Image Courtesy of Barbara Davenport
By Monica Weymouth
There was a time when Ghost’s future didn’t look very bright. Abandoned as a puppy in Florida, the deaf Pit Bull entered a crowded shelter with little hope of finding a home. After months of being passed over, he was deemed “unadoptable” and put on the euthanasia list.
But then Ghost’s luck began to change. Swamp Haven—a rescue that specializes in “down on their luck” dogs—saw Ghost’s potential and stepped in at the last minute to save him.
“Ghost, unfortunately, had a few strikes against him,” says Swamp Haven founder, Lindsey Kelley, who has helped save 245 dogs from death row. “He had special needs, yes, but he’s also a Pit Bull, and that was his real problem. Shelters are so crowded with Pit Bulls, and there are a lot of misconceptions about them. If he was a deaf fluffy little dog, he would have had a much better chance, but that wasn’t the case.”
Once at Swamp Haven, Ghost began to open up and show his true colors. Fun-loving, smart, and extremely high-energy, he quickly charmed his way into the hearts of the animal shelter staff, who worked hard to learn how to communicate with him.
Realizing he could benefit from specialized training, Kelley contacted Olympic Peninsula Humane Society in Washington state. Although they were all the way across the country, the animal shelter was developing a training program for deaf dogs. And thanks to 48 volunteer drivers, Ghost hitched a ride to an even brighter future.
After settling in at his new home, Ghost caught the eye of Barbara Davenport, a narcotics canine trainer who recruits shelter dogs for public service with the Washington State Department of Corrections. She’s trained more than 450 K-9s, and she immediately knew that Ghost—who had developed a near obsession with tennis balls—was officer material.
Image Courtesy of Barbara Davenport
“Ghost was a prime candidate for drug contraband detection,” says Davenport. “He has a lot of high energy, seems indifferent with people, is very focused and is determined to locate his ball when thrown or hidden. This makes for a more trainable dog.”
Ghost quickly proved to be a good student. Over the course of a 240-hour training program, he transformed from a rambunctious, untrained pup into a high-performing K-9 dog. Working with his handler, Joe Henderson, Davenport developed a special set of hand signals to replace verbal commands.
While being a Pit Bull worked against Ghost while in Florida, it was helpful for his drug-detection resume. Davenport frequently recruits Pit mixes, which tend to be highly trainable and fully committed to the task at hand.
Although Ghost’s disability somewhat limits his independence on the job—for example, he has to be on a dog leash to maintain communication with his handler—not being able to hear can also work in his favor.
“Ghost’s deafness removes a potential layer of distraction,” says Davenport. “Our dogs are excellent at focusing, but like humans, can be distracted with background or focused noises. Due to Ghost’s deafness, he has even more focus and fewer sensory distractions.”
Today, Ghost is 3 years old and an accomplished, valued team member at the Washington State Department of Corrections. Kelley, who first saw something special in the little guy back in Florida, hopes his story helps to change minds about Pit Bulls and shelter dogs in general.
“Ghost is just one of many dogs that was considered unadoptable,” says Kelley. “We hope people see his story and understand how many great Pit Bulls are in shelters, waiting for their chance.”