The idea of training hearing dogs to assist deaf people was first introduced to the UK 25 years ago 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 help Deaf and hard of hearing people through the training and placement of specially trained dogs. 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.
For many people deafness can be a very isolating and lonely disability, and a hearing dog can offer a practical alternative to technical equipment – particularly for those who find such equipment restricting – with the added benefit of giving the recipient increased independence, greater confidence, companionship and a feelingere or profound hearing loss and need some form of assistance to make them aware of sounds such 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 sevas 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.
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. Whenever possible, the dogs are selected from rescue centres, but they are also donated by breeders and members of the public, with the remainder coming for the Charity’s own breeding scheme.
All qualified hearing dogs are issued with a certificate by the Institute of Environmental Health Officers and this 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. Hearing dogs will also accompany their recipients to their workplace, and be trained to respond to sounds at work if necessary.
Hearing Dogs receives no government funding, and relies solely on the generosity of the public to help with the costs of selecting, socialising, training and placing these special dogs. It costs £5,000 to fully support 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 more than 1500 hearing dogs have been placed with deaf people around the UK.