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Deaf therapy dog from Hampton receives national recognition

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Posted at 1:35 PM, May 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-08 18:41:57-04

HAMPTON, Va. - He's in classrooms but he isn't a student, and spends time on military bases but has never been deployed.

Yet if Lothair the Sheltie proves anything, it's that sometimes silence can speak volumes.

"He was born white, and when they're born white, they're always deaf," said Melanie Paul, Lothair's owner and handler. "I brought him home and I immediately started to teach him sign language, American Sign Language."

It's a language that Paul, who has worked in deaf education for 30 years and in animal assisted therapy for 20 years, knows well. Like Lothair, she is deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate.

"When I acquired him, I made a promise to him that I would be his protector. I would teach him everything I can teach him," she said.

She kept her promise because in just about 10 months, Lothair understood 21 different signs.

"I put my hand over his head, tap him and he looks up for food. Then, he had to learn 'bathroom.' There's an important sign for 'bathroom,'" Paul said. "You have to have him sit down, you have to have patience, you have to have love, but with him, he understands the language."

Paul had Lothair evaluated by Therapy Dogs International (TDI) when he was 1 1/2 years old. He passed the 14-step evaluation at the first testing.

Now as a certified therapy dog, the 12-year-old has spent countless hours in schools with children who are also hard of hearing.

"Deaf children, when they first meet him, they say, 'Oh! He's deaf.' I say, 'Yes.' The children would reply, 'Just like me.' And I say, 'Yes, he's deaf just like you,'" Paul told News 3 reporter Erin Miller.

You'll also find the pair offering support at three hospitals including Langley AFB hospital, libraries with children and assisted/retirement facilities.

It's these visits that earned Lothair a spot as a semi-finalist in the American Humane Hero Dog Awards, a nationwide competition that recognizes heroes on both ends of the leash.

Humbly, Paul said, "The dogs do the work, I only hold the leashes. You can tell just his willingness to please, his gentleness, he loves to work with children. He has been an outstanding therapy dog."

There are also two other pups from Hampton Roads in the competition. The winners in each category will be announced at the end of the month.

"I would like to have more people adopt dogs with disabilities because they have so much to offer," Paul said.