Let’s hear it for dogs

PUPPY love is helping to transform the lives of deaf and hard of hearing people across East Cambridgeshire. LESLEY INNES found out more about these special dogs and the appeal for Soham volunteers to help train them. Email: lesley.innes@archant.co.uk

PUPPY love is helping to transform the lives of deaf and hard of hearing people across East Cambridgeshire.

LESLEY INNES found out more about these special dogs and the appeal for Soham volunteers to help train them.

Email: lesley.innes@archant.co.uk

WHAT a difference a dog makes! Grandmother Jean Lawrence knew as soon as she met Scampi that she had found a new friend.

During a week of training the little terrier, who came from a rescue centre, had already found a place in Jean's heart.

But when she brought him back to her Ely home she realised his practical skills would open up a whole new life for her.

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"I was depressed and not coping very well with my hearing loss nor the effects on my family," said Jean.

"I felt isolated from my friends and family because of my deafness, miserable because my hearing loss and other health problems left me unable to work and pressured because I was constantly trying to understand what people were saying.

"I was confused by all the changes. Some friends stuck by me and some gave up the fight for communication. I knew what it meant to feel alone in a crowd."

Scampi proved in a very short time that he could make up for the hearing that Jean had lost and help her reclaim her place in the hearing world.

When Jean's father, who lived alone, was dying from cancer, Jean and Scampi were able to stay with him, allowing him to remain in his own home.

"I was able to stay overnight at dad's knowing that Scampi would wake me for the smoke alarm, dad's call or my alarm clock. With his help I could cook and use the cooker timer and microwave; I could even pass dad the ringing phone.

"Scampi never failed to alert me to dad's call. I noticed, too, that Scampi put to good use the unconditional love that dogs can give. He quietly snuggled up on dad's lap yet he still worked magnificently. Without Scampi's help dad would have gone into a home or hospital."

Before Jean's granddaughter was born, Scampi was trained to alert Jean to all the sounds she would need for babysitting, including responding to the baby monitor.

"Now toddler and dog are very gentle with each other and benefit from each other's companionship," added Jean.

Marion Thulborn's hearing dog, Cole, has gained national recognition for his work after being named as a runner-up in a national competition.

Cocker spaniel, Cole, who was nominated by Ely-based Marion, won his accolade in the Life-Changing hearing Dog category of a competition run by the charity, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.

"I felt Cole, like all hearing dogs, needed recognition for the quiet, reliable, devoted companionship which they give us day and night, without fail," said Marion.

"Before I had Cole, I was very hard of hearing, wearing two aids and backing away from the hearing world. I was avoiding eye contact with friends and acquaintances I met when out. I didn't want to struggle with conversations. I didn't want to fail.

"Cole changed all that. People began to stop me and admire Cole, and ask me questions about him. I started to communicate with friends and strangers again."

Cole has been trained to alert Marion whenever the door bell rings or the smoke alarm sounds.

He has become the paper dog and the post dog.

"Once he thought he would open the letters for me!" said Marion. "But he never goes on strike."

Before Cole, Marion had found little to laugh about. She missed most of the funny parts of conversation and was afraid she would laugh in the wrong places.

Marion and Cole are a strong partnership and Marion cannot imagine life without her faithful hearing dog.

"He's very much a part of my everyday life," she added. "He wakes me up, lets me take him for a walk, giving me much needed exercise and fresh air. He gives me company on outings to the shops, hospitals, doctors, the hairdressers and visits to family and friends.

"Cole has made a great difference to the quality of my life in so many small ways but which, when added together, make life worth living.

"Cole, like hundreds of other hearing dogs, is remarkable, unique, indispensable and loved."

Could you help train a hearing dog?

HEARING dogs play a vital part in their owners' everyday lives. But the demand for their help has increased so much that the waiting list for a fully-trained dog is now two years.

Now a project is being launched in Soham urging volunteers to step forward and help socialise puppies and young dogs who will take on this crucial role.

Volunteers take the dogs, aged between eight weeks and three years, into their homes to help shape their personalities and increase their confidence.

This commitment can be for a few weeks or several months but it is absolutely vital to the continuation of the work being carried out by the Hearing Dogs for Deaf people charity.

Socialiser Fiona Davis-Poynter, who has helped 12 dogs over eight years join the training programme, is setting up the Soham scheme.

She said: "These dogs need the basic obedience training - how to come when called and to sit - but it needs to be taken to a slightly higher level than that.

"It's important to get these dogs out and about so that they can experience as much of life as possible. They need to go on public transport, to the shopping centre and down the pub.

"But it's important to get it into your mind that it's not your dog. Some people find it very hard to give up the dog at the end of this period but you can always find out what happened to the dog after he left you."

Jean Lawrence is grateful to the socialiser who helped train her dog Scampi.

She said: "Without their help, he would not have had the firm foundation and confidence upon which the staff of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People were able to build his soundwork training.

"The confidence that he gained during his time with his socialiser gives me the confidence that he can cope with many different situations but it has also given him the confidence to have fun and enjoy new experiences."

INFO: Anyone wishing to help will be expected to spend most of every day with the dog, introduce him to new experiences and people, teach him basic obedience and travel to puppy classes in Soham before handing him back as a hearing dog.

There are more than 1,300 hearing dogs partnered with deaf people in Britain. The Hearing Dogs for Deaf People marks its 25th anniversary this year.

For information or to offer help with the Soham training programme contact Fiona on 01480 417730 or visit the charity's website at www.hearingdogs.org.uk