Dean Massimini, Deaf Dalmatian Devotee

by Alana Quartuccio Bonillo

Dean Massimini is devoted not only to collision repair, but also his special needs dalmatian, Daphne.

The Oxford dictionary defines devotion as “love, loyalty and enthusiasm for a person, activity or cause.”

That definition surely holds true for Dean Massimini (Autotech Collision Service; Sewell) in various areas of his life, beginning with his work in the auto body field…but there’s also something else – or perhaps someone else he (and his whole family) have become quite devoted to – a dalmatian named Daphne.

What’s so special about this dog, you may ask? Well, Daphne isn’t your ordinary canine. Loving her takes a bit more dedication than most, as Daphne was born completely deaf. Dean and his family learned sign language to communicate with their special pet.

Dean and his wife Darlene have always been dog people (especially dalmations, as Darlene has a particular affinity for black and white creatures, though she really loves all things). But they never had a dog that required special training before Daphne came into their lives two years ago. The couple didn’t set out to take home a deaf dog – but once her special needs were discovered, they certainly weren’t about to turn their backs on the sweet dalmatian.

“Right when COVID hit, our last dog, Daisy, took a turn for the worst and passed away. I told my wife we should travel and do things before we get another dog. But then lockdown came along, and we were stuck in the house,” Dean recalls.

Having had dalmatians as pets before, the couple set out to find a pup in need of a home.

Although the dalmatians carry a higher risk of deafness than other breeds, there was no indication that the precious pup they’d take home that day was deaf.

“We were in the breeder’s yard, and there were about three or four puppies running around. I squeezed a squeaky toy, and three pups quickly came running along with a fourth just following behind. At that time, we didn’t know that the fourth dog – the one we took home – didn’t hear the toy; she had just naturally followed the others.”

Once Daphne settled in at home, the Massiminis noticed she was a little different than other dogs they’d had in the past. She wouldn’t respond to sound, and Dean noted another telling sign: “She would just stare. I never had a dog just stare at me like that, so I started to wonder if she was deaf.”

Soon after, a veterinarian confirmed it.

“I wasn’t prepared to have a deaf dog,” admits Dean. “I didn’t know anything about it, and it was at the heart of COVID, so there weren’t many options. We followed a friend’s advice to take our time, foster her for a month or two and go from there.”

Looking to absorb as much knowledge as he could, Dean turned to the internet to find more information and came across Deaf Dogs Rock which featured videos on how to communicate with dogs through sign language.

Daphne and the Massiminis have come a long way in learning together as a family.

They completed dog training with an instructor and regularly practiced, researched and used American Sign Language (ASL) to teach Daphne signs for everything from bathtime to going for a walk.

“With a normal dog, you just shout their name, and they will come to you, but with Daphne, we have to use eye contact and ASL. That is the first thing they teach you.”

Instead of saying “good girl,” they give her a thumbs up. And she gets excited just like any hearing dog would when Darlene lets her know “Daddy’s home,” except the good news is communicated with a non-verbal command.

“Instead of basic commands, we use ASL to let her know when to stay, sit, come, lay down or time to eat.”

Daphne has grown up to be a friendly dog who is beloved by all she meets.

“She’s really fun to walk around with. Everyone stops to meet with her.”

Daphne has become so well-trained that Dean is able to let her go without her leash when they go for their three-mile walks at the shore. Although most communication is done through ASL, Daphne wears a special collar that will vibrate gently via remote if Dean needs to get her attention from afar.

“I let her run, and if she gets too far, I buzz her collar, and she’ll run over. She knows to stay at my side when I point to it. We have a really good bond.”

It’s really quite incredible the way the Massiminis are able to communicate with their special dog. Daphne knows to trust Dean and only respond to his signals.

“I can walk into the middle of the street and wait for cars to stop. She’ll follow only when I signal to her. She’s really amazing.”

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