The idea of training hearing dogs to assist deaf people was first introduced to the UK in 1982 after Lady Beatrice Wright and vet Bruce Fogle saw a similar scheme in America. The first dog selected for training, 'Favour', a tan and white crossbred dog, was selected from a rescue centre and Hearing Dogs was launched at Crufts that year.
The Charity aims to improve the lives of deaf people through the training and placement of specially trained dogs. Around seventy 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.
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.
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 Institute of Environmental Health Officers 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.
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 1300 hearing dogs placed with deaf people around the UK.
Do you think that you could help to turn the 'new recruits' into hearing dogs?
See: www.HearingDogs.co.uk for more information.