Certified Assistance Dog Serves as Pet Dad’s Ears

Adopted dog Pepe guides Steve through sounds, and outdoor adventures, as the perfect companion.

Steve + Pepe

Pepe may be small, but the service he provides pet dad Steve is tremendous. Pepe alerts Steve to sounds he wouldn’t otherwise hear, and gives him the confidence to embrace life to the fullest.

"Pepe was brought to my home by his trainer, who also spent a week training me. He alerts me to timers, appliance alerts, text messages or rings, the smoke alarm, a knock at the door, and the alarm clock. I would not hear any of these sounds without Pepe."

COVID-19 has changed the lives of nearly everyone. Even people who have a large and close-knit family feel a sense of isolation. For me, a man who is clinically deaf, the change has been profound. I faintly hear noises in my left ear; however, my brain cannot sort out the sounds for intelligent speech. I am good at lip reading, but with people wearing masks, lip reading is impossible. People often think I’m stupid until they see my little Chihuahua mix, Pepe, in his bright orange service dog vest. Then they realize I am deaf.

Pepe was picked up on the streets of Fresno, California, and taken to a shelter. He was put up for adoption, but nobody wanted him. He was often the door greeter when visitors came to the shelter in search of a dog to adopt. They even got him on a local news station in hopes that someone would bring him home. But still, no one wanted him. Nearly a year later, Dogs for Better Lives came in search of dogs for their hearing assistance program. Meeting the initial qualifications, Pepe was given a chance for a better life.

Becoming an assistance dog generally takes four to six months of temperament evaluation, training, and socialization. Due to the high expectations and required reliability of these dogs, not all rescued dogs ultimately end up as a Certified Assistance Dog. Pepe had a 30% chance of completing the rigorous requirements, and he did it! Pepe was brought to my home by his trainer, who also spent a week training me. He alerts me to timers, appliance alerts, text messages or rings, the smoke alarm, a knock at the door, and the alarm clock. I would not hear any of these sounds without Pepe.

Pepe attracts people whenever we travel. Before COVID-19, we traveled a great deal. With Pepe at my side, people were drawn to me. I came out of my shell, overjoyed to have exchanges with others. Recently, after my emergency surgery, Pepe and I began to take short walks a few times each day. Progressively, we extended these walks to help me build my strength back. Eventually, these walks became preparation for day hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail a few miles from my home. Pepe and I would walk the same route nearly every day. With a trekking pole and a small backpack, it was obvious to those passing by that we were on a journey. As time passed, drivers would wave and train engineers gave a short toot-toot in response to my wave. That little bit of contact took me out of isolation and encouraged me to get out of my front door every morning. Pepe and I are traveling again, so to speak, greeting people with a wave. I am so grateful for a lonely little guy named Pepe who just wanted a home. Now we have each other, Pepe and I; we are constant companions.

Each year, Petco Love Holiday Wishes campaign invites adopters to share stories of how their pets have changed their lives to give the organizations that they’ve adopted from the chance to receive grant awards. This story by Steve won Dogs for Better Lives in Central Point, Oregon a 2020 Holiday Wishes award.