Deaf Dog & Teen Pal 'Talk' Using Sign Language

A deaf dog is communicating through sign language with the help of a teenage pal who has a brain tumour.
 
Rescue dog April, a small lurcher cross, has been taught basic commands through signs by owner Sheena Robson, a lecturer at East Durham College's Houghall Campus.

And April is getting a helping hand from student Liam Cornforth, who is on a foundation course after battling a brain tumour.

April attends the college's kennels during the day, along with her constant companion, Mickey, a terrier cross, to help the animal care students with their studies and has now been taught agility training by Liam.

Liam, 17, who lives in South Hetton, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour when he was 10 and lost a lot of schooling through constant hospital visits, ending up on a foundation course, which he really enjoys.

He said: "April is such a lovely dog and it is great to work with her. I have always loved animals and want to work with them when I leave college."

Sheena said April was about eight months old when she got her from the Dogs' Trust and soon realised her new pet was deaf.

She said: "The poor thing had been homed and returned to the charity three times before I got her, which is understandable because she wouldn't be left alone for a second.

"She was so frightened and couldn't understand people. It was clear she had never lived in a house before.

"I had her for about 24 hours when I realised her problem was that she was deaf. So over the months we just worked together using basic signs for commands and it just developed from there. We came up with our own way of communicating.

"Doing agility training with Liam and the other students has been really beneficial for April. She has learned a lot more signs."

Sweet-natured April has become a star at the Houghall campus for her laid-back nature and her funny little ways – such as refusing to walk on gravel, just on the path.

Sheena said: "Because April is deaf, she relies totally on my other dog, Mickey, who is her ears. She follows him all over and takes her signs from him."