K9s hound the hearing impaired
By JoAnn Knutson
Editor: Have you ever talked to anyone who has a hearing dog who didn't
just RAVE about the dog, the program, the concept, etc.? I can't recall ever
hearing from a hearing dog owner who wasn't a super fan of the program. It
makes me wonder why more people don't have them.
This article was originally published in the Brighton (Colorado) Standard
Blade, and is reprinted with their kind permission. You can visit them at
The only way Emlynn Wood knows her doorbell is ringing is when her dog,
Hunter, alerts her to the sound. But, instead of barking; Hunter, a black
cocker spaniel, has been trained to get Wood's attention by touching her
with his paw or jumping up on her, if necessary. Then he runs to the source
of the sound.
Hunter has been trained as a hearing dog at the International Hearing Dog
center in Henderson. The center trains free dogs for deaf and
hearing-impaired people all over the country.
Wood helped found the International Hearing Dog center in 1976. Little
did she know that one day she would need one of the dogs trained at the same
center she helped start and worked at for 30 years.
Wood, who has a background in nursing, said she believed in the program
and loves working with dogs so much that she started as a volunteer with the
program. She went on to become kennel manager and financial officer at the
center. When she was financially able, she would sponsor the training costs
of one of the dogs.
Wood said because of Hunter she is able to slow down and relax instead of
always being on alert for something. Now she knows, first hand, the joy
experienced by the people who have received hearing dogs.
As Wood and Hunter continue to bond, she said she has learned to watch
Hunter for body behavior and is able to understand things going on around
her based on the way Hunter is acting.
"I feel so blessed," she said. "Everything about him makes me feel good.
He's my whole personality."
But Wood is only half of the story.
Hunter was one of four dogs selected by the center after they were
rescued a year ago from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Hunter spent
time in a Dumb Friends League foster home, waiting to be reunited with his
family. When he was not claimed, he began training as a hearing dog, but he
was pulled from the program temporarily when it looked like his family had
been found. Fortunately for Wood, Hunter was not the dog the family was
By the time Wood retired from the center in January, she no longer was
able to hear many of the things she needed to hear in everyday life.
"I had no idea I would be needing a dog one day, " Wood said. "It wasn't
planned. It just happened."
Hunter has been trained to alert Wood to the doorbell, a timer for the
washer and dryer and the smoke alarm. As her hearing continues to
deteriorate, even with hearing aides, she may also need him to hear the
telephone and other sounds. Her husband also is losing his hearing so she is
working with Hunter to alert her husband to the different sounds as well.
All of the dogs used in the program come from local shelters including
the Adams County Animal Shelter, the Dumb Friends League, the city shelter
in Aurora and even from the Brighton Animal Shelter. It takes 6-8 months to
train a dog at a cost of $6,000.
Valarie Foss-Brugger, president and executive director for the program,
said the training is anything but cookie-cutter. Each dog is trained based
on the needs of the person the animal will be matched with.
For example, a young couple just starting a family would need a dog
trained to alert them to a baby crying or a young child in trouble.
Brugger said many of the dogs began alerting their owners to other sounds
as well. For example, a dog named Tykie was matched with someone in Kansas.
When the tornado sirens would go off, everyone would go to the back of the
house where it was the safest. One day the sirens went off but Tykie's owner
didn't move, so Tykie began forcing her owner to the back of the house.
Wood said Hunter is already picking up on other noises and alerting her
"When he does that you have to go see what it is and be sure to tell him,
'Good boy,'" Wood said. "Otherwise he won't think it's important."
The success of the program, Wood said, is more than she ever imagined it
"To see the bond these dogs make is unreal," she said. "The people look
at their dog for the first time and just start crying."
Copyright 2006 Brighton Standard Blade