Hearing Dogs for Deaf People trains clever dogs to alert deaf people to important and life-saving sounds, including smoke alarms, intruder alarms, oven timers, alarm clocks and even baby monitors.
Its dogs also provide constant emotional support and companionship – helping deaf people to leave loneliness behind.
Deafness is on the rise in the UK; by 2035, it is estimated that one in five British people (over 15 million) will experience hearing loss, and the increase the charity is seeing in the number of people coming to it for help, reflects this.
The charity receives no government funding but is very fortunate to have the support of a network of committed volunteers.
There are two types of volunteer roles the charity urgently needs to fill: permanent puppy trainers, who will look after a puppy for the duration of its training (usually between 18 months and two years), and short-term trainers to cover times when other trainers are on holiday.
Linda Foster, who lives near High Wycombe, became a volunteer puppy trainer last year after retiring from her job as a personal assistant at an architectural practice.
“I started off by doing short-term cover when the other puppy trainers were on holiday. I also went along to puppy training sessions at The Grange, Hearing Dogs’ southern training centre. Then in April, I started looking after Lola, a gorgeous 13-month-old black Labrador puppy, on a long-term basis.
“I’d actually never had a dog before, so it was quite a steep learning curve, but I had a lot of help from the charity’s trainers, and advice from other volunteers. The whole experience has been very rewarding, and I’ve met some lovely people (and dogs) over the last year.”
Without volunteers like Linda, the charity would not be able to help anywhere near as many people with hearing loss reconnect with life.
Sixteen-year-old Zach Allen, from Chalfont St Peter, was diagnosed as deaf when he was just three years old. His mum Kirsty said: “Although we got support for Zach to attend a mainstream school, he still had challenges. He didn’t play along with other children’s games in case he misheard the rules and got them wrong. I saw him lose confidence as he got older. He was overlooked for games. He wasn’t invited to birthday parties. It was a very difficult thing for a parent to see.
“Then, when Zach was eight years old, everything changed because Echo the hearing dog came into our lives. Soon after Echo arrived, we took him into school so that Zach’s year group could meet him. As a teacher was about to tell the school about him, Zach stood up instead, and introduced Echo to everyone. He explained how Echo alerts him to sounds by nudging him with his nose. We all stood there open-mouthed at this confident child who had appeared from nowhere.”
Victoria Leedham, Head of Volunteering at Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, said: “Our dogs do so much to help deaf people – from alerting them to life-saving sounds, to providing emotional support and making sure they never feel alone – and the hard work put in by our wonderful volunteers is absolutely integral to that.
“Anyone who volunteers for us can expect to feel like part of our family. No previous experience is necessary, and volunteers will receive lots of support and training to ensure they feel fully equipped to care for one of our dogs.
“The charity will also cover all costs involved, from the moment the volunteer takes the puppy home, to when it is handed over to one of our deaf partners after its training is complete”, she added.
“These roles would be perfect for local dog lovers living in a home with a secure garden, and plenty of time to spare every day. We can really only consider applications from working people if they work just a few hours from home each week.”
Anyone interested in finding out more about volunteering for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People can visit www.hearingdogs.org.uk/volunteer. The volunteering team can be reached directly at [email protected] or on 01844 348129.