mom calls him Leppy, but like most adopted dogs we’ll probably change his name. Leppy is a puppy, only 5 months old. But Leppy is very unusual in that he is blind and deaf. Leppy is white with mottled areas of gray. This mottled pattern comes from the merle gene and can be expressed in dogs such as Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, and Catahoula Leopards. Dogs homozygous for the merle gene can be blind and deaf. Leppy is a Catahoula.
Catahoula Leopard dogs originated in Louisiana. They were mixed with “bloodhounds, mastiffs, and greyhounds” brought by Spanish explorers per the AKC website. Catahoulas were bred to herd wild cows and hogs that were rampant in Louisiana in the 1800s. The dogs would form a “canine fence” to corral the errant animals. The origin of their name is not clear – it might be another name for Choctaw or it might mean sacred lake, from the Choctaw language. In 1979, the Catahoula Leopard was named the official state dog of Louisiana.
I had never heard of a Catahoula Leopard before coming across Leppy. As a family, we’ve had dogs for the past 20 years, including 2 labs, a lab mix, and a beagle. Our lab mix required a lot of care before he passed in July, and I thought it might be interesting to adopt a special needs dog. Over the years we’ve tended to gravitate towards animals that are hard to adopt. We adopted a cat who had been in the shelter the longest, and we recently adopted a black cat that is blind in one eye. Right now, we have 2 dogs, an 80 pound, super chill, couch potato named Big Ben, and a beagle named Tucker who has been with us for 12 years. Unfortunately, Tucker has an untreatable and pretty aggressive cancer, so he probably won’t be with us much longer. Although I was going to wait to adopt until he dies, with the Covid 19 pandemic shelters and rescues have become overcrowded. Also, I have lots of help at the moment since 2 of my kids, usually in college, are finishing out the semester at home. So, we are adopting now.
Catahoulas (or Houlas as owners call them) need a lot of exercise. I’m not sure how this is going to work out with a blind and deaf dog. His foster mom says he walks pretty well on a leash, but running around the yard isn’t an option because we don’t have a fence. Even if we had a fence, he might run into it so a leash seems like the best option. Google, the font of all knowledge, says there aren’t many blind and deaf dogs in the US, so resources may be scarce. What I’ve read so far is that blind and deaf dogs can be trained using touch – tap on the face, rump, etc. I’ve never been much of a dog trainer so this will be interesting. Blind and deaf dogs also navigate by touch and smell. Luckily, we have quite a few different types of floors (hard wood, tile, carpet) so these will help Leppy navigate. We also have a plug-in deodorizer in our family room/kitchen area.
We pick up Leppy today, so I’ll soon find out what it’s like owning a blind and deaf dog. I’m sure there will be bumps in the road, and a few “whose idea was this anyway” comments. Leppy was briefly adopted by someone else, but he cried all night and that was enough. Knowing this, we are prepared. Actually, the shelter owner, who specializes in blind, deaf, and blind/deaf dogs, says that crying in the night is common for blind dogs. Leppy’s foster mom is confident this will only last a day or two, and hey, we’ve had a beagle for 12 years so a little crying and barking won’t be enough to scare us off. I’ll report back soon, after we’ve had Leppy for a few days. Maybe he’ll have a new name by then!