By Mike Bush
Fulton, MO (KSDK) - At the Missouri School for the Deaf in Fulton, Missouri, the message comes through loud and clear.
"Our kids are capable of doing anything anybody else can do," says Superintendent Barbara Garrison.
They've been giving voice to hearing impaired children since 1851.
"It is the oldest school for the deaf west of Mississippi," she says.
Students ages 5 to 21 come here from all over the state and many live here during the school year. They're prepared to achieve personal excellence, so it's not that much different than any other school - with one possible exception.
The big man on campus is a one-year-old dachshund named Sparky.
Sparky arrived in December and while he may be popular now, there was a time when he lived in a shelter and no one wanted to adopt him. That's because Sparky is also deaf.
"When you ask the kids, 'What's special about Spark,' they'll say, 'Because he's like me,'" Garrison says.
Since he can't hear, Sparky responds to sign language. He can "sit," "stay," "lay down" and "roll over" among other tricks. He was trained in the Puppies for Parole program at the South Central Correctional Facility in Licking, Missouri. Instead of sending him back to the shelter, the inmates thought of the Missouri School for the Deaf.
"I think people are happier having him on campus. It's exciting. We really feel a connection with him," says 18-year-old student Michael Miller, through an interpreter.
"I noticed that the kids get along a little bit better when they're sharing him," adds teacher Lucille Blackwell.
Sparky lives with Dr. Garrison, but sometimes when a student is homesick or just in need of a friend,
they'll get to take the dog for a talk.
"The dog makes them feel like they have a sense of belonging. They feel that they're not alone," says Bethany Peterson, the Director of Student Life.
In a sense, Sparky is a teacher here too, giving lessons about responsibility and unconditional love.
"He reminds us of the important things in life and that is to love and support each other," says Dr. Garrison.
As they get ready for summer break, many of the students say they're going to miss Sparky. He's become part of the MSD family. He's a little dog showing we all have a place when we listen not with our ears but with our heart.