By Robin Dickson, Pres./CEO
DOGS FOR THE DEAF, INC.
Dogs for the Deaf has been making miracles happen every day for over 35 years. Dogs are rescued from shelters and receive medical care and special training so they can go on to help people with various disabilities.
During their four-six months in training, all the dogs learn obedience skills and each dog enters one of three different training programs in order to learn how to be a Hearing Dog, an Autism Assistance Dog, or a Program Assistance Dog. The training is all done with positive reinforcement, using toys and treats to motivate the dogs to learn. The dogs enjoy the new “games” they learn, not realizing that these “games” will be extremely important, even life-saving, once they are living with and helping their new partners.
Once each dog is completely trained, it is matched with one of the applicants on our waiting list. It is very important to place each dog in the home and with the client where its skills will be best utilized. The trainer then takes the dog to the person’s home, wherever the person lives in the U.S., and spends a week training the person how to maintain the dog’s training.
Hearing Dogs are trained to alert their trainer to a variety of household sounds—door bell, door knock, oven buzzer, alarm clock, smoke alarm, telephone, someone calling the person’s name, etc. These normal household sounds are taken for granted by people who can hear. We don’t realize how important they are to living safely and securely in our world. Once our Hearing Dogs are trained and placed with their partners who have hearing loss, the dogs alert the people to all of the sounds that occur around them. Suddenly, with the dog there, the person is aware things happening around them and the needs of people around them. Our Hearing Dogs have alerted parents to their crying children who are in trouble, to the smoke alarm (saving lives and homes), to family members needing help, to the alarm clock so they can get to work on time, and so much more. One client was thrilled when her dog started alerting her when the ice cream truck went by outside the house. It wasn’t that she needed or wanted ice cream; it was about being aware of the things around her—just like all the rest of us are—she was part of the real world. Another of our clients said that the best thing about her Hearing Dog is that he allowed her to relax. Because of her deafness, she had always been tense and “on guard.” Once, she had her Hearing Dog, she was able to relax because she knew Harley would alert her to any sounds or happenings around her. These dogs provide self-confidence, security, and safety—truly miraculous.
Autism Assistance Dogs are trained to help children with autism. They help calm the children and lessen meltdowns and tantrums. They help the children with eye contact and bonding, and they are trained to serve as an anchor to prevent the children from bolting and running. The tendency of children with autism to bolt and run causes a great deal of stress for parents and many injuries and even deaths for these children. With the dogs anchoring the children, they are not able to bolt and run away into unsafe situations. These dogs provide countless miraculous benefits to the children and their families.
Program Assistance Dogs are trained to help professionals (teachers, counselors, therapists, physicians, court room advocates, etc.) with their students, clients, and patients. The dogs are individually trained to increase the effectiveness of the professionals’ work. Nelson is a Program Assistance Dog we placed with a teacher of a special needs class at a middle school. Nelson is trained to help the students focus on their work and motivate them to behave appropriately. Nelson is enhancing the students’ learning and also increasing their social skills. The school Principal told us that Nelson has changed the relationship between the students in the special needs class and the students in the regular classes. He said that the students in the regular classes are no longer making fun of the special needs students. With Nelson in their classroom, they have become the “cool” kids, and the rest of the students want to interact with them. This is truly miraculous and helping students learn both in the classroom and in society.
Besides the dogs we save and the clients we serve, there is another miracle at Dogs for the Deaf—the faithful and generous donors who support our work. You see, there is no charge to the people who receive these dogs. Yes, you heard it right; we give them the dogs free of charge (except for a $50 application fee). Our work is totally funded by people who want to help us create these miracles. Donations come from all across the U.S. and dogs are placed with applicants nationwide.
If you would like to learn more about the miracles that happen at Dogs for the Deaf, check out our website www.dogsforthedeaf.org or call us at 541-826-9220. Maybe you or someone you know could benefit from a specially trained dog; maybe you would like to help us save a dog’s live and help someone with a disability. Contact us and become a DFD Miracle Worker.