Group embraces special needs dogs in Las Vegas Valley

As a group of about 10 small dogs yapped and played outside Peet’s Coffee on Sunday afternoon, Daffodil, a 14-year-old Yorkie mix, lay in the middle of her playpen, unmoved by the commotion around her.

“She must have been deaf since birth, because she does not make a sound, ever,” said Daffodil’s foster owner, Brandi Barnhart, of Las Vegas.

It wasn’t until her husband noticed Daffodil intently watching their hands one night that the couple realized the dog responds to sign language, including commands to go outside and sit.

“I said, ‘Good girl!’” Barnhart said, gesturing the words in sign language. “And she stood, and her little tail wagged.”

Barnhart is a foster volunteer for Connor and Millie’s Dog Rescue, a nonprofit group that takes in dogs that require extensive treatment or rehabilitation and face euthanasia, she said. The group has about 100 dogs in foster care, she said.

She also fosters Tommy, a 12-year-old Chihuahua mix who had no hair when he was rescued; Pinto, a 5-year-old and underweight Chihuahua; and Ace, a 6-year-old Chihuahua-dachshund mix, who has anxiety.

“They were going to kill him because he was scared,” Barnhart said.

Because she previously had taken care of a senior pet, Barnhart felt equipped to foster senior and special-needs pets. As much as fostering has taught her to feed and diaper dogs, it has also taught her to be a better person, she said.

“They change your life,” Barnhart said. “They make you a more patient person. They teach you how to accept every ability and change yourself. I speak now to all of them with my hands and voice so that Daffodil knows what I’m saying to all of them.”

Once the dogs are rescued from the shelter, Connor and Millie’s pays for vaccinations, spaying or neutering and any dental and medical care.

Their next stop is Staci Higgins, who grooms the rescue group’s dogs for free. Higgins, also a foster parent to small dogs, said grooming brings out the dog’s personalities, which is crucial to getting them adopted.

“People think that senior dogs are someone else’s screwed-up dog, and that’s not true at all,” she said..

“I’m a dog lover and I’ve always been a rescuer, but I love working with seniors,” Higgins said. “They’re so much easier. They’re not destroying your shoes or peeing in the house.”

Alison Rohlk, administrator for the rescue group, also brought her foster dog to Sunday’s event: Anya, a blind 14-year-old Chihuahua mix with diabetes.

“I can’t understand why people would throw away a dog just because it’s old or sick,” Rohlk said. “They’re a family member, and you should keep them until it’s their time to pass. You wouldn’t throw your grandparents out; you shouldn’t throw out your family pets.”

Barnhart added, “Even at 14 or 12, these dogs still have a long life ahead of them if someone is willing to take them in, get them healthy, and love them. There’s a pup out here for every single person, and a person for every pup.”

Though several people at the west valley coffee shop stopped to pet the dogs at Sunday’s event and expressed interest in adopting, none of the pets was taken home.

Contact Kimber Laux at Follow @lauxkimber on Twitter.

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