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Hearing Dogs [18/10/2006]

An innovative joint project between two organisations working with deaf people was launched recently at the Royal School for the Deaf in Exeter. National charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People and the Royal School are collaborating in a scheme to socialise hearing dog puppies in the south west region. The school will also be involved in research being undertaken by Hearing Dogs to look at the benefits of placing a hearing dog with a deaf child.

At present Hearing Dogs places specially trained dogs, many of whom having started life in a rescue centre, with deaf people aged 18 or over. However, the Charity has just undertaken a three-year study into the possible benefits of placing hearing dogs with profoundly deaf children. It is hoped that one of the school’s pupils may even be a candidate to take part in the research.

Hearing dogs are trained to alert deaf people to everyday household sounds such as the telephone, doorbell, alarm clock, cooker timer, smoke alarm and fire bell. Before the dogs undertake the advanced soundwork training, they are required to spend several months with a volunteer puppy socialiser learning basic manners and obedience. For the first time in the Charity’s history, a satellite puppy socialising scheme has been set up in Devon, and pupils at the Royal School for the Deaf Exeter will be heavily involved in the early training of the six puppies, taking part in regular puppy classes which will be held at the School. In addition to ensuring the puppies will be well socialised, this will be a valuable learning experience for the pupils as they watch the young dogs grow up and develop into well-trained future assistance dogs.

This unique partnership will bring benefits to both Hearing Dogs and the school, and is a fantastic example of a symbiotic relationship between two organisations that work with deaf people. Jonathan Farnhill, chief executive of Royal School for the Deaf Exeter, emphasises this point: "We are delighted to be working with Hearing Dogs on this project. We think it is something our pupils will be fascinated by. I’ve seen the amazing ways that hearing dogs can help deaf people, and it is brilliant to think we can help train more of them. We also think it will encourage our pupils when they see the independence they can have by owning a hearing dog."

Claire Guest, Hearing Dogs’ operations director and project leader for the pilot study for placing hearing dogs with deaf children, agrees. "This is a very exciting development for Hearing Dogs. This project will have two major benefits. Our puppies will experience important socialisation with deaf children, something that will stand them in good stead when they are eventually placed with their adult recipients. Hopefully the children will also get a valuable and possibly life-changing insight into how a hearing dog can bring confidence, security and independence to their deaf owner."

For further information visit www.hearingdogs.org.uk/

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