Fiona is taking the lead
Hearing dogs for the blind can tell their owners when the alarm clock rings, the cooker pings or when a smoke alarm goes off. No wonder there is a waiting list for them. But while there is no shortage of the dogs or the trainers, there is a shortage of vo
Hearing dogs for the blind can tell their owners when the alarm clock rings, the cooker pings or when a smoke alarm goes off. No wonder there is a waiting list for them. But while there is no shortage of the dogs or the trainers, there is a shortage of volunteers needed to socialise the puppies before they are old enough to train. Could you be one of those people? Report by ANGELA SINGER.
IT was learning just how much a hearing dog could change a deaf person's life that led Fiona Davis-Poynter, from Wyton to volunteer to help.
Now she has been walking hearing dogs for eight years and - as an experiment for a national charity, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, is recruiting people in Cambridgeshire to join her.
She is looking for dog socialisers, people who will take a puppy into their home and heart, take it for walks, toilet train it, teach it to recognise its name and simple commands so that at around eight months, it can go on for specialist training to become the ears of a deaf person.
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The dog's responses will be finely attuned to different circumstances. It will take its owner to the door or the phone when it hears a knock or a ring, and should the smoke alarm sound, rather than take their owner into danger, the dog will lie flat on the floor in front of them.
Having such an intelligent dog makes such an impact on a deaf person's life that it is no wonder there are 200 people on the waiting list for them.
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The problem is not the supply of dogs as 70 per cent of hearing dogs are rescue dogs. Puppies are also regularly donated to the charity, sometimes whole litters. Neither is it a question of training, there are two specialist training kennels - one at High Wycombe and another at Selby in Yorkshire - and a third satellite centre has just been added nearby in Soham.
What the charity is missing are people to socialise the puppies before they are old enough to train. There is a shortage of "puppy pre-schoolers".
Fiona says her whole family has enjoyed being with the puppies, including her husband, Simon, an RAF engineer based at Wyton, and their two teenage children, now 16 and 19.
She says: "We started socialising dogs after we went to an open day near High Wycombe, where we were stationed and we heard Jean Lawrence talk about the difference a hearing dog had made to her life. By coincidence, Jean has now moved to Ely and we have moved to Wyton."
Fiona is now recruiting socialisers for puppies who will later be trained at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers' registered puppy classes in Soham.
Her mission is to recruit people within an hour's drive of the village.
"There are 130 socialisers in the country and we need to find another 30. The basic techniques are straightforward. The first thing is toilet training - this is a matter of vigilance, taking them out when they wake up, after they eat and every hour on the hour until they get used to the idea.
"They need to be used to going out to the shops so they don't get scared in traffic or when they see children, and they need to be used to hearing their name so they look at you when you say it.
"Once they are trained, they will be alert to chosen sounds, according to the particular requirements of the owner, such as when the phone rings or the baby is crying.
"They are encouraged not to bark and, depending on the size of the dog, they will go to the owner and jump up or sit and paw, or if there is danger, lie down flat in front of them."
Once dogs are trained, they wear a special burgundy coat.
"Yes, you do get fond of them," Fiona says. "And it is sad to say goodbye but they are going to be extremely important in someone's life and very loved - and there is always another one."
INFORMATION: Contact Fiona Davis-Poynter on 01480 417730 or Paula Rolfe on 01844 348129 or see www.hearingdogs.org. uk