Hearing Dogs by Carol Morabito

Earlier this week I was in Costco, in line at the pharmacy behind a woman with not one, but two tiny service dogs…twin Pomeranians. Both dogs were proudly wearing “hearing dog” patches, and were very well-behaved, as any proper service dog would be. And being the inquisitive, attuned-to-my-environment (some might say nosey) citizen that I am, I did notice the stares and the many curious comments from others in and around the pharmacy. One intrigued teenage boy walked by several times, staring down at the pups. I felt like I could read his thoughts, which went something like this: “Wait just one second here, this lady isn’t blind or in a wheelchair. What do these dogs do for her? They are way too small to be service dogs. Do those patches say ‘hearing dog’? What is a hearing dog and why does she have two of them?” Well, I can’t answer his latter question, but I felt compelled to approach him later in the store, and take an opportunity to educate a young and interested teen about hearing dogs—my personal way of advocating for hearing loss and service dog awareness.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (commonly referred to as the “ADA”) defines a hearing loss as a disability if it “substantially limits a major life activity.” Therefore, a dog that assists with sound awareness for a person with a hearing disability can be trained and registered as a service dog. In fact, the ADA specifically mentions hearing dogs in its most recent definition of a service dog.

But what does “sound awareness” mean? Imagine for a moment that you could not hear your alarm clock in the morning—how would you get up in time for work? Or if you could not hear your doorbell ring, your smoke detector go off, an oven timer, a car horn as you are crossing the street…the list can go on and on, right? Now imagine you had a canine companion who was trained to alert you to important sounds. A hearing dog might paw at you to wake up when your alarm goes off (much more soothing than a bed shaker, no?), “announce” a visitor at the door by running to you and circling you, or flipping a light switch. Hearing dogs can be trained to perform almost any type of sound alert, and training is almost always customized to meet the specific disability needs of the owner.

Since a hearing dog generally doesn’t have to pull a wheelchair, open heavy doors, or guide a person through crowds, many small dogs like Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, Jack Russell Terriers, Shih Tzus, and even Chihuahuas make great hearing dogs, and are often preferred over larger well-known service dog breeds like Labs and Golden Retrievers. What’s most important though is the dog’s temperament, response to sound, work ethic, and aptitude. Some hearing dog organizations even select mixed breed dogs from shelters to join their program.

At ClearSounds, we are not only dog lovers, but we are hearing dog lovers, and happy to educate others and support our working canine friends!

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