Deaf dog’s pack provides ‘protection ears’ on outdoor adventures

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When strangers catch sight of three Australian cattle dogs wearing goggles on hiking trails, they usually laugh and try to take a photo. Sometimes they’ll ask their handler, Tim Livesey, how he trained them to wear the shades. But occasionally people argue with him that dogs don’t need eye protection.

So Livesey keeps a quiver of witty replies ready when someone demands, “Why are you doing that to your dogs?”

“They are self-conscious of their eye color.”

“They need prescription doggles to read the map so they don’t get lost.”

“To fit in with the cool crowd.”

“Just like Bruce Wayne, to hide their true identity so they can lead a normal life when out on the town!”

The true story of the dogs is heartwarming. All three animals had rough beginnings. Bella, 7, was abandoned in a cardboard box with the rest of her litter. Bolt, 2, was born with a broken tail, so he had no value for his breeder. Bonnie, 3, is deaf, and her owner didn’t want her anymore.

When Livesey learned the deaf cattle dog needed a new home, he drove with Bella and Bolt to meet her in New Mexico on leap day earlier this year. The fact that Bonnie had also been born with a broken tail seemed like a sign.

So did her response to him.

“Right when I met her, she immediately tried to jump up into my arms — just leaped up at me into my arms,” he told TODAY. “She’s a real sweet dog.”

Bella and Bolt got along great with the new member of their pack and soon became not just friends, but protectors.

Less than two months after she joined the family, Bonnie had stopped to sniff a bush during an off-leash hike. Bolt looked back to check on her and suddenly let loose a ferocious bark. Bella raced after him as they charged toward Bonnie — to chase off the coyote sneaking up behind her.

“Bonnie had no idea the coyote was there,” Livesey said. “He took off running. I called the dogs back and everything was fine. I was like, ‘OK, they’re her protection ears.’”

Now Beauties and the Bolt, as they’re known on Instagram, are Livesey’s constant companions on adventures near (and not so near) their home in Henderson, Nevada. Through patience and positive reinforcement training, the 43-year-old, who works in information technology, helped each dog learn to accept the goggles that protect their eyes from cactus spines and ultraviolet rays from the sun.

Every morning they take about a 7-mile walk near their home, plus evening hikes at least once a weeknight. Weekends are for longer treks, such as summiting Charleston Peak on southern Nevada’s highest mountain at 11,916 feet.

Bonnie tried camping in a tent for the first time recently and loved it. After a hike, she curled up on Livesey’s sleeping bag and slept soundly through the night — unlike Bella and Bolt, whose heads kept popping up to monitor outside sounds.

“Bonnie just sleeps through the whole night because she can’t hear any critters or the wind blowing through the trees or anything like that,” he said. “She adjusts very well because she can’t hear.”

As a safety precaution, Bonnie wears a vibrating collar with a remote control in case Livesey needs to get her attention when not leashed. Her pink collar and leash read “I’m deaf,” and her vest says “Deaf Puppy” so that well-meaning strangers don’t startle her by petting her from behind.

Additionally, Livesey trains all his dogs to understand verbal cues as well as hand signals. (He noted it’s a useful practice since any dog can experience hearing or vision loss with age.) Bonnie was easy to train; since she’s deaf, she’s attentive and makes frequent eye contact.

Livesey has zero regrets about adopting a deaf dog. In fact, his advice to anyone considering adopting one is simple: “Do it.”