When you sit in Amy Darrell’s warm and inviting kitchen, with her pack of fur babies at your feet at the table, warming their exposed bellies to the wood-burning stove and asking for pats and attention, it’s a scene of true hearth and home that represents the warmth of spirit she pours into everything she does with Bumper. Bumper is the now obliviously famous blind and deaf Double Merle Australian Shepherd/Poodle Cross that has stolen the internet and local community’s hearts – much like he loves to make off with the winter hats of visitors as part of his extra efforts at understanding influxes into his environment.
As one method among many where Amy acts as Bumper’s “service human”, giving him tools to help him understand his surroundings. “It’s a big, scary world out there, and he’s making up the story, but might be missing a piece or two. So, I help fill them in. It’s being aware all the time of how he is perceiving things. When we first got him we started with touch cues that put him on that next level of communication with humans. Anything to give him a sense that he knows what’s happening and has a sense of control, because he can be so out of the loop.”
Equal joy and responsibility, Amy and her daughter Faeron first met Bumper at eight weeks old when they were invited to play with a litter of six puppies at a Caledon farm in order to help socialize them. Bumper is the product of a complicated genetic abnormality that can often result in almost complete whiteness of colour, deafness or blindness (and this fella has the trifecta) – the only “odd puppy out” in the litter. “We were under the impression they all had homes. And then we met Bumper. And then we went back the next day. And the next day. And then it all fell into place.
“Oddly enough, I’d looked into adopting a deaf dog years ago and spent a lot of time researching special training. Unfortunately, I think a lot of the time blind and deaf dogs don’t make it past puppyhood because they get put down. We were lucky that [these first owners] didn’t give up on him.” Clearly, neither did Amy and her family. They quickly found resources and communities online with dog owners in similar situations, and employed a specialized trainer who does virtual sessions.
The hat gimmick – to which “he’s catching on, so we’ll have to think of something else for summer”, comments Amy – is one way they help Bumper understand his environment while lacking two of the five major senses. They also place great emphasis on teaching him different methods of communication beyond the norm. One example is the “talking buttons”, where they have trained Bumper to press buttons to communicate a need.
“Unfortunately,” comments Amy, “he has now reprogrammed them to produce chewing sounds instead of words.” Although that may have backfired, Bumper is a clever dog who over the course of our interview, after boisterously greeting me and demanding belly rubs, makes his needs clearly known with his own vocal cues that brook no confusion.
It’s clear that with Amy’s patience, care, and training, he is living his best life. So much so, that he went viral with an article on The Dodo, and now has a social media following. “Now Bumper has so many fans, I have to be careful about how to respond [on his Instagram account]. Going viral has been an interesting experience to learn to navigate.” Of the fan responses and appeals to keep posting because of how Bumper makes their day or is a light in turbulent times, Amy reflects, “it’s kind of cool to provide that. There’s a lot of work that goes into my dog’s social media account, but it provides people with hopeful and joyful content. But I don’t want to romanticize [the situation].
Bumper is one of the lucky ones. If [blind and deaf] dogs don’t get put down, they usually go through the shelter system or likely some sort of trauma before and if they are lucky enough to end up in a good, responsible home. But the cool thing is we knew we were committed to giving him a good life. So, introducing him to new activities and experiences is always a joy. He loves hikes, and car rides, and riding in the canoe. He loves running on the beach like any other dog. But there are some things we are going to have to help him with, and that’s my focus. It’s just like every other being in your life that you look after: there are things you have to be cognizant of. I find it interesting, but it’s also a lot of work. Because whereas Lily [Bumper’s older sister] is a dog you can leave with anyone, Bumper requires more work. But it’s also a lot of fun, because he’s up for anything.”
Speaking of being up for anything, Bumper and Amy have a new project in the works. Amy is putting together a children’s book featuring Bumper. “We thought that he is such a cool little dude, and can illustrate how well people [and dogs!] can manage with different abilities. I think there’s a lot of value in teaching kids the mindfulness behind how everyone perceives the world differently, no matter what your abilities are, and that’s really cool. So, in that sense, Bumper is the hero because it requires a little extra work just to be him.”
A kick starter for funding will begin in May with a goal of a basic book, but with a stretch goal of providing extra sensory features such as texture and Braille.
Ultimately, “he’s not that much different from any other dog.” And if his social media following is anything to go by, the possibility of a book could help others, human and canine alike, embrace being differently abled. Not quite the same – but better!
You can continue watching Bumper on his social media sites:
WRITTEN BY: KIRA WRONSKA DORWARD