I have had a great day today. My wife Joanna and I spent a lovely afternoon at the Hearing Dogs Family Fun Day, held at their headquarters in the beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside.
I was really looking forward to this event, and as we drove there with our Jack Russell terrier, Jake in the back, the sun was beating down on what was one of the hottest days of the year so far.
When we arrived at the event, I was really surprised at just how big their headquarters are. In addition to lots of fields, the site includes a farmhouse, puppy training facilities and training houses for the recipients of the hearing dogs to stay in and kennels.
Hearing Dogs for Deaf People is a charity, which was founded in 1982 by Dr Bruce Fogle MBE, a Canadian-born vet, (whose famous son is TV personality Ben Fogle) and Lady Wright of the RNID (now Action on Hearing Loss). They initially started training one dog, Lady, who was placed with recipient Eileen Sullivan. Demand for their services has grown every year, so in 1991 a second training centre was opened in the North of England and in 1992, Princess Anne accepted the invitation to become Patron. Since its beginning, Hearing Dogs has now created over 1,600 partnerships between hearing dogs and their recipients.
I chatted to lots of different people during the afternoon, who gave me further insights about Hearing Dogs and the amazing work that they do to help deaf people. I heard several people tell me how life-changing having a hearing dog was for them. I know myself from personal experience how isolated losing your hearing makes you feel, how you lose your confidence and how you don’t want to go out and socialise with other people.
Hearing dogs receive a tremendous amount of specialised training from when they are puppies, until they are placed with a recipient, and even then, the recipient has to undergo further intensive training at Hearing Dogs’ headquarters with the dog to make sure the dog and owner are compatible. There are only four breeds, which are selected to be suitable hearing dogs, and not every dog makes it through all the training. The dogs need to have the right temperament, balancing alertness and calmness. The ones that aren’t selected are found suitable homes with a member of the public. There are currently around 750 working dogs in the UK, but demand for them is much greater than the dogs available, so there is currently a five-year waiting list to receive one.
Hearing dogs are specially trained to alert deaf people to sounds such as the alarm clock, doorbell, telephone and smoke alarm going off. They are with their owners twenty-four hours a day, and provide them with life-changing help and support, so that they can carry on with their everyday lives feeling more confident and less isolated. Hearing dogs are also great companions.
I saw this in action during a demonstration involving a hearing dog and her trainer in the home. The demonstrator showed how when the alarm clock went off, the hearing dog woke up her owner, who was pretending to be asleep. Then they demonstrated how the dog alerted her owner when the timer on her cooker went off, and when the doorbell rang. Finally, they demonstrated how the dog lies down to signal potential danger when a smoke alarm went off, to tell her owner not to go into the kitchen as it could be dangerous. When I saw all this, I realised how incredibly well-trained these dogs really are.
I don’t think my Jack Russell terrier would be any good at being a hearing dog, as he is far too excitable and feisty, but he has provided me with wonderful companionship and loyalty ever since I have had him. He also really helped me to rebuild my confidence and feel less isolated when I lost my hearing three years ago. It makes me feel happy just walking Jake everyday and I can appreciate how having a specially-trained hearing dog would feel like a real life-saver to many deaf people.
At the volunteers tent, my wife and I chatted to Victoria from Hearing Dogs, who spoke to us about the work that the volunteers do in helping to train the dogs. She was very helpful and delightful to meet. We also spoke to one of the Trustees of Hearing Dogs, who told us that he himself had a hearing dog , which had changed his life and made him feel more confident. He also explained the application process to receive a hearing dog. Every effort is made to ensure that the recipient is matched with the right, compatible hearing dog, and the dog is trained to match the specific needs of their owner.
Later we met someone, who was a volunteer puppy trainer for Hearing Dogs. Her Labrador training puppy was adorable. She told us that training a puppy takes a lot of time and commitment, but that it was one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things she had ever done. Training the puppy had helped her immensely and it felt good to know that she was helping someone else, who really needed it.
This event seemed to be really popular with lots of families wandering around taking part in the various activities and enjoying themselves in the warm sunshine. There was face painting, ‘Doglympics’, a Roald Dahl museum in the marquee and a penalty shoot-out in the main field with some team members from Wycombe Wanderers. It also felt very quintessentially British, complete with fish and chips and ice cream vans and a beer tent.
I really enjoyed this event today and I met some really amazing people. The best part was finding out first-hand about how having a hearing dog really does change peoples’ lives. This must be so rewarding and inspiring to anyone involved with this fantastic charity.
If you’d like to find out more about Hearing Dogs, follow this link to their website: