Doobert, an adorable deaf puppy from Goochland County, will be part of the starting lineup on Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl” on Super Bowl Sunday.
Tom and Dianne Ireton adopted Doobert from Green Dogs Unleashed, a rescue group in Troy in Fluvanna County, in September.
But the white English pointer with speckled ears came with special instructions:
“They told us, ‘You can take him today, but if you do, you’ll have to take him up to New York because he’s been selected for the ‘Puppy Bowl.’ Or you can wait a few weeks to come back and pick him up,’ ” Tom said. “We said, ‘No way! Sounds like fun.’ And we took him home that day.”
Doobert joined the Iretons’ family of four other dogs — they now have two English pointers, two shepherd mixes and a golden retriever — and quickly made himself at home.
“He’s full of energy. He’s a little pistol. He has no concept of the fact that he’s any different from any other dog. He loves to play, he’s very active and social,” Tom said.
“He’s a very visual dog,” Tom added. “He looks to you for cues, and he relies on the other dogs to let him know when someone’s at the door or coming down the stairs. When he sees them move, he moves.”
The Iretons changed Doobert’s name to Oliver, and in October, they took him to New York for the taping of “Puppy Bowl XIII.”
In New York, Oliver had his picture taken by famous dog photographer Sophie Gamand and has already appeared in People Magazine, where he’s referred to as Doobert.
“He’s very photogenic,” Tom said.
Two other special-needs dogs will be featured on the “Puppy Bowl” besides Oliver: a three-legged puppy named Lucky and an Australian shepherd named Winston, who is blind and deaf.
In all, roughly 78 puppies will be “competing” in the event, representing 34 rescue organizations from 22 states.
“There are so many wonderful animals in rescues across the country that have special needs who should not be overlooked,” said Dawn Sinsel, executive producer of the “Puppy Bowl.” “It was important to us to highlight what loving pets they make for the right family.”
And she added, “We are thrilled to say that all three dogs have been adopted to wonderful homes.”
While the Iretons have never had a special-needs puppy before, Tom said that he and his wife chose Oliver for the breed, more than the disability.
“English pointers are like Velcro dogs. They just love to be around humans,” Tom said.
And Oliver is no different.
His favorite game is fetch, but Tom likes to play it at night, when he can use a glow-in-the-dark toy. Otherwise, during the day, Oliver has a hard time finding the ball.
Now 6 months old, Oliver is also learning more hand signals. He responds to signals for “sit” and “no.”
“We’ve got a ways to go,” Tom said. “But he seems to understand demeanor. He always knows when he’s done something wrong.”
They also continue to enroll him in basic obedience classes at Green Dogs Unleashed, where he learns his commands with hand signals.
Oliver came to Green Dogs Unleashed from Kansas, where he was given up by his breeder. But Green Dogs, which primarily rescues deaf and blind dogs, was notified and quickly mobilized to get the deaf puppy to its Virginia-based facility.
It took more than 12 hours for him to get there. He flew part of the way and was driven the rest of the way by a team of volunteers.
“Oliver is just a fabulous, happy, attentive little guy,” said Erika Proctor, a spokeswoman for the organization. “He’s very toy-driven, very athletic. He sees a goal and he runs for it. Because he can’t hear, he pays very close attention to what he’s doing.”
On the “Puppy Bowl,” dogs pick up toys on the field and run them into the end zone, a game that Proctor says Oliver is very good at. On the show, there are two teams: Team Ruff and Team Fluff. Oliver will be on Team Ruff.
Currently, Green Dogs has 42 dogs that are available to be adopted. Some are deaf and blind. Many dogs at Green Dogs are trained to be therapy companions for people.
“If you weren’t told these dogs are deaf or blind, you would never know it,” Proctor said. “They do a great job navigating their world.”