Heather is a hearing dog that has changed the world for owner Jeanne Glass of Long Beach, California. With Heather by her side at all times, Glass, who is severely hearing impaired, never has to worry about missing a door knock, a doorbell, the alarm clock, a phone call, the kitchen timer, and most important, the smoke alarm or a fire alarm.
Today Jeanne Glass can relax knowing that the two of them—dog and master— are ready for just about anything.
Hearing Loss at Age Eight
When Jeanne Glass was 8, she was with her family on one of their annual camping trips—something they all enjoyed. Before the trip was over, Jeanne had become ill and had a very high fever. Her family quickly packed up and brought her home to see a doctor.
Tick fever was thought to be the culprit, but everyone was taken by surprise when Jeanne seemed to be unable to hear normally after she was over the worst of the illness. Her hearing impairment—a side effect of the fever—worsened over time. When Glass returned to school, they soon found she would need to attend a special education class where she could learn lip-reading.
Glass was a determined young child. She learned lip reading, worked hard at her education, and her hearing issue did not slow her down. She was intent on completing her schooling and joining the work force, and she did. She was hired for a job with the Department of Defense, and she worked her way up from Quality Assurance representative to become a Quality Assurance Supervisor. She retired just a year ago after 29 years working for the government.
Jeanne Glass always made the best of her situation. She has hearing aids that offer some sound for her, and she lip-reads well. She also uses adaptive equipment such as telephones with caption-service as well as FM and loop technology in public venues and workplace meetings so that she can fully participate in any situation.
Looking for Additional Support
But there was always that anxiety… was someone knocking at the door of her office? Did she miss an important phone call when she was out in the yard? If she didn’t keep the kitchen timer right by her side when something was on the stove, she might burn it. And what would she do if she were asleep in a hotel and an alarm went off?
When she was about 34, she was tired of feeling alone in her struggle, and she joined a local support group, Hearing Loss Association of America. It was through this group she was introduced to the existence of dogs trained to help with hearing.
At that time, the San Francisco SPCA trained shelter dogs to be hearing dogs. In 2000, she received her first hearing dog, Juno, a Brittany spaniel. Jeanne Glass was delighted to have Juno, but when it was time for Juno to retire, she discovered the San Francisco program no longer existed.
It was then that she found Canine Companions for Independence, an organization with six Regional Centers and a training facility in Oceanside—practically in her backyard. Jeanne Glass applied as a candidate for a dog.
Training Hearing Dogs
All assistance dogs require specialized training for the type of person they are to help, and most assistance dogs are trained to respond to specific commands. The hearing dog is unique as it must think independently when it comes to interpreting sounds.
“Heather needs to alert me to the phone, the doorbell, a door knock, the alarm clock, the kitchen timer when I’m cooking, the tea kettle, and most important, to a smoke alarm at home or a fire alarm when we are out,” says Glass. “Once she identifies what the sound is, she must get my attention and then take me to the source of the sound—or in the case of an alarm, get me out of the house.”
Hearing dogs cannot use a bark to alert because, of course, the person with the hearing deficit will not hear it. For that reason, the dogs are trained for a nose touch alert, a paw touch alert, or a light two-paw alert on the body. Glass has Heather use a two-paw alert as Glass is a sound sleeper and she always wants Heather to make definite contact.
Another important job for all hearing dogs is noting if their master dropped anything. For example, if a person is walking through a parking lot and drops her keys, most of us would notice we dropped something because of the sound. In the case of the hearing dog, the dog must note the drop and then alert its owner.
In addition to the items Heather does for Jeanne Glass, hearing dogs are also trained for any type of occurrence for which a person with hearing would be alerted via sound. For example, a new mother would want to be alerted when her baby cried, and that training can be accomplished easily.
Hearing Dogs: An Early Start
Canine Companions breeds Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers,
or a cross between the two breeds for hearing dogs. Fostered in homes by volunteer puppy-raisers for the first 18 months, all service dogs are trained for their specialty but also undergo hard work in basic dog obedience. They need proper behavior on streets, on buses and on planes. In addition, Service dogs must know that when they enter a grocery store or a restaurant—no matter how tempting the smells–they are at work. No sniffing or sampling allowed.
Heather’s early training took place in Colorado where two families shared her care. This gave her exposure to two different lifestyles—one household was a home with many cats, the other a household with three children, multiple dogs and a cat. She got to attend different workplaces as well. (Five of the Coloradoans involved in Heather’s training traveled from Colorado to see Heather graduate; a ceremony where her leash is handed to the person for whom she was trained. From what Glass describes, there are tears of pride and happiness all around.)
Anyone with a hearing dog works with the dog regularly to keep the dog’s skills up to par on all the alerts, even those that don’t occur regularly as the Canine Companion dogs must be re-certified every three years.
Glass said that she takes Heather to a nearby shopping mall to practice the key drop, but she learned she had to make sure that she and Heather are more or less alone. “When I first tried it, people were so nice… the minute I dropped the keys, someone would pick up the keys and start calling after me and waving, ‘lady, lady you dropped your keys! Now if Heather and I practice this in public, I make certain no one else is nearby!”
Hearing Dogs at the Workplace
Both Juno and Heather accompanied Glass to work where their tasks were similar to those at home. “As a supervisor I had an office where the door was sometimes closed, so I needed the dogs to alert me to a knock and to the ringing of the phone.”
Heather always accompanied Glass to meetings and in restaurants where Glass uses the command, “Under” for Heather to slip under the table until it is time to go.
“People often ask if Heather alerts me to sirens when I am driving,” says Glass. “She doesn’t. I note flashing lights, the behavior of other drivers, and all the other signals I can. When she gets in the back of the car, she can be at rest. It is safer to leave the driving up to me.”
Their Life Now
Now that Jeanne Glass has retired, she and Heather would probably
both agree they have the perfect life. Glass has become additionally involved with the Canine Companions for Independence, representing them at events where they would like a presence. She also takes Heather to schools and various venues for hearing dog demonstrations.
In addition, Glass spends a portion of each week in classes with Heather. Because Heather enjoys working and Glass enjoys the community of people and dogs, they attend obedience classes, and they are now participating in their third year of agility training.
Canine Companions for Independence
Canine Companions for Independence is based in Oceanside, California, with centers across the country. They train service dogs (assistance for physical tasks), hearing dogs, skilled companions, (trained to enhance the quality of life, happiness and/or calm to an environment.), and facility dogs (trained to work with a facilitator in an educational, medical, or criminal justice setting. )
Donations are always welcome to help make it possible for them to train more dogs for those people who need them. Their website has information on their program as well as on how to become a volunteer puppy raiser.