Santiago the Old English sheepdog

Deaf from birth, Santiago, an Old English sheepdog, has enriched the lives of thousands of people and animals, and has even inspired a food business.

Soccer fans will recall that Brazil lost to Germany in the World Cup semifinals last year. For diehard fan Marina Zalewski, a Brazilian transplant living in Chicago, the seven-to-one loss was devastating. “My husband Mark knew the one thing that could cheer me up was something I had favorite Brazilian children’s shows, TV Colosso.

Mark did some research and found an Old English sheepdog pup that increasingly poor health, and who died along with Santi’s sibling during birth.” Luckily, Santiago wasn’t an orphan for long – Marina and Mark fell in love with the fluffy white bundle, adopted him and took him into their homes and hearts.

You might think an apartment on the 36th floor of a Chicago high rise wouldn’t be the best place for an Old English sheepdog, but Santi took to his new environment immediately. “Right from the start, he enjoyed riding in the elevator and making new friends at the dog park right behind our building. He never got spooked by the train, traffic or other city noises. Everyone remarked on how calm he was, especially for a puppy.”

The reason for Santi’s unusually laidback attitude was revealed during his first vet visit – he was deaf. “It was a shock at first – we felt as if Santiago would miss out on so much by not being able to hear, and we were so sad for him.” After doing some research, however, Marina and Mark were relieved to learn that, despite his deafness, Santi would still be perfectly capable of living a happy, active life. “We decided at first not to tell anyone that he was deaf because we months later, when we finally told everyone. I tell people that Santi listens with his heart!”

As Santi grew up, his friendly, calm demeanor and gift for understanding people attracted attention wherever Mark and Marina took him. Because the couple doesn’t have a car, they either walk or bike wherever they go. “We live a very active lifestyle, so Santi was well socialized from a young age – going to grocery stores, restaurant patios and riding in his bike trailer around the city. Everyone loved the little guy so much that we had to allow extra time to go anywhere because people wanted to pet him. Santi enjoyed the attention, shaking his tailless butt like crazy every time he met someone new.” Marina adds that Santiago created a “social bridge” between them and their neighbors, helping them make connections and friends everywhere they went. “It was so invigorating. Santi helped us really feel like a part of our neighborhood.”

To help Santi with his training, Marina and Mark enrolled him in puppy school so he could not only learn hear verbal cues. “Santi has his own language, a combination of improvised and standard signs that we have documented in a booklet to give anyone who watches Santi for us, including walkers, grooming salons, daycares, friends and family. When we want to get his attention, we touch him twice on the lower end of his back, and when he looks at us we give him the appropriate sign such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘shake’, ‘leave it’, ‘drop’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, etc.”

Santi’s gorgeous good looks can be attributed in part to all the love and attention he gets, but it’s also due to his healthy diet. “He is crazy into eating well and will do anything for a piece of fruit or veggie,” Marina quips. “We consider him our baby, so we treat his nutrition with the same regard we would our own child.” After a lot of detailed research, the couple was inspired to formulate a homemade organic diet and treats that they not only feed Santi, but are also in the process of marketing under the brand name Santi ( “Santi likes to share his treats with all his buddies and it’s amazing how much they beg for them. They contain superfoods such as kale, acai, chia and spirulina, as well as super-proteins like wagyu beef, yellowfin tuna, and prosciutto.”

Santi also likes to help other animals. “He has been using his cuteness to raise money for charities like PAWS Chicago, which saves homeless animals, and Whole Cities, a Whole Foods Foundation, which helps give everyone access to healthy foods. He has participated in events for the Anti-Cruelty Society as well.” Not surprisingly, Santiago’s appeal has also spread to social media. He has his own Facebook page with more than 150,000 followers. “Now when we take Santi around the city, we usually carry stickers with his Facebook information and hand them out to anyone who wants to pet him. People usually get a kick out of the stickers and many ‘like’ him instantly.”

When asked what she loves most about Santi, Marina is naturally effusive. “He is a ball of fluffy instant happiness. You can’t help but smile when you see him – especially when he hops around, and he loves hopping! Santiago is genuine and caring and people see that in him. It is incredible how much people are naturally drawn to him and how much he loves making them smile. He has added so much joy to our lives in so many ways. When we brought him home, we had no idea how much he would change our lives. In one short year, he has helped us become more social, more active, more involved with our community. He has even inspired us to become entrepreneurs. He is one motivational puppy!”


Ann Brightman is Managing Editor for Animal Wellness Magazine and Integrative Veterinary Care Journal. A lifelong animal lover, she has also been a writer and editor for over 25 years. Ann is a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada and is also a Tai Chi instructor.