Vinny was born into greatness. Born from two merle parents, it was soon apparent that he could not see or hear. The veterinarian was consulted about what to do - after all, what was a blind and deaf puppy worth? But one of the vet techs knew about Debbie and her experience with double merles. A couple phone calls later, and Debbie had arranged to go pick up the special puppy.
Vinny was 8 weeks of pure Collie adorableness. And even in that moment, he began his role as educator. Debbie and Vinny explained to the breeder why he had been born blind and deaf. The breeder had not been aware of this danger, and was grateful to know how to prevent this from happening in the future and was very relieved that Vinny would be safe.
Vinny has gracefully evolved into his role as ambassador for the humane society where he accompanies Debbie to work every day. His many fans come to visit him, and he uses his special-ness to educate others about the dangers of breeding merle to merle, and about adoption. He is a strong ambassador for blind and deaf dogs and that they are capable of living full and happy lives. Through social media and a teaching blog, plus many videos, he is paving the way for other differently-abled dogs to be adopted and trained.
Vinny also spreads joy through visiting people in the community. Young people are drawn to him and relate to his differences. He teaches them acceptance and compassion. When visiting with a group of Scouts, one girl said with disgust, "Eww, his eyes look different. They look weird." Very quickly, another said, "He doesn't know they look that way, and he is perfectly happy. We should be too." When Debbie looked closely, she realized the girl that had answered had a difference of her own and had related quickly to Vinny's differences. These comments led to wonderful discussions of differences and acceptance.
The senior population have also been inspired by Vinny, who shows such happiness even though he can't see or hear, just as they are beginning to lose these senses themselves and are wondering what life will hold for them now. One woman told Vinny that she was going blind, but seeing him and how happy he was made her guess that it was all going to be OK. She thanked him and together they shared a private moment.
Vinny is a typical puppy - lively, playful, and yes, even a bit full of mischief at times! But when he's visiting, all of that fades away and he shows calmness and understanding way beyond his age. Although he can't see or hear, he finds a way to position his body next to someone with limited mobility so they can reach to pet him, and he gently puts his head under their hand.
This special dog and his person together spread joy, laughter, smiles, hope and inspiration. Debbie teaches Vinny using mostly touch cues. She touches various parts of his body in different ways to communicate her requests to him. He knows basic obedience and manners, as well as many different tricks. As a matter of fact, Vinny has already earned his Novice Trick Dog title and is working toward higher levels. He loves to learn new things and is taught strictly through positive reinforcement methods.
Vinny also gathers lots of information about his environment by scent and by feeling vibrations. He recognizes air currents when a door opens. He can quickly map out a new area when he goes somewhere new. He loves to travel and has already traveled to several different states with his partner Debbie. Vinny plays with the other dogs in the house and loves to play with toys of all kinds! He gets lots of time to enjoy being a puppy, and he brings much joy and many smiles to Debbie daily.
Vinny's reach into the community and the world is already significant and will only continue to expand as he gains experience in his new role. He and Debbie are amazing partners in advocating for rescue, adoption, responsible breeding, and the joys of differently-abled dogs. They spread messages to everyone about compassion, acceptance and being kind to others - all things that the world needs so much of right now. It is their hope that by spreading ripples in their own little corner of the world, that those ripples will continue to spread into something magnificent that blankets the world with love.
(The above was Vinny's nomination for the Collie Club of America's Shining Star Award. Congratulations to Vinny and the other winners of this year's award!)