Marcia Fishman introduces Rudolph to Emmanuel Toe, 8, during a visit earlier this month to McIntyre Elementary in Southfield. (SUSAN TUSA/Detroit Free Press)
DETROIT FREE PRESS "Shut your eyes and hold your ears as tight as possible," Marcia Fishman said to the third-graders at McIntrye Elementary School in Southfield. "Don't feel sorry for Rudolph, he is a happy dog. But I want you to understand what he experiences every day of his life."
Fishman adopted Rudolph, a 7-pound dachshund who was born both deaf and blind, after four other families didn't want him or know what to do with him.
She named him after Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer because -- just like the reindeer's nose guides Santa's sleigh in the dark -- her dog's nose guides him every day. She also knew the name would appeal to children.
Rudolph is the star of Fishman's storybook, "Rudolph's Nose Knows," about a blind and deaf dog teased by other dogs because he bumps into things. In the story, a bird falls down a hole and Rudolph is the only one who can rescue it. He becomes a hero and, by the end, is revered by the other dogs.
As a team, Rudolph and Fishman visit schools around metro Detroit to help kids understand that Rudolph has a happy and very busy life, even though he has disabilities. Fishman also hopes that Rudolph and the book teach children to accept others who might appear different from themselves.
"Rudolph's visit helped the children realize that we all have feelings and self-worth regardless of how we may look or appear to others," said Elaine Kolos, a third-grade teacher at McIntyre.
Last week, Fishman and Rudolph dropped in on more than 60 third-graders at the school.
"The kids love Rudolph and he loves the children," Fishman said. "They swoon over him and can't understand why adults would think he is ugly!"
Many asked thoughtful questions, like "Why is Rudolph blind?" "How is it different for you to have Rudolph compared to other dogs?" "Can you leave Rudolph alone in the house?" and "How does Rudolph play if he is blind and deaf?"
Fishman patiently answered each one, stressing that while Rudolph has special challenges, he has as normal a life as possible, just with a few changes.
"Rudolph is spreading a great message," Fishman says. "I will never forget what one child said to me last year, after he hugged Rudolph-- 'I am going to tell my mommy that I want a deaf and blind dog, too.' "
Evva Hepner, a retired social worker from the school, said Rudolph and the book helped to generate positive discussions about the differences among people."Hopefully they have become more sensitive to people with challenges," she said.