My older brother, who lives in Denver, sent me a brief article about an agency that trains hearing dogs. His attached post-it note said: “I am just thinking about getting a small dog. Do you think I would qualify under the program?” I chuckled because my brother is not deaf, but he does suffer from serious hearing loss. It then occurred to me that with our aging population, hearing loss is, or soon will be, a major national health issue. Having a dog trained to respond to a ringing phone, someone knocking at the door, the whistle of a teakettle and so forth, could become a critical asset for many thousands of people who are not deaf, but have seriously diminished hearing.
Most people know that dogs have superior hearing compared to humans, especially in the range of high-pitched sounds. In fact, dogs can hear sounds that are ultrasonic such as those from bats or rodents that are inaudible to us. Thinking about hearing (also called “signal”) dogs, I am reminded of an old joke:
A man takes his dog to see the veterinarian. “What seems to be the problem?” asks the vet. “Well,” the man says, “when I call him he doesn’t come. I call over and over again but the dog doesn’t seem to hear me. I wonder if he’s deaf?”
The veterinarian examines the dog, finds nothing wrong, then asks the man, “What happens if you show him a treat and call him? Does your dog come then?
“Oh, yes!” the man responds. “He races towards me like the devil is on his heels.” Then, after a moment’s reflection, the man sighs and says, “Oh….he isn’t really deaf then, is he.”
Selective hearing. It’s the same thing that happens when the wife yells at her husband, who’s ensconced in his easy chair watching a ball game on tv, to help her with the dishes but he decides she’s said, “I want to give you all good wishes.” And the man thinks: “I’ve got a lovely wife,” as he continues to watch the game.
The article about hearing dogs, which my brother sent, was called: “Service Dogs Get Sound Training” (The Denver Post, May 22, 2015, Section BB). What struck me as remarkable, however, was not that the agency was training hearing dogs, but where the dogs came from. (Can you guess? Read on to find out).
Training any assistance dog, be it a guide, service or hearing dog, is time extensive (about two years) and costly (ranging from $8,000 to $40,000 per dog). For that reason, most of the national assistance dog organizations have their own breeding programs. With a detailed bloodline and medical history on each dog, there is a greater possibility of selecting pups who will succeed in the rigorous training to become an assistance dog. Unfortunately, this kind of background information is rarely available for a dog that’s been turned in to the local animal pound or shelter.
Almost every national service dog organization will tell you that even with careful research, and intensive oversight in breeding and caring for puppies who may become assistance animals, 30-40 percent of their dogs do not complete the program for one reason or another. For that reason, none of these organizations take dogs from shelters as a matter of course. It’s understandable, given the time and costs, that any assistance dog organization would want every puppy in their program to have the best chance possible. However, not knowing the history of the dog puts any training program at a great disadvantage.
So, it was with surprise (and delight!) to learn that the Colorado-based International Hearing Dog, Inc. has trained and matched over 1,100 dogs from local Colorado shelters. That is quite an accomplishment and a superb result that may encourage other assistance dog organizations to rethink its potential pool of canine resources.
While unrealistic, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if every assistance dog came from a dog pound or shelter? (Even better, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t need dog pounds or shelters any more – but that’s a rant for another blog.)
Okay. To end on a happy note, here’s my favorite joke on the subject of diminished hearing. (Caution: It’s a bit, shall we say, indecorous):
For more information about International Hearing Dog, Inc, go to IHDI – Colorado.
In appreciation: Thanks to Butch Lutwack for sending us the story on Int. Hearing Dog, Inc. and including his thoughts on the post-it note which inspired this post.