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.
HEARING DOGS NZ:
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.