July’s presentation on the charity, ‘Hearing Dogs for Deaf People’, was given by Helen Burridge helped by her friend Christopher and two hearing dogs, both black Labradors. who were very quiet during the session and not at all fazed by the size of the gathering.
Hearing dogs are selected as puppies for their responses and are trained to respond to warning noises in the home and outside. They are walked in places of high human activity and get used to the bustle of town. In the home they respond, for instance, to the door bell and lead their owner to the source of the noise. However, if a smoke or fire alarm goes off, they lie down and don’t lead their owner into danger.
Deaf people often get depressed when they find that they cannot communicate with people around them and may end up staying indoors much of the time watching TV. When they decide to have a hearing dog, the dog is brought to them and chooses by its actions whether the match is suitable. Christopher was chosen by a black Labrador for his second hearing dog, even when he was unsure, as his previous dog was so much smaller. Once the deaf person is used to his dog their whole attitude to life changes. They become confident and feel life is really worth living. They go out with the dog often.
The bond between them becomes intense. The dogs chosen are very intelligent. There is an instance of a dog realising that an epileptic person was about to have a seizure before anyone was aware and steps were taken before it developed dangerously. At the end of their working life the dogs are adopted by others as a family pet.
The dogs were first used in the USA in 1979 and later shown at Crufts in 1982. It developed from there and now about 1800 people in this country have hearing dogs. There is no grant from the government to Hearing Dogs and all funds are raised by charity events. Both Helen and Chris do a lot of work for the charity and are volunteers. The Princess Royal is their patron and her interest has helped to bring the charity to the fore.
Helen was not diagnosed with 60% hearing loss until in her twenties and was thought to be educationally below average. Now her dog Sam has given her so much confidence that she gladly meets other people and even stands up in front of a large gathering such as ours to tell her story.