TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Spencer Jubb of S.E. Portland runs to catch up with his dog, Mojo, a Catahula Leopard, after going through the tunnel at the home of Gay Wakeland. Wakeland runs her business, Deaf Dogs of Oregon, from her home in Metzger. Gay Wakeland’s home in Metzger is going to the dogs.

Located in a quiet neighborhood not far from the Tigard Fred Meyer, it’s not uncommon to see more than a dozen canines racing up and down her yard, chasing one another and wrestling during one of her weekly doggy get-togethers.

But Wakeland isn’t running a doggy day care. She’s saving lives, one dog at a time.

For the past five years, Wakeland has run Deaf Dogs of Oregon, a nonprofit organization that brings in dogs with hearing issues and finds them loving homes in Tigard, Tualatin, Beaverton and across the Portland area.

Wakeland founded the organization with trainer Chelsea Tuning of Estacada. They had both owned and loved their own deaf dogs, but were shocked to discover that many deaf dogs were being abandoned across the country.

“People were getting rid of their dogs because they didn’t know what to do for their training,” Wakeland said. “We wanted to do something about that. People didn’t know what to do with them.”

Deaf Dogs of Oregon is one of the new organizations that rescues deaf dogs, trains them and finds them loving homes.

The dogs come from all over the country and are often delivered — by a network of volunteers from shelters in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas or Nevada — all the way to Wakeland’s home, where she finds foster families to take care of them.

Wakeland estimates the group has helped 60 deaf dogs find permanent homes over the last few years, and more are arriving every day.

“People are starting to find out about us,” she said.

The sound of silence

Many of the dogs brought to Wakeland are born deaf, the result of a genetic disorder brought on by poor breeding, she said.

Australian shepherds, pit bulls and Louisiana Catahoula leopard dogs are more likely to be born deaf, Wakeland said, because of the color of their fur.

Many dog owners are looking for breeds in specific colors, she said. One popular color pattern, called “merle,” produces mottled patches of color on the dogs’ fur.

But that color comes at a price, Wakeland said. When two dogs with the merle gene have puppies, the coloring is amplified, causing the dog to turn nearly pure white.

While those dogs are beautiful, there’s a higher likelihood that the dogs will also be born deaf, she said.

“It washes out the pigment in the fur so the hairs in the dogs’ inner ear can’t transmit any sound,” Wakeland said.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Dogs play together at the home of Gay Wakeland. Wakeland runs her business, Deaf Dogs of Oregon, from her home in Metzger.So-called “double merle” dogs face other challenges, as well. Many have irregularly shaped pupils and suffer from blindness.

While most see that as a challenge, Wakeland said that deaf dogs are just as easy to train as any other.

“There’s really no difference, except that they can’t hear you,” Wakeland said. “The training is a little different, but that’s about it. They can do anything that a hearing dog can do.”

Rather than use vocal commands to teach dogs to sit, stay or heel, Wakeland uses special hand signals to communicate with the dogs. A wiggle of the fingers? That means “good boy.” Turn your hand over and the dogs will sit.

It’s a form of sign language that both dogs and people are able to pick up easily, Wakeland said.

Beaverton’s Josh Foreman, whose dog Jester has both eyesight and hearing problems, said that he hasn’t regretted getting his dog through Deaf Dogs of Oregon.

“It’s way easier (than owning a hearing dog),” he said. “He wants to be around you and he wants to check in all the time to make sure you’re still there.”

Because many of the dogs are mistreated before being put up for adoption, some do come with behavioral challenges, Wakeland said. It takes a bit of TLC to get them to open up and accept people.

To help with that part of the process, the group has regular get-togethers to help the dogs socialize with other deaf dogs, and to give owners the chance to discuss with one another problems and challenges they are facing.

“We come almost every week,” Foreman said as Jester, a 70-pound leopard dog, romped across Wakeland’s yard. “It’s great.”

Jester comes to play, but others need more work when they’re adopted, like Luke, a deaf Australian shepherd adopted two years ago.

“I thought he was just the cutest,” said St. John’s resident Erica Pomerleau, petting Luke’s head on Tuesday evening. “I saw him and fell in love.”

Before Luke was adopted, he lived in a home with children who would come up behind him and startle him, Pomerleau said.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Joyce Atkins of Multnomah Village hugs her dog, Willow, an Australian Shepard, at the home of Gay Wakeland. Wakeland runs her business, Deaf Dogs of Oregon, from her home in Metzger. With very little previous training, it took a while for Luke to come out of his shell, she said. It was a learning experience for everyone involved.

“There was one day where he got out and chased a car. He couldn’t hear us when we yelled for him,” she said. “We got a lot of exercise that day chasing after him.”

Pomerleau enjoyed the experience of raising a deaf dog so much, however, that she adopted a second dog in February through the organization.

Deaf Dogs of Oregon can be seen at various events around Portland, including the Portland Pet Expo in October.

The group survives on donations and sales of crate pads, dog bandanas and other items sold at their various events. The group is currently raising money on GoFundMe to build several kennels for dogs on Tuning’s property in Estacada.

Want to help? Deaf Dogs of Oregon is looking for foster homes to care for dogs until they get adopted.

For more information on fostering and the organization, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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