Hear, Hear

July 19th, 2018
Hear, Hear
There are hundreds of dogs around Australia who wear an orange bib with the words ‘Lions Hearing Dogs’ emblazoned on them and they are changing people’s lives.

Similar to guide dogs who help people who are visually impaired, hearing dogs help people who are deaf or have some form of hearing loss (including those with Cochlear implants) by alerting them to sounds around the home that the recipient can’t hear.

Imagine not being able to hear your smoke alarm or a baby crying and you begin to see the impact these dogs can have.

One of these dogs is a terrier cross named Ashley, and he’s Jan McMinn’s best friend.

“I lost most of my hearing in 1998 following surgery to remove an acoustic neuroma,” Jan said.

“After my husband passed away in 2005 and my daughter left home, I was on my own. I became very depressed and withdrawn. I saw a documentary on TV late one night about Lions Hearing Dogs and I thought, ‘what a good idea’.”

That’s when Jan received Ashley.

“We bonded immediately,” Jan said.

“He alerts me to sounds around the home that he has been trained for, like my mobile phone ringing, alerting me to the doorbell or to timers around the house. The most important alert is the smoke alarm.”

Lions Hearing Dogs are trained to react to different sounds, according to Jan. Ashley will ‘touch’ her with his paws and lead her to sounds. With smoke alarms, Ashley is trained to get Jan’s attention by all means possible then drop to the floor and not move until he is told to.

“By doing this action, he is not leading me towards the smoke alarm which could be where the fire is. This is the only action he does differently,” Jan said.

“We have been out walking when he has pushed me aside because there was someone on a bike behind me. I didn’t know they were there,” Jan said.

Lions Hearing Dogs Australia were established in 1980 after Lions members met trainers from a similar program in the United States. Today, they operate out of their Adelaide Hills-based training centre in Verdun. With dogs costing up to $35,000 and eight months each to train – who are then flown out cost free Australia-wide to their recipient - it’s a costly, but worthwhile, organisation.

As well as dogs being trained to alert their owners for sounds, they provide companionship and confidence to clinically deaf and hard of hearing people, according to Lions Hearing Dogs CEO David Horne.

“They help break down barriers for people,” David said.

“Currently, 1 in 6 Australians suffer from some form of hearing loss, and it’s very much an isolating disability.”

“The dog gets them back out there and encourages them to be part of the community at large, as well as providing independence and peace of mind for their families.”

Normally Lions Hearing Dogs will source dogs from pounds to give them a second chance at life – but uniquely, are now purchasing puppies.

“The demand for our services has increased,” David said.

“We normally will rescue dogs from shelters, but now our options are to go out there and start purchasing puppies from registered ethical breeders across Australia.”

The organisation is appealing to people in Adelaide or South Australia to get involved and help to look after puppies in the first six months of their life – when they are too young to start their training as future Lions Hearing Dogs.

Applicants must have a love for dogs and be able to take on the responsibility of a puppy for six months.

“We’re looking for people who have time for a puppy in their lives,” David said.

“People who want to take a dog out and help train them for something that eventually changes someone’s life – we’re looking for puppies to have a normal life, to learn how to be a puppy.”

“We want to have that normal home experience before they come in and train with us.”

People who already have a dog or other pets are more than welcome to apply.

“We want the puppy to learn good dog socialisation skills,” David said. “We want them to learn how to interact and play with other dogs - cats, birds, any other sort of animal.”

Kellie MacGillivray has been the foster carer for Chewie since April this year.

“We got Chewie when he was an eight week old puppy and we’ve included him in our lives here in the Hills. It’s our first time but it’s been a wonderful experience,” Kellie said.

“Our motivation is giving back to the community. We came from South Africa and had to leave our animals behind.

“I am also involved in the disability field so I am acutely aware of the value of these animals
they get you out walking.

“He’s well known in the little village of Aldgate now – everyone knows Chewie!”

Lions Hearing Dog Australia’s Puppy Program Coordinator, Mary Knight, gave more insight on the role foster carers play.

“Carers take puppies between eight weeks and eight months - they look after the pups for six months and their role is to socialise the puppies for us,” she said.

“We currently have a very long waiting list for people that require hearing dogs.”

“Puppies need to be well socialised so that we can then bring into the training program at eight months,” Mary said.

“Every two weeks they get a visit from myself for general obedience. All our training is done on food rewards. It’s very easy to communicate with a pup when they’re food motivated!”

The only requirement for applicants is that they don’t work full-time, but all cases will be considered upon application.

“I don’t think it’s for people who work full time. You can leave them at home for a couple of hours at a time. It suits someone who works part time or is semi-retired,” Kellie said.

For Jan, having Ashley as her companion for the past eleven years has changed her life.

“When I have a hold of his lead, I can do anything. Because of him I have met many wonderful people.”

“I can now go out and speak to groups and tell them about Hearing Dogs which I would never have done before.”

David said becoming a foster carer was a unique opportunity.

“I’m a Lions member of the Mount Barker Club and so often we seem to be raising money and writing out cheques.

“It’s so rare that opportunities come along where you can have a hands on effect on changing someone’s life.”

“Recipients rely on their dog to be their ears, and it’s a very strong bond that forms between recipient or dog. It’s hard to quantify and explain to people,” David said.

For more information on becoming a foster carer for Lions Hearing Dogs puppies, contact (08) 8388 7836, email ceo@lionshearingdogs.com.au or visit hearingdogs.asn.au/

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