Living with special needs dogs

One woman’s experience of living with a deaf rescue pup inspired her to teach others about the care and training of special needs dogs.

Mariah Mountanos was volunteering at her local shelter in 2005 when she noticed a young white heeler/ pit bull mix sleeping in his kennel. She couldn’t resist his large, pointed ears and speckled nose, and took him out to the yard to let him play. The dog was friendly and sweet, but seemed disoriented, bumping into things. Mariah began calling him back, but to no avail. She finally called out “Yoohoo, over here!” but again there was no response.

Puzzled by how strangely “Mr. Youwho” was behaving, Mariah took him to the shelter’s veterinarian where it was discovered he was both blind and deaf. He was also suffering from hair loss, due to demodectic mange. “At that point, I knew this sweet guy was going to have a hard time finding a home,” says Mariah. She knew most people would give up on Mr. Youwho, but “not me”. She convinced her parents to allow her to take him.

Living with a special needs dog

It took three months for Mr. Youwho to become accustomed to his new home, but after that, training became easier as Mariah discovered ways to make life easier for him. She soon discovered that special needs dogs are like any other canines. They can enjoy a full, good quality life and take part in many activities, as long as you give them lots of love and attention.

Mariah says that Mr. Youwho loves to swim (while on a long leash), go for runs or car rides, and play with other dogs. “He loves meeting new people,” she adds. “He’s just like any other dog, and loves it all! He has an endless supply of yummy treats and toys and is dearly loved by us as well as anyone else who meets him.” Mariah cautions that special needs dogs rely on their people for their safety, so you have to keep a close eye on them. For example, if a special needs dog gets lost, he won’t be able to make it on his own.

Inspiration and teacher

Meeting Mr. Youwho inspired Mariah to work with other special needs dogs as well as those deemed “unadoptable”, such as shy, overly energetic or other “problem” dogs. She even has a website ( devoted to teaching animal parents about the care and training of special needs dogs. “Many of these dogs get put down for no real reason, except they needed more time than other dogs,” she says. Sadly, the animal shelter system lacks the resources, including experienced volunteers, to work with dogs that require the extra attention they need to regain their confidence and become valuable family members.

“It is really hard when a shy dog you have been working with gets put down,” says Mariah. “The dog has usually been abused or neglected, which is why he or she has a hard time trusting people.” It’s the same for overly energetic dogs – in this case, their former families failed to give them the guidance and training they need. “I wish people would give all these special needs dogs a chance, because they have done nothing wrong,” says Mariah. “We have done them wrong.”

Mr. Youwho has been a valuable teacher as well as an inspiration to Mariah. “He has taught me that no matter what obstacles you face in life, you can overcome them,” she says. “Mr. Youwho is blind and deaf but there is nothing that stops this boy!” And his challenges haven’t ended there. This past year, he was diagnosed with extraskeletal osteosarcoma (a rare malignant tumor) in his shoulder, and had to have one front leg amputated. Mariah reports that he is doing well as a “tripawd”. “He’s missing a leg now, but is certainly not missing any part of his spirit,” she says, adding that he’s still a friendly and charming dog who adores people.

Mariah encourages people not to overlook special needs dogs when adopting a new companion. They are usually the first to be euthanized, so need our help the most. “They’re incredibly special and will change your life, giving you just as much love as a dog without special needs, and inspiring you as Mr. Youwho has inspired me!”