Deaf dog becomes comic book superhero to promote acceptance

VINELAND, NJ – A tail-wagging tale of triumph debuted this week at Mennies Elementary School, just in time for Read Across America festivities.

Looking to adopt a dog, the school’s music teacher Chris Hannah scrolled through the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s online selection when he spotted one labeled “Special Needs.”

Hannah looked at the photo and just saw a special puppy.

“I instantly fell in love,” he said.

Hannah booked an appointment to meet the dog, who many prospective adopters passed over.

“No one wanted to adopt him because he was deaf,” he said. “That’s exactly the reason why I wanted to adopt him.”

Hannah didn’t see the dog as disabled, just different.

That’s a lesson he learned from his 10-year-old nephew, Kevin Guinan, who is also deaf.

“Some things just happen for a reason,” Hannah said.

Hannah introduced his newly adopted pet, named Cole, to his nephew. The Petway Elementary School student compiled a list of American Sign Language commands to teach the pup. Some were slightly modified for training purposes.

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In his Mennies music classes, Hannah shared details about his new household addition and youngsters were inspired.

About 250 students collaborated on a Cole and Kevin superhero story, dubbed “Captain Cochlear and Maestro Mutt.” With imaginations unleashed, students developed characters and plotted possible storylines on the classroom whiteboard.

The final version focuses on Annie with a fear of singing in public. Captain Cochlear, Maestro Mutt and alter egos of other Hannah pets come to the rescue, helping the girl overcome “Dr. Fear’s Forcefield of Fright.”

“It’s OK to make mistakes, but it’s a mistake not to try,” Maestro Mutt tells Annie, who not only finds her voice but singing success.

The first-printed copy of the comic book arrived at the school last week, prompting Cole, a dapper dresser in his Dr. Seuss bandanna, to make several guest appearances. On Monday, Leah Mears and Mia Morvay read the comic book to their class.

“The best thing you learn is accepting those who may be a little different,” Hannah said.

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He explained that Cole could do what other dogs do, he just learned them in an alternative way. The pup understands hand signs that prompt him to sit, stay, rollover and more.

It’s like a coach communicating with a baseball player on the field, Hannah told students.

Cole can’t hear but he feels vibrations, so he can “listen” for Hannah approaching. He also wears a special collar to get his attention. It gently buzzes like a cellphone.

Cole’s adventures continue. He’s spreading his message of acceptance on Instagram and YouTube.

He’s also a contestant in the Greater Cumberland County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Dog of the Year competition that kicks off next month. The winner of the 12-dog contest will be determined by which contender raises the most donations.

The public will be able to vote on the SPCA website or by contributing to donation boxes that correspond with the dog’s photo in local businesses.

"This is an amazing outcome for a pup that had the odds stacked against him," Bev Greco, the SPCA executive director, told The Daily Journal. "Deaf dogs are hard to place and rarely end up with a family that really taps into their potential — we're thrilled for him."

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This week, Cole takes his test to become a certified therapy dog and plans to visit hearing-impaired students throughout the district to share the comic book.

“The project went so much better than I thought,” Hannah said, interrupted by a burst of giggles.

Cole rolled over, four feet up, in the middle of a circle of adoration.

‘He is obsessed with belly rubs,” Hannah said.

Cole has a repertoire of sit, stay, come, shake, rollover and jumps through a hoop.

Tap the polka dot on Cole's nose and he'll jump in the air. That's called a "nose beep."

“He loves to learn,” Hannah said.

Cole will also teach.

“It’s OK to feel a little bit different,” Hannah said.

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