Fluffy golden poochon puppy Nancy sits relaxing in front of her rehomer

Deaf puppy learns to navigate life

Committing to a disabled pet is daunting. 

But being able to support deaf puppy Nancy has deepened the Hopkins family bond.

“It has been a challenge, but it’s all been worth it,” says Sophie Hopkins, who adopted Nancy from Blue Cross last summer along with her family.

“She has settled so well into her new furever home - it's like we've never been without her.”

Fluffy golden poochon puppy Nancy sits by a chocolate-coloured sofa
Nancy has found a loving and supportive family who can help her navigate life

As Nancy gazes deep into Sophie’s eyes, the connection is clear.

It’s an affinity that was ignited the moment the family spotted Nancy’s Blue Cross rehoming profile.

“We are a happy, caring and nurturing family,” explains mum-of-two Sophie. “I felt we’d give a perfect home for a dog who has additional needs.”

The apricot-coloured poochon puppy – a cross between a toy poodle and a bichon frise – was born with part of her right ear missing.

Nancy’s vertical ear canal is absent, along with the external ear flap, or pinna.

A blond haired woman and her son give hand commands to a poochon puppy and a shih tzu dog
Nancy's family have learned to communicate with her by sign language

Sophie, 40, adds: “She is completely deaf – there are no low tones or high tones she can hear at all. But being born that way, she doesn’t know any different. She is happy and content.”

Working as a special needs teacher with pre-school children, Sophie was already experienced in using Makaton, a programme that uses a mix of signs, symbols and speech to communicate in a visual way.

Husband Stephen, 37, who has also started learning British Sign Language through his work, says: “It has been different with Nancy because we can’t just use regular dog training techniques. You have to think completely outside the box.”

Having welcomed two-year-old shih tzu Teddy into their Nottinghamshire home the year before, the couple and their sons Leo, 12, and Rory, 9, were eager for a companion for their beloved pet.

A family make a fuss of their poochon puppy Nancy
The Hopkins family have embraced a different way of doing things with Nancy

Travelling to our Suffolk centre, where Nancy had been staying in foster care after being brought to Blue Cross by her breeder who wanted her responsibly rehomed, the family had high hopes.

“We came to the centre with Teddy and he was so chilled and just trotted in. We fell in love from there,” says Sophie.

“As soon as we’d seen Nancy, we just knew she was the dog for us and we could really help her, and that Teddy would love a puppy around.”

Since then, it’s “almost like Teddy knows she’s got a hearing impairment”.

“I’m sure he knows there’s something special about her,” says Sophie. “He’s so patient with her. He’s the best big brother.”

A shih tzu dog and poochon puppy race through a grassy park with a laughing young boy
Shih tzu Teddy has been the "best big brother" to new family addition Nancy

The whole family have adapted to Nancy’s needs, teaching her through sign language and finding different ways to play.

Joining the Hopkins when she was just four months old, Nancy and her family had plenty to learn.

Low play includes rolling, rather than throwing balls, so Nancy can keep her eyes focused on her toy and doesn’t need to rely on hearing it drop to the ground.

And clear eye contact and hand signals are key to encouraging Nancy to follow instructions to wait, sit and come.

“You can pick any sign as long as you’re confident in what you’re doing,” explains Sophie, who also devotes time to helping manage son Rory’s football team. 

“The main thing is that we are getting her attention, so staying at her front or side. The sight is important so she’s really locked into what we are doing.”

Daily ‘sniffaris’ allow Nancy to explore her surroundings using her sense of smell, while walks to the family’s local field mean the now-12-month-old can socialise with other pets.

Golden poochon puppy Nancy sniffs the grass
Nancy enjoys daily 'sniffaris' which help her to understand her surroundings

“Nancy’s really confident and she’s made a few friends,” says Sophie. “For one springer spaniel puppy, she was the first dog he’d ever met and she was great at getting him to initiate play. It was a beautiful interaction.”

Nancy’s lack of hearing doesn’t hold her back from racing around the field with the other dogs, and making sure her new family shares her joyful exuberance.

And while there have been setbacks – like with any pet – the support of friends has been invaluable.

“If I’m feeling down or we’ve taken a step back, our friends at the field always remind me how far we’ve come and that Nancy is still a puppy,” adds Sophie.

Fluffy golden poochon puppy Nancy is cuddled by her rehomer
Nancy doesn't let her disability hold her back when making new friends

“They’re always there to give advice and chat. They’ll even tell me if they use one of my ideas, which is a really nice feeling.

“We can’t go by the book, we have to work around Nancy’s needs and when she’s ready in her way.

“I feel we’re a special home for a special dog. It was meant to be.”

— Page last updated 02/04/2024