FARMINGTON — Linda Haines couldn't resist the 9-week-old, roly-poly ball of golden fluff as he romped through the four-wheeler shop owned by his breeder.
Immediately, it was love.
And the fact that he was deaf? Haines determined pretty quickly that they could find a way to communicate.
"He was going by. I just tapped him in the ribs and he came back," she said.
Eight years later, Kai knows 17 signs, including those for "Kai," "stay," "come" and "heel." Some are in American Sign Language. Others are signs Haines made up.
"Oh, he's such a good boy!" she said, clapping — her sign for "good dog."
Kai wriggled with happiness.
Kai's breeder first noticed there was something wrong soon after he was born, when he didn't go with the other golden retriever puppies to nurse. It turned out he couldn't hear the commotion and slept right through it. Despite his deafness, Kai was quickly adopted. But his first owner soon returned him to the breeder, saying he was too much of a challenge.
He was playing in his breeder's recreational-vehicle dealership when Haines came in to get her husband's four-wheeler fixed. Haines already had one dog and wasn't looking for another, especially not a puppy with special needs.
But she was drawn to the sweet, soulful Kai. And when Kai's breeder saw their connection, she offered to let Haines have him, asking only that she bring him back within a couple of weeks if it didn't work out.
"I thought, 'Well, we'll find a way,'" Haines said. "I made up my mind it would work out."
Haines learned some signs from a co-worker whose daughter was deaf. Slowly, patiently, she taught those signs to Kai — rolling fingers for "come," two fingers tapping two fingers for "sit," a hand flat in front of Kai's nose for "stay." He was a quick study.
"Every couple of weeks he'd learn a new sign," Haines said.
Haines, who has a history of training dogs, taught him to stay in their yard and away from the road. She taught him to heel and play fetch. She got him to be alert to her movements — and when he wasn't, her other dog, a black Lab mix named Jackson, played intermediary.
"If I wanted Kai, I'd just say, 'Jackson, go get Kai,' and he'd go bump him," she said.
Over the years, Kai has grown into an easy-going, dependable dog. Haines has taken him to visit children at a local preschool and residents in an assisted living center. He's walked in a parade to support the troops and has shown off his skills at a dog show. Haines takes him camping, to sportsman's shows and everywhere else she goes.
During one trip to a campground, a crowd had gathered for an evening of entertainment. Kai was watching the crowd when it suddenly burst into applause. Clapping is Haines' sign for "good dog."
"He jumped up, whirled all around, danced around," she said. "He thought they were clapping for him."
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