Bonnie, a 3-year-old Australian cattle dog is deaf, but that doesn’t stop her from hiking up past 14,000 feet and enjoying time with her new family. On August 30, Bonnie, her sister Bella, and brother Bolt all made it to the top of Mt. Whitney with their dad, Tim Livesey. The team achieved its goal over a 4-day backpacking trip hiking a total of 53 miles. All three pups were dog tired (pun intended) at the end, but pushed through “like the rock stars that they are,” Livesey wrote in an Instagram post.
While this adventure was the crew’s longest backpacking trip and highest peak, they’ve been training for it since the moment Bonnie joined the pack this past February. Every weekday morning, the team wakes up around 4:45 am and hikes five to seven miles at a nearby nature reserve. On the weekends they’ll do longer treks like the 18-mile hike up nearby Charleston Peak (11,916).
Livesey learned about three-year-old Bonnie from a cattle dog rehoming Facebook page because her previous owner couldn’t take care of her anymore. After some hesitation, Livesey drove down to New Mexico from his home in Las Vagas with Bella and Bolt to meet Bonnie. Even though Bonnie’s sometimes shy around new people, when she first saw Livesey, she immediately tried to jump into his arms. “I wasn’t expecting it, but I caught her,” says Livesey. “Right then I kind of knew that she was gonna come home with us.”
All three of Livesey’s Australian cattle dogs started off as rescues that people had posted about online. Bella, 7, had been left in a cardboard box with her litter as a puppy. Bolt, 3, was born with a broken tail so he couldn’t be a show dog. And now, Bonnie.
While Livesey wasn’t sure how Bella and Bolt would get along with Bonnie at first, the three were comfortable with each other from the start. Now, they all watch out for each other whether that’s defending each other from any other dogs, sticking together on hikes, or chasing off sneaky coyotes.
In April, Bolt and Bella chased off a coyote that had been sneaking up on Bonnie during an off-leash hike. Bonnie had stopped to sniff around some bushes a little ways behind Livesey and the other dogs and “the next thing you know,” said Livesey, “I heard Bolt give out this ferocious bark and he turned and ran back the other way.” When Livesey turned around, he saw Bolt and Bella chasing off the coyote Bonnie hadn’t heard. Livesey now says, “they’re her protection ears because she couldn’t hear the coyote.”
Other than the need for “protection ears,” Livesey doesn’t notice much difference between caring for a deaf dog or a hearing dog. Like many trainers, he’s always trained his dogs with both verbal and visual queues, so the training hasn’t been much different. While on adventures, all three dogs wear RexSpecs and dog packs, but Bonnie also sports a remote-control vibrating collar in case Livesey urgently needs to get her attention. When not wearing her pack, Bonnie also wears a harness that says “Deaf Puppy” so other hikers don’t surprise her with pats from behind. Around the house, Livesey also always lets Bonnie know when he’s leaving a room if she doesn’t notice.
“I’ve noticed if I do sneak out of the room without her noticing, when she wakes up she immediately starts looking for me,” says Livesey. “She’ll run out the doggy door looking for me outside, then she’ll come back in and she’ll run upstairs. She almost panics if she doesn’t know where I’ve gone.”
Since Livesey spends so much time outside in the sun and at high altitude with the dogs, he uses RexSpecs to protect them from harsh UV rays, dust, branches, and desert cactus spines. The dogs don’t love putting them on, but they still get excited when Livesey gets them out because they know it means adventure time.
Livesey says the RexSpecs also tend to be a crowd favorite on the trail and he loves seeing people’s reactions to three heelers wearing goggles. “I can tell long before we get to them just by the big smile on their face,” he says. “You get a lot of ‘you just made this hike better’ and ‘the best part of this hike was seeing your dogs.’”
And for skeptics who ask why they wear goggles or think dogs don’t need eye protection, he’s come up with some creative responses too:
“They’re fugitives from the law and the goggles make it harder for the police to catch them.”
“Like Bruce Wane, to hide their true identity so they can lead a normal life.”
“They’re self-conscious of their eye color so they like to hide their eyes”
Words by Johanna Flashman