Thursday, March 25, 2010

Deaf and blind dog helps others see lessons in disabilities

Deaf and blind dog helps others see lessons in disabilities

Marcia Fishman admits it took a long time to train Rudolph, a blind and deaf dachshund she adopted, but the buff-colored dog has taught her and thousands of school children some valuable lessons about disabilities in return.

"By giving him a chance to live to his potential he can be as much fun as any other dog," Fishman said. "I tell the kids that if you assume someone in a wheelchair can't enjoy the things you do, give them a chance. Maybe they can enjoy the same things but in a different way like Rudolph does."

Rudolph is a puppy mill survivor and his inability to see or hear is the result of extensive inbreeding. Now more than 3 years old, Rudolph and Fishman have visited about 2,500 school children throughout Southeast Michigan over the past 15 months, including schools in White Lake Township, Bloomfield Hills, West Bloomfield, Novi, Southfield, Livonia and Northville.

And the friendly dog has something in common with Santa's favorite reindeer.

"I named him Rudolph because I thought his nose was guiding him in the dark," Fishman said.

Fishman and Rudolph are going to be on hand at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Fido Personal Dog Training, 703 Livernois, in Ferndale for a free outreach training workshop hosted by the Puppy Mill Awareness Meetup. She will talk about puppy mill survivors like Rudolph and what is involved in taking them to meet children in schools.

Fishman, an Oakland County resident, is the executive director of the Screen Actors Guild for the Detroit/Philadelphia branch.

Still, she finds time to volunteer with Rudolph and has even written a book called "Rudolph's Nose Knows."

"Rudolph loves kids," Fishman said. "One day I woke up and thought, I'll write a book."

The book tells the adventure of a little dog who becomes a hero against all odds. Rudolph suffers ridicule because he is deaf and blind, but his life changes when his nose guides him to a heroic feat.

The book also allows young readers to color the characters.

Rudolph and Fishman together help teach kids that teasing and bullying are wrong, while also demonstrating the potential for a productive life, even with physical challenges.

Rudolph got off to a rough start when Fishman first brought him home. The pup had spent the first year of his life caged in a puppy mill and was in four different homes before Fishman adopted him.

"For the first six months he had severe nightmares and would wake up biting," she said. "He's stopped that now. It took a year to teach him how to play with a toy because he had never had one."

Rudolph also eventually learned to get along with Fishman's older dachshund, Gunther, and learned commands to sit, lie down and walk on a leash by touch.

Fishman said she will continue to visit schools with Rudolph. She's received comments from kids telling her that they've learned to never make fun of someone with disabilities and give them a chance.

"By not giving people a chance, like I gave (Rudolph) a chance," she said, "We may be missing out on some great friendships."

To contact Fishman about school visits or her book, visit Rudolphs Nose Knows.

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