Tag Archives: hearing dogs

Identification tags for Disability Assist Dogs

In the aftermath of the Christchurch 2011 earthquake, officials had difficulty identifying the status of dogs at civil defence centers.  If you were the owner of a disability assistance dog, this made things more difficult in what was already a stressful time.

Disability Assist Dog identification tag
In December 2013, the Minister of Civil Defence, the Hon Nikki Kaye, announce the production of a Disability Assist Dog tag that will be officially recognised throughout New Zealand.  The tags will be entered into the National Dog Database and provide unique identification for each dog, linking it to its owner/handler and the organisation that certified the dog.   These tags will be help match lost dogs and owners much faster and ensure that handlers and their dogs are allowed entry to official civil defence centers.

(Dogs are also micro-chipped in New Zealand; this is compulsory)

Seven organisations are authorised under the Dog Control Act 1996 to train and certify disability assist dogs. Only dogs certified through these organisations will qualify to wear the official identification tag:

  • Hearing Dogs for Deaf People NZ
  • Mobility Assistance Dogs Trust
  • New Zealand Epilepsy Assist Dogs Trust
  • Royal NZ Foundation for the Blind
  • Top Dog Companion Trust (not currently operating)
  • Assistance Dogs New Zealand Trust
  • Perfect Partners Assistance Dogs Trust

What programs are in place in your country to support owners/handlers and their assistance dogs?

Hearing Dogs NZ

Imagine being on duty 24/7 at your job and enjoying it.  Well – if you were – chances are you would be one of the 50 registered hearing dogs currently working in New Zealand.

Hearing dogs are the ‘other’ assistance dogs, less well known than their guide dog for the blind counterparts, but no less important to the lives of their human recipients.

These dogs are trained to alert their deaf or severely hearing impaired owner to important sounds such as the door bell, kitchen timer, fire alarm, baby monitor, or telephone.  A hearing dog wears a distinctive yellow coat.

Tyra in her yellow Hearing Dogs coat

Tyra in her yellow Hearing Dogs coat

Hearing Dogs is an incorporated charitable trust established in 1998 that provides training for these special dogs at its National Training Centre in New Plymouth.  At any given time, there will be six dogs in training at the facility.  These dogs go to socialisers on the weekends as part of their initial training.  If you are in the New Plymouth area, this is one way of supporting the organisation.

A hearing dog may be any shape or size and most breeds are acceptable.  Training typically starts between the age of one year to 18 months.  Clare McLaughlin, General Manager, says “We look for excellent health followed by an even temperament.  The dog needs to be calm and confident and not react to sudden movements or sounds.  A well socialised dog is an advantage and one that is motivated by food makes it easier because our training is reward based.”

Another quality is willingness to learn.  Any breeder who has a dog with these qualities may want to consider offering the dog to Hearing Dogs for training.

Caroline Boyce can testify to the value that a hearing dog brings to its recipient.  Caroline grew up in a hearing world, without support, and in her own words “I always felt that I wasn’t normal because there was so much going on around me.”  Despite this, she managed to travel overseas for work experience, find a loving husband, raise two children, and work.  Eight years ago she summoned the courage to go to a talk about Hearing Dogs and then put her name down to receive one.  Tyra, her second dog, has been with her for four years. Tyra demonstrated her skills for me by alerting Caroline when the kitchen timer sounded.

Tyra alerts Caroline to the timer on the kitchen oven

Tyra alerts Caroline to the timer on the kitchen oven

Hearing Dogs doesn’t have the wide corporate support or profile of some other charities, but there are many ways to help.   Dr Terryne Loney of Pet Doctors Harewood (Christchurch) has pledged two free examinations per year for all hearing dogs in Christchurch, saying “I think hearing dogs are vital for safety, wellbeing and assistance to hearing impaired people.  Hearing dogs do not get high levels of support and recognition so we wanted to help.”

 To learn more about Hearing Dogs, visit their website.

International Assistance Dog Week

International Assistance Dog Week runs from 5-11 August this year.

The week is all about the dogs who  help people manage life with disability.  The goals of the week are:

  • Recognize and honor assistance dogs
  • Raise awareness and educate the public about assistance dogs
  • Honor puppy raisers and trainers
  • Recognize heroic deeds performed by assistance dogs in our communities

The IADW website contains information on events near you (primarily in the USA) but hopefully my home country of New Zealand will join in next year.

By the way, I support:

What dog assistance charities do you support?

Hearing dogs – a key to independence for the hearing impaired

Hearing Dogs, based in New Plymouth, New Zealand, is a registered charitable trust that works to train assistance dogs for deaf people and to offer them ongoing support.  The trained dogs are gifted to their recipients at no charge for the rest of their lives, although the teams do need to be assessed annually to maintain their registered status.

I was lucky enough to visit with Caroline Boyce and her hearing dog, Tyra, recently.  Caroline and Tyra live in Kaiapoi (Canterbury).  Caroline says there is a big difference in her quality of life when considering life before Tyra and after.  Tyra, a Shih Tzu, is a small dog.  Many people don’t realise that a hearing dog can be any shape or size and most breeds of dogs are acceptable for admittance into the programme.  You will notice a hearing dog because they wear a distinctive yellow coat.

Caroline has been hearing impaired for all of her life.  She has an implanted hearing aid that allows her to pick up some low level sound in her left ear only.  Growing up in New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s wasn’t easy for Caroline.  She says:

I’ve spent most of my life in a near silent world.  I am the only one in my family who is hearing impaired which makes things very difficult at times.  People don’t have much patience when they are dealing with people who are deaf or hearing impaired. 

 I didn’t like going anywhere much.  Although there may have been plenty going on around you, you felt as though you were looking down on yourself.  If you asked what was being said, you were often told ‘oh don’t worry about it, it’s nothing.’

 When I went to school, I was always made to feel as though I wasn’t normal (whatever that is).  If I went for an interview and told people I was hearing impaired, they would ask me if I could read and write.  So I just tended to stay out of everything, including family birthday parties and barbeques, and spent a lot of time on my own in my room.

Despite these setbacks, Caroline went overseas for work experience and met her husband (they have now been married for 38 years).  She raised two children, a time she said was very hard because she never got much sleep.  She was always worried that she wouldn’t pick up on whether her babies were crying or needed attention.

Eight years ago, things changed for Caroline.  I mustered the courage to attend a talk about Hearing Dogs and I put my name down for one.  Tyra is her second hearing dog; her first dog developed behavioural issues and had to be retired after only two years.

Having a hearing dog has made a huge difference to me.  It’s given me courage to do things on my own and go out, and people actually treat me like a normal person.  They talk to me and ask about the dog and when I explain what she does and how she goes everywhere with me, they then have a bit more understanding about what life’s like for me and others like me. I don’t hide away any more.  If I’m a bit nervous going somewhere for the first time I just talk to Tyra and she gives me the courage to do it.  I take her to my work (as a caregiver) every day and my grandson adores her.

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Ways to support the work of Hearing Dogs 
Hearing Dogs relies solely on support provided by members of the public, sponsors, and volunteers.  It takes approximately $13,500 to train a hearing dog.Here are ways you can support Hearing Dogs:

  • donate directly or through a payroll deduction
  • become a sponsor – levels of sponsorship vary from $50,000 per year for a minimum three year commitment (principal sponsor) to a bronze level sponsorship of $5,000 to $10,000 per year
  • enter the co-sponsor programme.  This involves a regular monthly donation of between $5 and $50 per month and co-sponsors receive a quarterly newsletter to keep them in touch with what’s happening at Hearing Dogs
  • volunteer to be a dog socialiser – this is an option particularly if you are based in New Plymouth and are willing to take in a dog each weekend for socialisation purposes
  • become a Friend of the Trust.  This option is for people who can’t afford a regular donation but are willing to give of their time to assist with fundraising activities and support of recipients in their local community
  • make a bequest in your will
  • volunteer to be a Trust Speaker.  You will receive training to speak to community groups and other stakeholders about the Hearing Dog organisation.
  • purchase Hearing Dog merchandise.  A good option with Christmas approaching, there are reasonably priced merchandise including greeting cards and tote bags for sale.

There are 50 registered hearing dogs working in New Zealand today and another six are in training.  40% of dogs successfully make it through the training programme.  Those dogs that don’t make it often end up re-homed with their weekend socialisers or offered through the National Dog Forum for another type of training as an assistance dog.

Hearing Dogs is happy to accept enquiries about re-homing of dogs that do not pass their training because, for busy people and seniors, adopting a dog who has been trained in the basics makes for an easier transition into dog ownership than trying to train a puppy.

To learn more about Hearing Dogs, visit their website: www.hearingdogs.org.nz

Lions Hearing Dogs of Australia

Coming up next month in my column in NZ Dog World and on this blog will be information on Hearing Dogs in New Zealand.  However, I was in Australia last week on business and picked up some useful information about Lions Hearing Dogs in that country.

98% of the hearing dogs in Australia are ex-shelter dogs.  As their name suggests, these dogs alert a hearing impaired owner to important sounds like the fire alarm.  It takes approximately $30,000 to train a single hearing dog.

Access to public places for these assistance dogs is guaranteed by law with penalties of up to $50,000 can be applied if someone refuses access to a hearing dog and its owner.

The organisation has trained over 500 dogs since 1982 and has a very useful website.