From the outside, Mike, a mostly white Australian Shepherd, is a beautiful dog. But once you get to know him, his inner beauty is his most striking feature. When Mike was a puppy, his owner discovered that he was deaf and planned to euthanize him; however, those plans changed when Melannie Layne decided to adopt the playful pup.
Melannie Layne of Trussville, AL and her husband were both fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) because Melannie's husband grew up with a deaf sister, so they decided to try to teach ASL to Mike. The Aussie was a very enthusiastic student and today, can recognize and respond to more than one hundred signs.
Mike and Melannie volunteer with the Hand in Paw Animal-Assisted Therapy organization which strives to use animals like Mike to "improve the health and well-being of children and adults by serving those with physical, emotional, educational or psychological needs through interactions with professionally-trained Animal-Assisted Therapy Teams." Mike communicates with both children and adults who are deaf. His language is their language. "I want to tell him to sit again," says an adult who was visiting with Mike and Melannie at St. Vincent's Hospital in Birmingham. Melannie reaches over and touches Mike on the back and he immediately turns to face his owner. No words are spoken. The adult makes a sort of alligator hand puppet with his thumb and two fingers, closing them together. Mike sits. The children at the hospital are thrilled and give the dog lots of hugs.
After Melannie Layne and Mike joined Hand in Paw, they also became certified as a Pet Partner team with the Delta Society and began visiting several different facilities including nursing homes, Children's Hospitals, Family Violence Centers and the Bell Center for Early Intervention in Alabama. According to Kitty Terry, Executive Director of Hand-In-Paw, "His so-called disability has yielded one of his greatest gifts – his unique ability to reach the unreachable and spread joy wherever he goes."
Because of his devotion to others, Mike has been inducted into the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association Animal Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame recognizes Alabama's most exceptional domestic, companion or assistance animals. Mike was selected because of his outstanding service to humans. Mike has also been nominated for the 2012 American Humane Association Hero Dog Award that will be held in the fall.