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Hearing Dogs for Deaf People

Emma says:

When I was working in Cheltenham I met a man called Chris. He had seen me on television and thought I looked understanding. Why did he feel this would be particularly nice? Because he is profoundly deaf in both ears. Chris is a now a firm friend and I treated his dog Duke for four years. Sadly, as with all these pets, we had to put Duke to sleep when age got the better of him. I saw Chris a few months later and he told me very excitedly that he was going to get a hearing dog. This is how my involvement began. Ted, his new dog, is the sweetest little Papillon you will meet, his great, fluffy ears almost accentuating his important role.

What these dogs do is incredible and I have seen first hand two things-firstly how some people talk to or approach or avoid deaf people and secondly, what a difference having a dog makes to this encounter. I can’t imagine how isolating it must be to be deaf but the added security the dogs provide must be immeasurable.

The other fantastic thing about the charity is that the majority of their dogs are taken from rescue centres and retrained. They have all shapes and sizes and mutts as well as pedigrees. Being the big fan of mongrels that I am you can see why this appeals to me so much!

Hearing Dogs say:

The idea of training hearing dogs to assist deaf people was first introduced to the UK back in 1982. The first dog ‘Favour’, a tan and white crossbred dog, was selected from the National Canine Defence League and the idea of training dogs to assist deaf people became a reality.

The Charity aims to improve the lives of deaf people through the training and placement of specially trained dogs. More than seventy-five per cent of dogs entering the scheme are selected from rescue centres or similar, offering safe and loving homes to otherwise unwanted dogs and giving extra appeal to the Charity.

Hearing Dogs also relies on the generosity of individuals or breeders willing to donate a young dog or litter of pups for training. The offer of dogs from a known background helps Hearing Dogs to meet the increasing demand for trained dogs and fulfil the individual needs of all deaf people on its waiting list.

Deafness can be a very isolating and lonely disability, a hearing dog can offer a practical alternative to technical equipment ­ particularly for those deaf people who find such equipment restricting ­ with the added benefit of giving the recipient increased independence, greater confidence, companionship and a feeling of security.

In applying for a hearing dog, a deaf person is expressing a need. It is the responsibility of the Charity’s staff to assess that need and, if appropriate, train a dog to help them. Applicants must be 18 years of age or over, have a severe or profound hearing loss and need some form of assistance to make them aware of sounds such as the alarm clock, doorbell, telephone, baby cry, smoke alarm etc. Most importantly, they must be able to care for a dog properly and genuinely enjoy the close companionship of a dog.

Hearing dogs are trained to alert deaf recipients by touching with a paw and then leading the person back to the sound source. For sounds such as the smoke alarm and fire alarm, the dogs will lie down to indicate danger.

All qualified hearing dogs are issued with a certificate by the Department of Health and Environment and it is this special certificate which allows recipients of registered hearing dogs to be offered the same concessions and access to public places that has for many years been freely offered to the owners of registered guide dogs for the blind.

The dogs themselves vary from the largest, scruffiest mongrel to the smallest pedigree but they are all easily recognisable by their distinctive burgundy jacket and lead slips, which also helps to identify the recipient’s otherwise ‘invisible’ disability.

Although Hearing Dogs for Deaf People selects as many dogs as they can from rescue centres, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find puppies and young dogs with the right temperament. Chris Allen, puppy socialising manager, explains the problem, “In order to try and cut the waiting list of deaf applicants we need to train more dogs, but finding the right dogs in rescue centres is proving difficult. For this reason, we are appealing to the public to think of us if they have a puppy or young dog that they are perhaps unable to keep due to a change in circumstances. Likewise, if there is a breeder out there with a litter of puppies who would like to donate one or two to us for training, we would be very grateful.”

Donors of puppies and dogs to the Charity are kept informed of their dog’s progress all the way through the training process, and they have the satisfaction of knowing that their puppy is one day going to make a huge difference to the life of a deaf person. One such grateful recipient is Georgie Boyling from Chalgrove in Oxfordshire, who emphasises how important her hearing dog, Nelson, is to her. “When my hearing deteriorated rapidly after an illness several years ago, I could never have imagined that out of such a dark situation could come so much love, compassion and positivity such as the likes of which Nelson gives to me.”

Ideally Hearing Dogs is looking for small to medium-sized dogs aged between six weeks and three years, and the Charity trains most breeds as well as crossbreeds and mongrels. Dogs that are people-orientated and have friendly temperaments tend to make the most successful hearing dogs.

It costs £5,000 to fully sponsor a hearing dog and to provide life-long aftercare and support. Hearing dogs are free to deaf people as each dog is sponsored by a company, organisation, club or individual willing to raise the funds needed.

The Charity currently places 140 hearing dogs a year, and there are over 1,000 hearing dogs placed with deaf people around the UK.

Contact details:

Website: www.hearingdogs.org.uk


Hearing Dogs for Deaf People

Emma Milne with Jan Smith

Emma Milne with Margaret Arthur and her dog Dennis

Glen and Milly

Janet Cook and Blossom

Samba - Credit: Murray Sanders

Tony Higbed and Molly

Tracy and Budgie

Irene Addinall and Curly

John Roberts and Ruby

Training - Alert for telephone