My Rottweiler, Roxy, understood sign language

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“Roxy was my first Rottweiler who understood South African Sign Language since she was 2 months old (2012) then I started training Max also 2 months (2020), both were fluent in SASL as a Deaf owner, am proud of my language” – Jabaar Mohamed

The bond between dog and owner

There is no question about it.  Dog owners are happier than cat owners and people who do not own an animal companion.  This was shown in a 2016 study, Examining the Association between Pet Ownership and Wellbeing.  In fact, for dogs, research shows praise from an owner is an even more effective incentive than food. Dogs can recognise people and can learn to interpret facial expressions to determine the emotional state of their human.

Studies also show that dogs can understand human intentions and even go as far as helping their owners avoid people who do not have their owners best interest at heart. 

No wonder that for most people, the loss of a dog is, in almost every way, comparable to the loss of a human loved one.  

But what if you are hearing impaired and your dog could understand sign language?  Jabaar Mohamed wrote to the Cape of Good Hope SPCA on Friday 3 September after his long time animal companion, Roxy, passed away.

A word from Jabaar

SPCA team

I would like to use this opportunity to thank each and everyone for always being there for me and both my Rottweilers, Roxy and Max. 

This morning, Roxy passed away at the age of 9 years.

I started teaching Roxy South African Sign Language (SASL), because I’m a Deaf person and more comfortable to communicate in SASL. I am involved in Deaf and Hearing community where I am part of the advocate to promote SASL as our Human Right with DeafSA, and that is why I started teaching SASL to my dogs ( Roxy and Max). 

It was alike my little pilot project where to see if it will work, it is WORKING and they both are fluent in SASL, Roxy listened with her eyes because with SASL you only communicate with your hands and she paid careful attention to what im saying/showing.  She always responded by lifting her left paw to acknowledge me to shake or to indicate I must sign something, it was almost like Roxy trying to sign back.

Roxy always looked at me and paid attention to me. It is a miracle how a dog alike Roxy knows the owner is Deaf because she was very protective and alerted me to my surroundings if I did not pay attention or react.

Dogs can learn SASL, SASL is a language for Deaf people and taught by Deaf people. SASL is not a make up language, it is a form of communication with structure and grammar. 

Thank you SPCA

I want to give personal thanks to all and doctor Alison for always being there for me, via WhatsApp  where no other vet i have been to would accommodate me to communicate via WhatsApp, only phone call ( i can’t hear over the phone) Thanks Alison. 

I will never forget that day when I came to SPCA (Grassy Park) all the way from Elsies River after I got a barrier from a private vet in Panorama ( young reception told me that i must go to Epping vet because it closer to my home), i was shocked because Roxy was in pain. I was stressed and contacted the SPCA via Facebook messenger and they confirmed that I am welcome anytime. I immediately went to SPCA, it was a first time visit for me, Janine was very helpful and understood my being deaf and that i was unable to hear when calling for my turn to see the vet, she stood up and waved to me and said, “Your turn now”. 

Roxy was diagnosed with Arthritis and Alison explained very clearly what i need to do in terms of supportive treatment at home. 

Then when COVID19 started, CEO Moyo gave permission to Gary that time he was hospital manager to have the medication longer term and provide a permit letter during level 4 to collect the medication and check up, thank you Moyo for always being there for me. 

Alison was Roxy’s first doctor at SPCA then during level 4, i had a new puppy, Max. Alison was very impressed how Roxy had improved when I came for Max’s second vaccination and third, I had to bring both along even just for Max.   

Two days ago, I sent a WhatsApp to Alison and told her about Roxy’s circumstance, she advised me and it was hard decision for me because i told her that i am afraid to bring her and she might not come back home, her condition was bad, and I know Max will go crazy if I take Roxy alone and he will perform and be  disappointed. So Alison arranged for Nikita to communicate with me. Nitkita chatted with me last night and would arrange for today and Roxy passed away when I came outside at 7am. The point i am trying to make is Alison is always there for me and makes alternative ways to accommodate my hearing disability, I really appreciate it. 

I really want to use this opportunity to thank the SPCA team for always being there for me, when Roxy goes to Alison, she always feels so relaxed and comfortable ( the picture is attached where she laid on the floor alike she belongs to SPCA).

I have always spread the  word about SPCA Grassy Park to many of my contacts, telling them “GO TO SPCA in GRASSY PARK, BEST PLACE TO BE, BEST SERVICE YOU WILL GET” –  it is the truth. You guys doing extra work and going the extra mile, hats off to you all. I always say, hopefully one day i will be part of SPCA part/full time where animals are deep in my heart. 

Lastly, I want to say BIG BIG BIG thanks to SPCA for your support when Roxy was alive, without you all, I would not have typed this email. I was very emotional today but now typing this longest email helps to make me accept that Roxy is in a better place and pain free.

I started teaching Roxy South African Sign Language (SASL), because I'm a Deaf person and more comfortable to communicate in SASL".

Roxy always looked at me and paid attention to me. It is a miracle how a dog like Roxy knows her owner is Deaf because she was very protective and alerted me to my surroundings if I did not pay attention or react in time".

View the Gallery of Roxy and Jabaar

Mainstreaming people with disabilities

Disability mainstreaming involves a process of supporting programmes to find structured ways of responding to the needs and circumstances of persons with disabilities.

Following a Presidential proclamation in December 2012, calling for South African Sign Language to be developed, standardised and recognised as one of the 11 official languages, Jabaar Mohamed under the auspices of DeafSA continue to work towards having SALS recognised as one of the official languages in South Africa.

The passing of his long time animal companion, Roxy, coincides with International Month of Deaf People commemorated every year in September.

The Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA) and the South African National Deaf Association (SANDA) both promote awareness of the rights of Deaf persons in South Africa.

Be part of the debate on how best to promote the rights of persons with disabilities in South Africa.

The Department of Social Development looks after the rights of deaf people thought the Disability Rights Team. Follow them on @Disability_SA and use #DisabilityRightsSA on all social media.


Archer, J. 1997. Why do people love their pets? Evolution and Human Behavior18(4):237–259. DOI: 10.1016/s0162-3095(99)80001-4. Available at:  via%3Dihub

Bao, K.J. & Schreer, G. 2016. Pets and Happiness: Examining the Association between Pet Ownership and Wellbeing Anthrozoös 29(2):283–296. DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2016.1152721.

Do Dogs Prefer Food or Praise? n.d. Sussex Publishers. Available:

Huber, L. 2016. How Dogs Perceive and Understand Us Current Directions in Psychological Science 25(5):339–344. DOI: 10.1177/0963721416656329.


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