In 1982, world-renowned vet Dr Bruce Fogle, and Lady Beatrice Wright of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (now called Action on Hearing Loss), introduced to the UK a charity that has gone on to radically change the lives of over 1600 deaf people right across the country.
The scheme was launched following a trip to the USA where Bruce attended an event at Washington State University where he came across the American Hearing Dog Scheme. This scheme involved training dogs to alert deaf people to a range of sounds in the home, workplace, and public buildings.
Lady Wright knew about the scheme being undertaken in the USA but felt that it would be difficult for UK deaf charities to finance such a project.
Following generous financial donations from a number of charities and companies, a pilot scheme was devised and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People launched at Crufts 1982.
In 1983 the first trained hearing dog, called Lady, was matched to a deaf recipient. Since the 1980s, an incredible 1600 dogs have been placed, and the charity reached the milestone of a 1000th hearing dog in 2003.
The hearing dogs help deaf people on many different levels. A hearing dog can offer increased independence, confidence, security and companionship which is important, as deafness can have an effect of isolation or loneliness on people. The hearing dog is trained to alert a deaf person to specific sounds including the doorbell, telephone, oven timer, alarm clock, baby monitor, smoke/fire alarm, mobile phone etc.
Hearing dog recipient Ann Ramsden from Yorkshire gradually lost her hearing in the early-nineties due to a set of allergies. The introduction of her hearing dog Max in 2004 was the turning point in her life. Ann says that:
Before Max, life was a bit like being in the dark. Deafness is an invisible disability and people don’t understand that you are deaf. You very often come across as stupid and rude and I found myself going out less in to the community. But when Max came along it was as if a light had come on. It just completely changed my life. I stopped worrying about missing things and I stopped worrying about what people thought of me as a deaf person. It was a physical thing too. I found that the stress just dropped away from me and it was something that I felt. I hadn’t realised how tense I was around the house until I knew that Max was going to do the work for me and alert me to the things I couldn’t hear.
Alongside Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, there are five other charities providing assistance dogs: Guide Dogs, Canine Partners, Dogs for the Disabled, Support Dogs, and Dog AID.
Action on Hearing Loss estimates that there are over 10 million people in the UK with hearing loss or impairment. The options available to help people with a hearing impairment include hearing dogs as well as hearing therapists, hearing advisers, lipreading classes, sign language classes, counselling and numerous services for family and friends.
For further information please see Hearing Dogs for Deaf People