Friday, 2 September 2011

Hearing dogs for the deaf

WI in August
Assistance Dogs was the theme of Old Buckenham WI’s August meeting when Loiuse Brundell gave an illustrated talk about ‘Hearing Dogs for the Deaf.’ Most people are familiar with Guide Dogs for the Blind but unaware that dogs can be trained assist those with a hearing disability.
The charity was the brainchild of a police dog handler who, in 1976, visited the USA and witnessed working Hearing Dogs for the Deaf. In collaboration with a hearing therapist, Tony Blunt started to fund raise in earnest. By 1986 the first few Hearing Dogs were working and now there are over a thousand dogs around the country.
Many of the first dogs were rescue dogs though now most come from dedicated breeders. Labradors, retrievers, King Charles spaniels and poodles make the best Hearing Dogs. These dogs spend the first few months of their lives with a foster family undergoing socialisation. At six months they are assessed for their aptitude. They need to be obedient, sociable, calm, confident and curious. All dogs are sent to the training centre in Yorkshire where they are trained to respond to basic sounds – a doorbell, smoke alarm, telephone and clock alarm. The handler can request other responses too.
The trainer then works with the dog and the new owner for about a week to ensure the new relationship is established. After three months in its new home, the dog returns to the centre for a final test. On completion of this test the dog is given a special coat with the Assistance Dog logo and an identity card.
The headquarters in Buckinghamshire was opened in 2000 and is the centre of the fund raising team. One hundred and fifty dogs a year are trained and this is expensive. There is a huge demand for Hearing Dogs and the waiting list is long.
The members at the meeting were reminded of their participation at the Village Fete and also the annual village Produce and Handicraft Show, run by the WI and needing plenty of entries from members.
The next WI meeting is on Thursday 22 September when the speaker will be Angela Ruthven with a demonstration of chocolate making. The competition will be for an unusual teaspoon.

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