Some years ago, a friend of mine was given a dog by a couple of women who had been raising it. The dog was a year or two old, so the dog was accustomed to a different owner's commands. When the dog would never respond to my friend, however, she became frustrated. What were the key words to use? What was she doing wrong? She thought about it for a while and realized the women were French, so the dog probably understood French. When she broke out words in that language, the dog suddenly responded and became excited. The dog knew French.

It's not really a huge suprise for me, then, to hear about Sparky, a deaf dog in Missouri, who has learned a bit of sign language. The dog was first taught by inmates at a prison, who then asked the Missouri School for the Deaf to take him in. Children there are now working with the dog.

Today, Sparky is right at home with the school's youngsters, who have taught him additional sign language. And a second deaf dog, a Boston Terrier named Petie, may be on his way to the school soon.

Superintendent Barbara Garrison approved bringing Sparky to the school."She really thought it would be a great learning experience for the kids," Garrison's secretary Barbara McGrath said in an interview.

Sparky will eventually be turned over to a permanent home after it is determined the new owners have appropriate training. His training isn't complete yet, however.

Sparky responds to hand signals to sit, heel, lie down, and stop and is working on additional signs that mean "food" or "outside."

I have a deaf cat at home. She responds to certain hand signals, though they're my own made-up commands. Or, rather, requests. Dogs are much better at commands whereas cats just do their own thing regardless. Perhaps I should look into this sign language thing a bit further...

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