Deaf Dalmatian helps hospital patients heal through sign language

LOS ANGELES, California -- A Dalmatian is helping hospital patients heal, despite his own disability.

You might be tempted to call out to Charlie the Dalmatian, but he may not respond.

"He's 100-percent deaf. We've done all the tests," said Charlie's handler, Colleen Wilson of Hollywood.

Charlie was abandoned and scheduled to be put down at a shelter when Wilson adopted him. Wilson said he'd been surrendered by prior owners who probably didn't realize he was deaf.

"When I first met him, he was jumping all over me, scratching me and biting my arms," Wilson said. After Wilson trained with Charlie, she quickly realized he was smart and intuitive.

The two of them set out to learn American Sign Language together. Wilson said the trick is to get Charlie to look at you.

"I taught him the sign 'look at me' and from there I can go to sit, down, water, food, walk, car ride." Charlie turned out to be a great student. He can crawl across the floor when he sees the sign.

While most Dalmatians are usually too high strung for therapy work, Charlie has the perfect temperament to be around those in the hospital.

Erin Pickerel, a coordinator with The Paula Kent Meehan Pawsitive Pet Program at Providence Saint John's Health Center, decided to give him a chance. She said the fact Charlie is deaf helps him focus.

"Charlie will literally stare into the soul of our patients. He connects in a deeper way," Pickerel said.

Wilson said Charlie recognizes more than 50 signs in American Sign Language, including his name, "hug," and his favorite "love."

"He does 'I love you' to people. And he'll kiss them. And they get all excited because they've communicated with him and he reacts to it," said Wilson.

Wilson added, "Dogs with disabilities are just like regular dogs, they just communicate differently."

Both Wilson and Pickerel hope Charlie's success will blaze a trail for other rescue dogs.
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