Long-term care residents at the Jefferson Health Care Center (JHCC) in Washington Township recently enjoyed a special visit from certified therapy dogs Cole and Cece — along with their owners, Chris Hannah and fiancée, Nicole Sapello. The visit, held in collaboration with Angelic Health, was part of the Team Cole Project’s annual summer "Kindness Tour" to area schools, hospice patients, and veterans' homes.
South Jersey dogs Cole, five, and Cece, 15 months, are anything but your typical canines, as the pit bulls were both born deaf. Cole has learned some American Sign Language commands from Chris. The Team Cole Project began when Chris adopted Cole when he was a puppy: "I have a deaf nephew, who at the time was only nine," said Chris. "I immediately thought of him and the relationship they could have."
Chris says his pit bulls Cole, Cece, and youngest canine sibling, Alice (also born deaf), face discrimination due to the stigma associated with the breed, as well as their special needs, adding: "Our mission is to show everyone that a disability is not an inability." An elementary school music teacher by profession, Chris brings his dogs to area schools to teach students this important life lesson. The assembly programs are free, thanks to the Cole The Deaf Dog & Friends Foundation non-profit, founded this year. “We use kid-friendly ways to talk about these sensitive topics,” said Chris.
Chris’ students fittingly named Cole after a character in the 1995 drama film "Mr. Holland's Opus" — whose music teacher protagonist had a deaf son, also named Cole. Cole is currently among three nationwide finalists for American Humane's 2022 Therapy Hero Dog of the Year. Recognizing America's canines who do extraordinary things, winners in various categories will be named before the final round of voting, which begins Friday, August 5, to determine the “Hero Dog of the Year.” For more information, visit www.colethedeafdog.com and www.herodogawards.org.
Group Photo Caption: Cece and Cole with owners Chris Hannah and Nicole Sapello (bottom row) are shown with, from left: Jefferson Health Care Center (JHCC) residents Barbara Scacciaferro, Betty Joyce Brown, and Edmund Johnson (middle row); Angelic Health Community Liaison Kristin Pirolli, JHCC Recreation Aide Jessica Snyder, Senior Housekeeper Tricia Brand, and Activities Director Carol Prendergast (top row).