Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Hear, Hear!

This Books and Banter session last September was right up my street. You’ve probably gathered that I am fond of dogs.

Daphne Hadfield, who gave the talk, had Pip, a five year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, with her. Daphne spoke about the work of the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. Pip is Daphne’s hearing dog.

Dr Bruce Fogle’s visited Washington, USA in 1972 where he learnt about dogs trained to alert people to sounds they couldn’t hear. The charity was established in the UK after discussions with Lady Wright and the Institute for the Deaf.

The HQ of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People is in Buckinghamshire. There is another training location in Bielby, North Yorkshire. Approximately 50 dogs a year are trained in Bucks and one every two weeks in Yorkshire. 1400 dogs have been placed with deaf people since the start of the organisation.

To qualify for a dog you have to be over 18, and profoundly or severely deaf. Other factors considered are whether the deaf person has to spend a lot of time alone and needs to be independent.

Three-quarters of the dogs come from places like the Dogs’ Trust, usually mongrels; a further twenty percent are donated from breeders who may offer a pup from a litter. The dogs must have the type of temperament to investigate sounds. A dog selected as a possible hearing dog is placed with a family who looks after it for a period during which it is ‘socialised’ and undergoes obedience training. The charity pays for food and vet’s bills. The dog visits the centre each week and as part of the assessment its hearing ability is tested. Dogs deemed unsuitable are re-homed.

A chosen dog undergoes 16 weeks training and is matched to a recipient before training begins. Sounds in the recipient’s home are recorded – door bells, telephones, smoke alarms, etc – and the dog trained to react to those sounds. It will then warn its owner and take them to the source of the sound. It is five weeks before the eventual owner meets the dog. Food treats are the reward for a dog correctly reacting to the sounds.

Later in the training the owner will spend time in a flat at the centre so that the dog’s allegiance can be transferred from the trainer.

Finally, a trainer will spend three days at the home of the owner to verify that the dog has settled in and reacts as taught to the sounds in the home.

It costs between £10000 and £15000 to train a dog. The recipient of the dog is not asked to contribute to this cost.

You can recognise a hearing dog when it’s out with it owner as it will be wearing a maroon jacket bearing the words ‘Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.’

Daphne gives talks in the north – at the moment she is the only speaker in the area. With Pip she visits Women’s Institute, schools, luncheon clubs and Rotary Clubs to explain the work of the charity.

Contact details:

  • Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, The Grange, Wycombe Road, Saunderton, Bucks HP27 9NS

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