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Sign language and treats help Marylin become the perfect “Angel”

Posted on Friday, August 20, 2021

In February, a scared, deaf dog was found alone in the yard of an abandoned home in Philadelphia and taken to Animal Care and Control Team (ACCT) of Philadelphia.

For weeks, the caring ACCT Philly team worked to earn her trust, but the dog’s fear and anxiety worsened in the shelter. She relentlessly paced in circles, avoiding eye contact with her caretakers. As her mental health deteriorated, so too did her prospects for adoption.

Marylin, before she received behavior help from the Richmond SPCA

By March, this sweet but terrified dog was at risk of euthanasia, but our friends at ACCT Philly were desperate to prevent that outcome. Knowing the dog needed more help than they could provide, the staff of ACCT Philly reached out to the Richmond SPCA, hoping our talented team of trainers and veterinary professionals might be able to save the dog’s life.

ACCT Philly brought the timid dog, whom we named Marylin, to our humane center. Almost immediately, our Manager of Behavior and Training Jackie Laubacher began working with Marylin to teach her some simple sign language and to address her obsessive-compulsive spinning brought on by stress and anxiety.

Because Marilyn is deaf, Jackie was unable to interrupt her spinning by making a noise to get her attention. Instead, Jackie creatively introduced hand signals paired with positive reinforcement – a.k.a. very tasty treats! Marilyn soon understood that a beckoning hand signaled “Come here!” and thumbs up meant “Good girl!” And, of course, each time Marylin followed a signal, Jackie would reward her with a highly-valued treat.

Paired with Jackie’s behavior work, our internal veterinary services team started Marylin on anti-anxiety medication to help her relax. Marylin began to make eye contact, indicating she was working hard through her anxiety and willing to trust. She began to enjoy soothing pets and rubs, and she even relaxed enough to be silly and play. Marylin began to understand that she was, in fact, a very good girl.

After two months of adapting to her anti-anxiety medication and working with Jackie, Marylin went on a sleepover with a potential adoptive family. When she continued to thrive in the home, the family returned to make Marylin’s adoption official and joyfully rang our adoption bell.

Marylin left behind a life of fear, anxiety and loneliness and traded it for a future of love, comfort and adoration.

This story of lifesaving was made possible through our partnership with ACCT Philly and with your generous help and support. Thanks to you, the Richmond SPCA is a beacon of hope for pets with special needs like Marylin. With her new home came a new name: Angel. Congratulations on your forever home, Angel! We give you a big thumbs up, good girl.

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