Summit High graduate and Angelyne, ‘the Amazing Deaf Cattle Dog,’ present at Breckenridge festival | SummitDaily.com

Summit High graduate and Angelyne, ‘the Amazing Deaf Cattle Dog,’ present at Breckenridge festival

After almost 11 years of touring the country with his red cattle dog giving presentations, Eric Melvin has thousands of fond memories of times his best friend has left a lasting impression on someone. So many, in fact, that if asked for one particular moment that stands out in his memory of 517 speaking engagements with Angelyne, he'll just pull out a large, heavy three-ring binder. It's filled with newspaper clippings, photos, letters and drawings of his dog given to him by children, a physical representation of 11 years, 175,000 miles and 22 states worth of traveling to spread his message of overcoming challenges.

Melvin and Angelyne know all about adversity. At 14 years old, Melvin was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a condition that can't be seen on the outside but continues to affect his life. Angelyne was born completely deaf, which for some dogs, can result in neglect or euthanization. These challenges do not define his life or Angelyne's, but instead, have led him to what he said is his calling.

"It's all about inspiration," he said, as Angelyne laid quietly at his feet. "Everybody needs a lift, no matter how high they are up on the pillar. … We all have some type of a challenge or obstacle we are trying to get over, get past or get through. This is about hope and love and understanding, about overcoming those things, about overcoming those challenges."

Eric & Angelyne, "the Amazing" Deaf Cattle Dog, will be at the second annual BowWow Film Festival on Friday, Sept. 23. The event, which showcases 10 film shorts all about dogs, benefits League for Animals and People of the Summit (LAPS) and Animal Rescue of the Rockies (ARR).

THE FIRST CHALLENGE

When Melvin — a Summit High graduate — first picked out Angelyne from a litter of six puppies in Fort Collins in 2005, it was the initial way she greeted him and her unique coloring and mannerisms that drew him to her. At the time, he had no idea how the small Australian cattle dog would change his life.

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It wasn't until Angelyne was 13 weeks old and in her second week of puppy obedience class that it was realized she might be deaf. The teacher stood in the center of the room with a basket of treats and toys, letting each dog become distracted with the wares before asking the owners to call the dogs back. One by one the dogs went back to their owners, leaving only Angelyne in the center of the room. The teacher had Melvin stand up, do jumping jacks, wave his arms and stomp his feet. It was only after the teacher flicked the light switch on and off that Angelyne looked around the room.

After getting a definitive diagnoses from a veterinarian, Melvin was faced with a choice.

"The veterinarian comes out and says, 'Well, you have options,'" he said. "'If you want to put her down, I can give her a shot right now. That's one option. Another option, you can take her back and try to get your money back from the guy you got her from.' I thought to myself, 'I'm not going to do that — I love this dog.' Option three is give her to a shelter or foster or rescue. I can't do that. Option four, keep her and try to give her the most normal life that a deaf dog can have in a hearing world. And that's what I did."

After the diagnoses, Melvin took Angelyne back to puppy kindergarten class.

"The teacher said, 'Not a lot of people are willing to do twice the amount of work to get the same result,'" Melvin said, tearing up at the memory. "'If you are going to do this, if you are going to keep Angelyne as a deaf dog, and you are going to succeed … you're going to have to put in twice the work that a hearing dog would have. Are you willing to do that?'"

Melvin was up to the challenge, and after seven weeks of class, Angelyne had learned seven hand cues and the pair was awarded Most Improved Team. When puppy class was over, Melvin would come home from work each day and spend three hours working with her in the yard, and soon after had a neighborhood following. Sometimes as many as 20 people would wander up to his house to watch the man and his deaf dog as they practiced commands using hand signals. After one year, Angelyne had learned 23 cues — at 4 or 5 years she had 50, and now she's at 63 cues.

Melvin attributes his dedication for teaching the dog to his diabetes. Dealing with the disease as a teenager, while playing sports or managing his grades, took strength and determination.

"Having an early challenge, with type 1 diabetes, gave me the compassion and the resilience and gave me the thought process, it gave me a way to look outside the box and solve a new challenge, solve a new problem," he said. "I had a huge challenge from an early age, but it gave me the fuel and the fire and the determination and the compassion, all of those attributes that made all this possible."

FINDING A CALLING

Melvin and Angelyne's first public appearance was a talent show on June 9, 2007, where they competed against 10 other dogs and won. Melvin was interviewed by the local paper and approached by several other community members inviting him to bring their story and performance to other events.

They began doing presentations soon after, and within two years, in 2009, Melvin quit his day job and dedicated his life to motivational speeches with Angelyne, and he's been doing it ever since. Now, at 11 years old, Angelyne has been featured twice on the cover of Mile High Dog Magazine, has four gold medals from Doggie Olympics competitions, 11 pet talent show victories, and her story has been featured in three published books. This summer they presented at Erik Weihenmayer's "No Barrier's Summit" for the second time, hosted at Copper Mountain Resort.

Their presentations are a combination of showcasing Angelyne's talents using only visual cues, along with character education programs for schools or motivational speeches. Melvin also offers a deaf dog training program, and has pictures of him and Angelyne with multiple other deaf cattle dogs he has worked with.

His work with Angelyne is a calling, not a job, Melvin said, and although rewarding, it has also come with sacrifices. His traveling schedule has kept him from having the traditional objectives in life — spouse, house, kids, new car — but he wouldn't have it any other way.

"I put all my heart and all my soul into this," he said. "A lot of people who make a big difference in the world, they have to sacrifice other things people take for granted."

THE FUTURE

Now that Angelyne has gotten older and deals with arthritis in one leg, Melvin has scaled back some of the more physical tricks she does, although he plans to continue with the same amount of speaking engagements.

After living in Greeley for the last six years and spending this summer back in Summit County, Melvin plans to move to Colorado Springs in October and spend the winter working on a book about life with Angelyne. He admits that Angelyne won't be around forever, but said her legacy will.

"I'm going to be really crushed when her expiration day hits," Melvin said. "I'm going to be very sad. But my goal has always been to leave a positive and lasting legacy, after me, after her. … I want my story and my message to be about life — about hitting challenges head on, with compassion and strength and perseverance. That's what this is all about."

THE FILM FESTIVAL

Based in Boulder, the BowWow Film Festival is a traveling event that celebrates all things dog through the art of short film, and collaborates with animal rescues and humane societies across the country to raise funds and awareness for adoptable animals. One hundred percent of ticket sales benefit animal welfare organizations.

It was created by festival director Susan Kelley, who came up with the idea after working on a larger fundraiser for a rescue on the Front Range. She realized that most smaller rescues don't have the ability to put on such lavish events, and wanted to come up with a way to help these types of nonprofits raise money. With her experience in film fest culture in Telluride, she came up with the idea for BowWow.

"We were able to have success right out of the gate," Kelley said. "Last year we did 25 shows and we raised almost $50,000 just in our very first year."

Festival organizers provide the films, marketing and materials necessary to bring the event to communities around the country when organizations contact them. In Breckenridge, the recipients of the film festival are LAPS and ARR.

LAPS supports a variety of assistance programs for companion animals of low-income families living or working in Summit County, including a spay/neuter program. ARR works as an alternative to shelter environments, providing foster homes and subsequent permanent homes to cats and dogs.

"It's a service that the community needs," Kelley said. "LAPS and ARR both are amazing at stepping up and filling that space when people don't or aren't able to care for their animals."

IF YOU GO

What: BowWow Film Festival

When: Friday, Sept. 23, doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Colorado Mountain College, Breckenridge

Cost: Tickets are $10 for adults and kids under 12 are $7 in advance; $12 for adults and $7 for kids at the door. Tickets can be purchased online, plus see the film trailers at http://www.bowwowfilmfest.com or purchase hard copy tickets at ARR Thrift Store and Animal Lover’s Pet Store in Breck or in Frisco at A&A Pet Supply

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