Book on deaf Connecticut Dalmatian’s sign language mastery wins prestigious award
KILLINGWORTH — Hogan, a deaf Dalmatian that understood more than 70 signs in American sign language and has since become a legend, is now earning his due in the literary world.
Teaching a deaf dog to sign isn’t that different from teaching a hearing dog to listen, according to owner Connie Bombaci, of Killingworth, who has had several such dogs. It’s all about repetition and reinforcement, she explained.
“Instead of using the spoken word, I use my hands,” Bombaci said. “My deaf dogs have learned faster than my hearing dogs.”
Even 10 years after Hogan’s 2008 death when he was nearly 16, Bombaci still recalls the special pooch as an inspiration, so much so that she wanted to write his story.
“Hogan’s Hope: A Deaf Hero’s Inspiration and Quest for Love and Acceptance,” is the culmination of that effort. The 152-page book was published by iUniverse in 2017.
“It’s Hogan’s story. It’s his courageous journey,” Bombaci said. “And the book is just to shout the message that if we all hold on to hope, anything is possible, we can do it.”
Hogan was rescued from severe abuse, neglect and abandonment, according to Bombaci’s website.
The book was recently chosen as a silver winner finalist in the 2018 Benjamin Franklin awards.
The book also took first place for nonfiction in the 2017 LuckyCinda Book Contest, was a finalist in the 2017 Best Book Awards for Narrative, Non-fiction Animals/Pets, received a Readers’ Favorite Five-Star review, was Readers’ Favorite Book of the Month for September 2017, and earned The Book Designer’s Gold Star for eBook Cover for July 2017.
Bombaci said her mother, Grace Ann Balestriere, who died in 2012, sparked her mission.
“My mother, who was a very faithful woman, said to me, ‘Connie, you need to write his story so that we can all hold on to Hogan,’ ” Bombaci said. “That’s why I wrote the book.”
Bombaci spent nine months crafting it. She disciplined herself even when words weren’t flowing — spending a minimum of 20 minutes a day on the endeavor.
“I might get a sentence written, I might get a page written,” she said. “Some of the days, it was minutes, most days it was a lot longer. I really let Hogan’s story just kind of flow and then I went back and edited it.”
When Bombaci first adopted Hogan from the Connecticut Humane Society in 1993, deafness, which is related to these canines’ patchy coloration and common in Dalmatians, often carried a death sentence for dogs.
“At that time, it was believed that all deaf dogs should be destroyed,” she said.
In a web post from December 2007, the Dalmatian Club of America states that euthanasia is an option for deaf pups.
“Deaf Dalmatians can be harder to raise, difficult to control (they are often hit by cars when they ‘escape’) and often become snappish or overly aggressive, especially when startled,” the web post said.
Bombaci set out to dispel myths about deaf dogs and prove they are worthy of love and acceptance: “Deaf dogs can’t learn, deaf dogs are going to get hit by cars, deaf dogs are dumb,” she said. “The other myth: Deaf dogs are more aggressive. They’re all myths and they’re all untrue.”
The American Kennel Club and the Dalmatian Club of America have backed off on recommendations to euthanize deaf dogs, Bombaci said.
“Deaf dogs can live normal lives, but need to have a special, dedicated owner to work with them,” the AKC said in a September 2016 write-up.
With appearances on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Dateline NBC,” Hogan became a fairly well-known pooch. His fame began with articles in a newspaper and magazine, according to Bombaci.
The Connecticut Humane Society published an article on Hogan in Pet Life Magazine and a local reporter wrote a story after encountering Bombaci and her dogs. That lead to a segment on Jack Hanna’s “Animal Adventures and Amazing Tails,” entitled “Special People, Special Dogs.”
“And from there, it just snowballed,” she said.
Bombaci and her husband have another deaf Dalmatian, a 7-year-old female named Judea, which they got when she was an 8-month-old puppy. They also have a hearing dog named Heidi, which belonged to her mother.
Judea is aware of her owner’s pain related to an illness she has.
“She does things for me, she picks things up for me, she knows when my legs hurt horribly. On the nights when my legs are horrific, she gets right up against them. She knows.”
Hogan inspired Bombaci to persevere and overcome and will never be forgotten, she said.
“Hogan was an amazing creature. All he wanted was to be loved and accepted — you could just sense that from him, and when he passed, he became known as the legend, and that came to me from other people.
“It kind of nestled in my heart for a long time, and I realized that I have my own doubts and weaknesses that make me stumble and without realizing, kept referring back, ‘Well, if Hogan can do it, I can,’” she said.
“Hogan’s Hope” is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For information, see conniebombaci.com or www.facebook.com/hoganshopebook/.