One dog at a time
By JoAnn Knutson
Editor: There are quite a few organizations in the US that train hearing
dogs. I don't know how long most of them have been around, but International
Hearing Dog, Inc. has been training hearing dogs for 30 years! Here's more
This article was originally published in the Brighton (Colorado) Standard
Blade, and is reprinted with their kind permission. You can visit them at
When Wilhelmina from Texas was notified she would be receiving a hearing
dog, she was so excited to meet the dog that she flew to Colorado to spend
two days with Rambo, a border collie mix.
Rambo is the 1,000th dog to be trained and placed by the International
Hearing Dog center since it opened 30 years ago in Henderson. Until 30 years
ago the idea for a hearing dog was unheard of.
Valarie Foss-Brugger, president and executive director for International
Hearing Dog, Inc., said the roots of International Hearing Dogs are in
Minnesota. A young woman by the name of Agnes McGrath, a dog trainer at a
kennel in White Bear Lake, Minn., was approached by a deaf woman asking if a
hearing dog could be trained for her. The woman had a dog that worked
naturally for her but it had died of old age.
With the help of the local Lions Club organization, McGrath trained the
first six dogs in Minnesota. When the money ran out the project was taken on
by the American Humane Association led by McGrath and funded with a grant
for a four-year pilot study. The study was completed in 1979 and the first
hearing dog training center was established in Henderson.
Hearing dogs are trained to alert people with at least a 65 percent
hearing loss to important sounds that occur in their daily environment such
as a door knock, a ringing telephone, a baby's cry or a smoke alarm. The
dogs, by law, are allowed in public places and at the recipient's work
Only shelter dogs are used in the program. Brugger said after evaluating
dogs for so many years, it's easy to determine if a dog is a good match for
"I look for dogs that are outgoing and energetic, and show an eagerness
to please" she said. The dogs have to be between six and 12 months old (when
they are at their learning peak). Only the smaller sized breeds, 10 to 45
pounds, are used. Some breeds, such as the Labradors, don't work well
because of the hunting instinct bred into them.
Brugger said the most challenging part of the job is finding the funding
for the program.
It takes four to eight months to train a dog at a cost of $6,000 per dog.
The center places approximately 40 dogs a year. All cost are paid for with
grant money, service organizations such as Lions International, some Grange
groups, church groups, and individuals. Although the individuals receiving
the dogs are not charged anything, s ome make a donation to the organization
if they can. There is an $80 equipment and transfer of ownership fee at the
time the dog is certified.
Hearing dogs are placed throughout the country and in Canada. IHDI also
has helped start programs in Japan, Norway and Australia.
Copyright 2006 Brighton Standard Blade