Hearing dogs give owners independence

From left, socialising trainer Lucy O'Brien, volunteer Tim Seward with Izzie, volunteer Elaine Poland with Maggie and volunteer Maureen Heasman with Poppy

From left, socialising trainer Lucy O'Brien, volunteer Tim Seward with Izzie, volunteer Elaine Poland with Maggie and volunteer Maureen Heasman with Poppy

Stuart Piper with his wife Debbie and children Megan, 10, and 12-year-old Abigail  Picture: Sarah Standing (170385-8300)

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It’s easy to take everyday tasks for granted.

We don’t think twice about answering the phone to speak to friends and families, watching television, listening to music or just having conversations.

But for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, these tasks can become extremely difficult. That’s why having a hearing dog is vital to improving people’s independence.

Chris Seward, of Fareham, is a volunteer secretary for the South Hants branch of the Hearing Dogs for Deaf People charity.

The 60-year-old has been training dogs for the past five years and said: ‘Everyone is used to guide dogs, but not hearing dogs.

‘Hearing dogs are trained by volunteers for a year and in that time they learn 12 different signs.

‘The dog will live with a volunteer for a year in their house and be taught about “socialisation”.

‘This includes taking them on puppy walks so they become familiar with different people, such as children and the elderly.

‘They also get taught how they would alert their owner if the phone is ringing, if the doorbell is sounding and if an alarm is going off.’

The organisation started around 30 years ago and there are 30 volunteers training dogs.

Each dog costs approximately £10,000 to train and the charity relies on donations to fund this.

‘It can be quite emotional for the volunteer when they say goodbye to a dog,’ added Chris.

‘You do get attached to the dog, but you know at the end of it you have to give it back up.

‘And the benefits the new owner gets are great, so it makes it worth it.’

Barry and Hazel Foster, of Twyford, know first-hand what it means to have a hearing dog.

Barry, now 73, has been deaf since he was 20.

He’s been married to Hazel for 22 years and hearing dog Katie has been living with them for 18 months.

Hazel, 70, said: ‘Katie has changed both of our lives.

‘She’s ever so good. The first time we met her she went straight to Barry.

‘If the doorbell or the phone is ringing then she will jump on to Barry’s lap and then take him to where the sound is coming from.

‘If the smoke alarm goes off then she will go and lie down in front of him.

‘It makes a massive difference to both of our lives.

‘That’s because it means I can go out and about and not worry that something could happen to Barry while I’m away.’

If you’re interested in becoming a dog trainer, call Chris on 01329 668516.

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