By Sheila C. Serup
Nana, a hearing dog specially trained through the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, provides Evan Hamilton with an extra set of ears and confidence and independence to navigate a hearing world.
Evan Hamilton, who has a moderate to severe hearing loss, applied to the Foundation’s Hearing Dog program and endured a two-year wait before being accepted. He lost his hearing more than 30 years ago and first became involved with the CHHA-North Vancouver Branch in the early 90s
“After being placed, I travelled to the training facility in Oakville, Ontario, for approximately three weeks to be placed with Nana, a black Labrador retriever,” said Evan.
“After this time, we both flew back to Calgary to become a team,” Evan noted “she has made a huge difference to me. She provides comfort by alerting me to sounds that I would normally miss, such as doorbells, knocking on doors, my phone ringing and kitchen timer and especially the smoke alarm and numerous other sounds.”
“We have a common trust with each other,” described Evan.
Evan notes that the cost to train each dog is $35,000, which the Lions Foundation entirely bears.
The Foundation breeds and trains dogs for seven different programs at its Oakville centre and provides a lifetime of follow-up services. The Foundation also covers the cost of travel and accommodation for Canadians with disabilities who have been accepted into the program and training and the service dog. There is no government funding. Special matches of service dogs are provided at no cost to the clients.
The Lions Clubs of Canada program originated in the early 1980s when they developed a national program to reflect their service to Canadians with visual impairments. Their original Lions Foundation of Canada and first program, Canine Vision Canada, was established in 1985. Since then, the Foundation has grown to include additional dog guide programs: Hearing, Service, Seizure Response, Autism Assistance, Diabetic Alert, and the newly introduced Facility Support dog program.
The mission of Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides is to empower Canadians with disabilities to navigate their world with confidence and independence by providing Dog Guides at no cost to them and supporting each pair in their journey together.
The Foundation notes that Hearing Dog Guides assist individuals who are ten years of age or older and who are deaf or hard of hearing to detect sounds they cannot hear on their own. The hearing dogs have been taught to distinguish sounds, make physical contact with their handlers, and lead them to whatever is causing the noise, be it someone at the door, an alarm clock, or a ringing telephone.
Since 1988 graduates of the Hearing program have gained an increased sense of security knowing that they will always have a link to the world of sound through their Dog Guide. This allows handlers to be more at ease in their home environment. (Details at https://www.dogguides.com/hearing.html)
Evan notes that the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides holds a fundraising event on the last Sunday of May in over 300 communities across Canada. In its second year in 2021, the Walk, which became a virtual walk for dog guides, raised approximately $818,000. The overall goal of the Walk is to enable participants to collectively walk the length of Canada, 5,514 kilometres from Cape Spear in NL to St. Elias in the Yukon.
Evan rejoined CHHA in 2017 to “reconnect, promote and attend meetings to learn new ideas and meet more individuals with the same issues,” he said.
“My greatest part about volunteering is raising awareness about accessibility, participating in meetings, and discussing hearing loss to individuals and businesses,” he recounts. “It helps that I have a Hearing Dog Guide to assist me in daily activities, and almost everyone inquiries about what the Dog does for me daily.”
“Every member involved with CHHA should attend events locally and nationally to promote awareness and issues and increase membership to maintain a strong connection.”