Editor's Note: While this story has a happy ending, you may want to grab a few tissues now.
In a perfect world, no animals would spend any time in shelters. In a slightly less perfect world, any animal that does land in a shelter would only make a brief appearance before heading on to their forever home. But this is the real world, and according to the ASPCA, every year nearly 1 million animals enter a shelter but never find their way out.
This appeared to be the fate for one Texas pup named Xyla (formerly known as Aspen) who spent a total of 240 days in animal shelters. First at the Bastrop County Animal Services shelter where she was almost euthanized before being rescued by the Austin Humane Society in May 2021. Xyla was having such trouble adjusting to shelter life, and it took some time for the AHS to discover why.
The white pit-bull mix is deaf.
While Bastrop County shelter employees (and later Austin Humane Society staff) first suspected there might be cause for concern regarding Xyla's hearing, she seemed to respond accordingly to human voice and verbal cues during her shelter intake assessments. Once it was determined that Xyla was deaf, the crew at AHS decided to teach her sign language.
To help Xyla grow confident and social (and therefore more likely to be adopted) the AHS staff created a signal that could be used when Xyla responded correctly to a command. Typically, this would entail some sound mechanism, but because of Xyla's hearing impairment, her cue had to be visual. The shelter staff used a thumbs-up sign paired with a treat to encourage the dog, who was rapidly learning commands such as "watch me," "sit," "down," "attention," and "wait."
With new skills in her arsenal, Xyla's big beautiful personality began to shine through.
"As she became more comfortable, we started to see her personality blossom - and we soon learned that she was a big goofball with so much love to give," Katie Kennedy, Austin Humane Society's director of communications, told Newsweek.
Soon, Xyla met Gianna Luciano, 22, and her roommate who bonded with Xyla immediately. Four days after their meet and greet, the three became a family. Luciano admits that adopting a pet with special needs comes with its fair share of challenges, but also immense rewards.
"She really is the sweetest, most loving animal I've met. She greets us at the door every time one of us comes home, and if she isn't greeting us she's sleeping right by the door. We are extremely lucky to have her, and I'm thankful that the Humane Society was able to take her and care for her as long as they did until she found her forever home," Luciano added.
Xyla isn't the only lucky pup to find her forever home, of course. As part of the BISSELL Pet Foundation's Empty the Shelter's holiday promotion, adoption fees were lowered to $25 and more than 15,000 pets around the country were adopted last year during the holiday season. In total, the foundation has helped over 83,000 pets become adopted since May 2016.
We are sure that Luciano, her roommate, and all new pet parents will quickly learn what us veterans knew from the moment we laid eyes on our furbabies: pets like Xyla are so worth the work and the wait. We love them, flaws and all, and in return, they love us tenfold.