By Leslee Scott, Manager, CHHA Member
When I first got a guide dog, I did not know much about them. Not only was Marnie my first dog ever, she eventually became a dog guide. I was alone in London Ont starting a new job. I had brought my dog, a young cocker spaniel from BC. At the time, she was assessed for suitability and was accepted for training. When she was returned to me, I quickly discovered she was no longer to be treated as my pet, but as a working dog. That was a shock and of course a disappointment as I loved cuddling with her.
In those early days, I rode my bike or the bus to work so Marnie never came with me. I never thought about bringing her with me onto a bus and it was never suggested, possibly due to allergy reasons (for public) that I bring her to the workplace. So she stayed home all day long until some neighbour girls were hired to let her out after school for bathroom duty and a bit of play time. Then Marnie and I spent the evenings together unless I went out with friends. I would watch TV sitting on the floor since I had little furniture. One evening, late at night, she was behaving erratically. She was going back and forth to the door. I followed her, but looking through the peep hole, there was no one. After the 3rd time, I opened the door and cranked up the volume of my old analog hearing aids and heard “something”! Ok ok!, so to be safe, I got my keys, her leash and off we went downstairs. In the stairwell, 3 firemen ran by. I got outside and I was pretty much one of the last ones out of my apartment building. I was thrilled my dog alerted me (just not the way she was supposed to!). However, I was not too thrilled that neither the landlord nor the neighbours thought to get me.
Marnie lived for 14 years and “worked” to the end (phones and door). Now my second dog guide, Cruise (pictured with me at the left), is retired and relegated to being a pet and no longer really “works” for me. I have my “hearing Husband” (to quote humourist Gael Hannan) to be my source of alarm if anything goes off. But what if he is not home and I am fast asleep? I do not feel I can rely on my immediate neighbours due to their evening shifts or travels, nor on Cruise because in all these years, we have not heard an alarm so he is not sure how to respond to it especially if I am sleeping. I cannot get another dog guide with a pet in the house so I will soon resort to technology to keep me/us safe. Now, in my current home, we have my name and our suite number in the fire book downstairs so the firemen will know that someone in the building cannot hear the alarms and come to get me. But I will never forget the sense of gratitude for Marnie alerting me to the sound of the alarm.
Generally beyond the alarm situation, I relied on my dogs to alert me to the phone ringing, oven timer going off, and someone at the door. They can also be trained to alert a person to their name being called, a baby or child crying, and whatever else one might need. I never used Marnie or Cruise for waking me up in the morning after I sent Marnie flying with a sweep of my arm. I suppose she was alerting me to the alarm. It is important to be aware of one’s reactions in such settings. Perhaps she should have been trained to come up on the bed by my feet rather than on my chest! Dogs can be trained to react certain ways such as pawing you, jumping on you (warning: size of the dog matters!), going back and forth, etc. But the important thing I found is to “follow through”. Even if you hear the phone beside you, the dog will still alert you. If you ignore the dog’s signal and don’t answer the phone or reward the dog, s/he will eventually stop alerting you to the phone. I found this happened when my hearing became worse; I started to not answer the phones but while I praised Cruise and ignored the phone, he eventually stopped letting me know the phone was ringing! Smart or what?
When you have a dog guide, they can go to work, into restaurants, and travel well on planes, trains and buses. You get many second looks but once they see the jackets, they want to know what the dog does for people. Now there are so many other service dogs for diabetes, epilepsy, autism, canine vision and so on. One can never assume anything anymore but I usually strike up a conversation to find out and they are usually happy to talk about their dogs as well as I am. There may be some roadblocks with some places as they may be concerned about allergies or food safe concerns. I may or may not pursue it depending on other options available to me.
Now I have a cochlear implant and hear so much more. The question is, after Cruise passes away, whether I will get another dog. I would like to, but we will need to reassess my need for another dog at that time. If I do, I will need to arrange for a way of waking up instead of relying on my husband as well as ongoing training for fire alarm systems. But hearing dog guides are definitely an option because of the strong sense of security and companionship between dog and owner.