Richie the dog is all ears for his owner Tim


A tiny dog has not only changed the life of his deaf owner – he has been trained to save it as well.

When a fire alarm sounds, Richie the poo­dle-cross will paw at Tim Pratt and then lie flat on the ground to sig­nal dan­ger and the need to evac­u­ate the build­ing.

It’s only one of the ways he helps Pratt, who is the first per­son in Porirua to re­ceive a hear­ing dog.

‘‘When the door­bell goes, or the phone rings, he paws at me and takes me to the sound,’’ Pratt said.

‘‘When I set my alarm he jumps on me to wake me up in the morn­ing.

‘‘He’s changed my life amaz­ingly. I was scared to go out, but I’m not any more, and now peo­ple come up to me to ask about him.’’

In his yel­low coat, Richie had al­ready be­come quite the celebrity about town, and Pratt is keen for ev­ery­one to know about the job he does.

‘‘I want peo­ple to re­alise what a hear­ing dog is.

‘‘They ask me why he can go in the mall, or bus driv­ers don’t want to take him, but he’s just like a guide dog.’’

He wanted to re­mind peo­ple that hear­ing dogs, just like guide dogs, shouldn’t be dis­turbed while work­ing,

‘‘When he’s got his coat on, he’s work­ing for me, so please don’t just come up and pat him. Please ask first.’’

Richie was the fourth hear­ing dog to be homed in the Welling­ton re­gion, and one of about 50 in the coun­try, gen­eral man­ager of Hear­ing Dogs Char­i­ta­ble Trust Clare McLaugh­lin said.

The dogs tended to be smaller breeds be­cause they worked in­side homes and of­ten with el­derly clients, but any type of dog could be trained as a hear­ing dog.

Pup­pies so­cialised with vol­un­teer fam­i­lies be­fore be­ing as­sessed at nine months old and, if suc­cess­ful, spent five or six months in in­ten­sive train­ing be­fore go­ing to their news homes, McLaugh­lin said.


Each dog costs about $30,000 to train.

To qual­ify for a hear­ing dog, peo­ple need to have at least a 65 per cent hear­ing loss (un­aided) in one or both ears.

Like their guide dog coun­ter­parts, hear­ing dogs have le­gal rights en­ti­tling them to be in all public places, in­clud­ing food places, and on all public trans­port.

It is an of­fence to deny them ac­cess.

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