Speak! for the Unspoken helps dogs, cats with impairments find homes

Speak! for the Unspoken, a special-needs animal rescue, sees possibilities, not disabilities, for the dogs and cats the nonprofit serves.

Volunteer Paula Biancone, a Galena resident, said the annual Bark N' Bash on New Year's Day is a fundraiser that also helps raise awareness about the rescue.

The Bark N' Bash was held Jan. 1 at Agility and Rally for Fun, 1000 Morrison Road, Gahanna.

"We have it at different venues, but the purpose is to raise awareness about Speak! for the Unspoken," said Biancone, a member of the group's board.

Speak! for the Unspoken specializes in placing blind and deaf dogs and has taken in many merle-patterned Australian shepherds.

When a dog receives the merle-pattern gene mutation from one parent, its coat has a marbled pattern. The pattern is desirable in many breeds, but when two merle-patterned dogs breed, each puppy has a 25 percent chance of inheriting that gene from both parents.

The resulting offspring are referred to as double merle, which have a high risk for hearing and vision impairments.

Biancone said more than half the dogs taken in by Speak! for the Unspoken are blind or deaf.

In addition to Australian shepherds, other merle breeds include the American leopard hound, border collie, Cardigan Welsh corgi, Catahoula leopard, chihuahua, dachshund, great Dane, old English and Shetland sheepdogs, and Pomeranians.

"We say, 'Impaired, who cares?' " Biancone said. "All of our animals are fostered and provided food and medical care. We have a lot of medical cases."

She said foster dogs are all around Ohio, although the nonprofit has a local link with a post office box in Grove City.

Biancone said the group always needs volunteers, foster homes, transport support and donations.

The group's other annual fundraisers are a golf outing and 5K Double Merle Dash.

The organization has about 20 animals available for adoption, with applications, descriptions and photographs posted online at speakfortheunspoken.com.

Zeke and Kristin Keesbury of Dublin adopted Luna, a deaf Australian shepherd, from the rescue a year ago.

"She's active and goes to doggy day care," Kristin Keesbury said. "We use the same signals for her as our other dog. ... We train them the same way."

She said Luna doesn't get riled up if someone knocks at the door.

Kristin Keesbury said Luna feels vibrations from the floor and can keep track of her owners.

"She's what we call a Velcro dog," she said. "She knows where we are at all times."

Zeke Keesbury said Luna's deafness required more education on their part than hers.

"She has to see your expressions," he said. "It's more on the human side, learning how to communicate."

Since adopting Luna, the couple have become the volunteer coordinators for the organization.

Columbus resident Stacey Robinson participated in the Jan. 1 fundraiser with her dog, Chance.

"We take training classes with Sky Dogs Agility in Columbus," she said. "We also do a lot of work with special needs."

In addition to its website the group can be found on Facebook at Speak for the Unspoken.