Helping the world to hear with their hearts… That is what Cole the Deaf Dog has set out to do.
Cole is a deaf pitbull who, a handful of years ago, landed himself in the care of the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter. Being deaf, he was labeled as “special needs” and those two little words became his “scarlet letter” in more ways than one.
The phrase “special needs” is general and broad. Aside from there being varying degrees of impairment under the umbrella of classifications, the language is disrespectful and carries a societal weight that is limiting beyond the scope of the actual disability. People with disabilities are often seen as “less than”; a burden on society, cast aside to wallow in the shadows of a bustling world. As if we didn’t already suffer from enough self doubt and insecurity, someone with a disability may feel even more alone.
In the world of animal rescue, the disabled population faces many of these same challenges. Our innate reaction to seeing an animal who is different is, “what quality of life will they have?” What we’re really asking however is, “how much harder will MY life become if I take in a pet with limitations?” And this is exactly what happened to Cole.
Cole didn’t receive much interest during his time at the shelter because his lack of hearing was interpreted as a burden. That is, until his guardian angel found his way to him.
Cole was adopted in April of 2017 by Chris Hannah, a New Jersey, music school teacher. Inspired by his nephew, who is also deaf, Chris didn’t see a dog with a disability. He simply saw a dog in need of love and acceptance. Immediately, Chris knew that Cole would forever change his life. He had an eagerness to learn and picked up social cues with ease. He had a softness that drew people in; a tenderness that made them feel instantly relaxed. In a sentient and empathic way, he had the ability to read people’s emotions and be exactly what they needed from him in that moment. The logical thing to do was to become a certified therapy team. And off they went, to bring smiles to their community. But it was so much more than just bringing love and comfort to those in need. Here was this dog, who was once overlooked by so many because of what was seen as a limitation, changing the way the world perceived those who are different. He became a vessel for inspiration, self-love and empowerment, and acceptance.
Cole has paid forward the kindness shown to him with a life of public service. He and his dad Chris, have traveled the country - visiting schools, care facilities, veteran homes and special education programs - to not only provide comfort to those in need through his therapy work, but also to help inspire others. He has been featured on the "Rachael Ray Show," “Entertainment Tonight," “Good Morning America” and has won awards including the American Humane Hero Dog, which honors ordinary dogs who do extraordinary things. He has started a movement and even has his own foundation - Cole the Deaf Dog and Friends Foundation - inspiring others to change the way they look at disabilities through acceptance, advocacy and inclusion.
Just a handful of years ago, this deaf puppy bore his own scarlet letter; branded as broken because of a disability beyond his control. And just like in the book, that branded stigma has become a symbol of power not only in Cole’s identity, but in spreading positivity. Cole and Deaf Dog and Friends Foundation has one simple yet commanding message to spread; Disability is not an inability. It’s a super power!
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