Tonight we were delighted to have Mike and Clare Coote from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People talk to us via Zoom about their fascinating and incredibly valuable work.
They opened our eyes to just how isolating it can be for someone who is profoundly deaf especially for those who often don’t want to go out. It is not an obvious disability and for some by simply having a hearing dog makes and enormous difference as it allows them to reconnect to the world. They are able to go out with the dog as a clear signal to their disability and so people make allowances.
Clare is currently training 9 month old Winston; a gorgeous black Labrador. We learnt all about how these amazing dogs are trained to act as the ears for their owners. They must be able to alert their owner to a sound and then when asked “What is it?” either take them to the sound (doorbell, kitchen timer) or signal that it is a danger sound by laying down so that the owner can get to safety (e.g. a fire alarm). The hearing dogs are bred by the charity and go to a trainer like Clare when they are 8 weeks old. By the time they are 12 weeks old they must have basic obedience and impulse control and then to earn their hearing dogs jacket at 6 months they must also show that they react appropriately with other dogs, people, children and in shops. If they pass an assessment at 10 months old then the charity start to look for a match but it’s not until the dog has passed their final 4 star assessment when they will actually be handed over. It is really important that a good match is found as people often have to wait 4 – 5 years for a hearing dog. Remarkably hearing dogs can be matched with children as young as 8 years old. In these instances a split lead is used with a guardian.
All of the remarkable hard work training hearing dogs is done by by people like Clare who are volunteers. They give their time and effort to the dogs and the charity whilst the charity provide everything else for the dog; food, vet bills etc., whilst it is training.
By the time hearing dogs reach the age of 12 they retire from duty. If possible they can stay within the family as a pet otherwise they are rehomed by the charity.
A massive thank you to Clare, Mike and of course the wonderful Winston for their excellent talk. It was a very eye-opening and enjoyable talk and I know that lots of our members were moved to visit the charity webpage afterwards to find out how they could make a difference.