Northwest NEWS

February 25, 2002

Front Page

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Collecting cans for canines

by Bronwyn Wilson
   Senior Staff Reporter
   An important phone call comes in after bedtime. If you're hearing impaired, you aren't aware of the jingling phone. But your hearing dog is. Your Yorkie- Shih Tzu mix kicks into gear like Lassie on a rescue mission. The pint-sized pooch charges toward the phone to find the sound, then races to where you are lying and jumps on the bed. Once your Yorkie-mix has your attention, he directs you to the phone. This is one example of how a trained hearing dog offers the deaf and hearing-impaired a better life.
   "Helping the deaf is important," says Maggie Parker, a Northshore Senior Center volunteer who collects aluminum cans to help fund the Dogs for the Deaf Program. "Everybody knows about dogs for the blind, but not dogs for the deaf," she says.
   Certified hearing dogs are placed with deaf or hearing-impaired persons 10 years and older. The dogs are extensively trained to alert their owners to household sounds that are present in everyday life: a crying baby, a buzzing timer or a ringing telephone. Parker points out that the dogs are not only helpful in day-to-day situations but also when an emergency occurs. "What if you're home alone and your smoke alarm goes off?" asks Parker. "If you had a little dog, he would come and tell you."
   Parker decided to collect aluminum cans to fund the dog-training program after hearing a representative of the Dogs for the Deaf (DFD) give a talk to her RV Club, the Sammamish Sams. The DFD representative demonstrated to Club members how a dog would make physical contact and direct a hearing impaired person to a sound. The Sammamish Sams, a chapter of the Good Sam Club, asked its members to collect cans to help fund the program. Sam stands for Samaritan and each Sam chapter is encouraged to support a Good Samaritan project.
   Maggie Parker, along with her friend Mary Durbin, didn't waste time in offering their support. The two women, both in their eighties, were soon collecting cans from neighbors and local businesses like Bartell Drugs and Washington Federal in Bothell. "I have a lot of friends who save them for me," Parker says. "My Lodge, the Clover Leaf Rebekah Lodge, and the North Creek Valley Grange save them." Many of the cans are dropped off at the Northshore Senior Center and stored in the supply room behind the kitchen until they're transported to an aluminum-recycling center and exchanged for cash. Parker also stores the cans in her carport at home. Durbin and Parker agree that summer is a better time for collecting cans when people are hot and drinking more soda. Even so, Parker mentions that she has collected six black garbage bags full of cans in the past several weeks.
   It costs $5000 to sponsor one hearing dog. This includes selection of the dog, veterinary care, training and placement.
   The money earned from the cans collected by Maggie Parker and Mary Durbin goes into the Sammamish Sams Club fund. "Right now we have over $1000 in the fund." Parker says, adding that in the past the Club sent money to the DFD Program as it came in. "Then we thought, why not go for a dog. And, we've done that already."
   The club has sponsored two dogs. One, a springer spaniel-poodle mix named Bouncer, was placed with a Sammamish Sams member. The other is still in training. "The Good Sam Club does so many fantastic things," says Judi Rubert, Information Resource Coordinator for the DFD program based in Oregon. "Washington was my second largest state in collecting donations for Dogs for the Deaf."
   Rubert says that Good Sam Club members not only collect cans, but also hold raffles, garage sales, car washes and roadside rest area bake sales to help fund the program. "They're so dedicated," she remarks.
   The DFD program and the hearing impaired community welcome their dedication whole-heartedly. Rubert says that many deaf and hearing-impaired persons use an elaborate alarm or light system to alert them to sounds if they don't own a hearing dog.
   But the systems aren't as effective. For example, a deaf couple with a baby in the house may set an alarm that will shake their bed every hour throughout the night, waking them to check on their baby. Or they could have a sound-sensitive light system that would light the room once the baby cries. Rubert points out that the system usually lights one room only. For those that have a hearing dog though, there's no need for hourly bed shakes or blasting lights. "The dog really frees them up," Rubert notes.
   In addition, the dogs are trained to recognize name calls. If a man falls, his hearing-impaired wife may have no idea. However, if the man calls his wife's name, their dog will know to take her to her husband. Rubert mentions that hearing dogs are trained by using positive reinforcement and that their relationship with their owners is uniquely close. "When the dogs bond with a person, they're inseparable," she says. She cites one occasion when a hearing dog lost its life while alerting its owners to sounds and danger. Burglars were breaking into the home of a deaf couple when their hearing Chihuahua responded by warning its owners and helping them get out of the house. The people weren't harmed but the burglars, unfortunately, killed the Chihuahua. Rubert emphasizes that hearing dogs aren't trained to be guard dogs, but they can be lifesavers nevertheless.
   Before becoming certified hearing dogs, the dogs live at adoption shelters where they could be euthanized if homes aren't found for them. The DFD program rescues many from their doomed fate. The program usually chooses mixed breeds, small to medium in size and up to 24 months of age. Rubert explains, "Trainers evaluate the dogs and look for personality characteristics, age and general friendliness toward people." The dogs are trained at the DFD facility in Central Point, just outside of Medford, and it takes 3-6 months to train a dog to sounds. "We have some fast learners and some slow learners and some dogs who say, 'we don't want to learn.'" Out of all the dogs chosen for the program, only 25 percent go on to become hearing dogs. "We call the other 75 percent career change dogs and we adopt them out," Rubert says. "And we screen the people who adopt career change dogs."
   There's no charge to the person who applies for a hearing dog but there is an application process, which can take six months to a year and a half. The Dogs for the Deaf program invites people to tour their training facility in Central Point, Oregon, Monday through Friday at 10 am and 2 pm. For further information call 1-800-990-DOGS (3647) or visit www.dogsforthedeaf.org.
   Aluminum can contributions for the DFD program are gladly received at the reception desk in the Northshore Senior Center in Bothell.
   For those wishing to join the Sammamish Sams and who are of retirement age on the Eastside, contact chapter president Walt Cothran 425-883-4237.