My first hearing dog, Chuckie was a twenty-pound black and tan Border Terrier Cross rescued from the Jackson County Dog Pound in Medford Oregon. He completed hearing dog training with Jodi at (then) Dogs for the Deaf in Central Point, Oregon. Trainer Barb flew with him to Statesboro, Ga and taught us both how to be a team. Chuckie was smart, fast, and efficient. I better have one treat for each sound, or he’d remind me what I missed until I paid up in treats. When he wasn’t by my side that busy mind was put to mischief, barking and chasing squirrels, digging under the fence, and getting into the candy jar. In addition to alerting me to sounds, Chuckie helped me be a NC American Academy of Pediatrics Chapter Champion for hearing-impaired children and Chair the NC State Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Chuckie knew he was important and liked to prance with his nose held high through the government meeting rooms and Charlotte airport past the gawking airport sniffer dogs. In his golden years he helped me learn Hyperbaric Medicine and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner program for healing trauma. With his gifts, he always knew my needs before I did; his intuition helped me deepen my healing art toolbox. He even knew how traumatized I would be when he passed, hanging on with me patiently to give me time to cope. A dear friend Bob Sands gave me Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant during my grief. He’s there chasing squirrels, just like her pictures. My friend Bob’s in heaven now too, no doubt looking after Chuckie and Ginger for me.
I was very sad after losing Chuckie and it took 6 months before I even felt ready to apply for another hearing dog. But, I did and (then) Dogs for the Deaf (now Dogs for Better Lives) had piloted an autism assistance dog program. I was seeing many autistic patients and asked if by chance they had a dog that could do both autism dog and hearing dog skills. Although she was born and raised in Oregon with a family of four, Ginger was a sweet, sweet southern girl and fit right in with my North Carolina pediatric practice. She had been donated by a family to Dogs for the Deaf and completed boot camp weight training as well as autism dog training. She was their first autism demonstration dog and she loved the stage. A beautiful classic English Lab she loved to be in the middle of the most active scenes and never got ruffled. Life on the road as Autism Demo dog got old for her though and she needed a person. Her trainer Carrie tested her out on being a hearing dog and she passed with flying colors. When Carrie arrived on my doorstep with Ginger, I was in seventh heaven.
He was comfortable everywhere we went, gently wagging her beautiful thick tail to my autistic patients at the hyperbaric center. She also went with me to teach at Central Piedmont Community College. When Cameron and I started a home health business, she adapted easily to visits to nursing homes as well as being my hearing dog. We did lots of Ambassador visits and were asked to do a Good Sam’s Samborree rally in Texarkana, Arkansas, provide a demo for Betty White’s Hollywoof fund raiser, and a demo for NYC fundraiser in the fashion district. Ginger also loved children. She was quite happy to become my helper at Salisbury Pediatrics in 2012. She would play peek a boo with the toddlers peeking at her from cracked exam room doors. Her slow gentle manner helped relax my patients. She charmed the whole office staff as well, wagging her whole body to say hello.
With the help of my work family sharing my grief of losing Ginger, I was able to recover faster and apply for my third dog more quickly. For New Year’s 2018, Jenny brought me Delight, a three-year-old “pocket Lab,” petite and fast but very professional when her vest is on. Delight is conscientious about her hearing dog job and where Mommy keeps the treats. Salisbury Pediatrics staff participated in acclimatization training for Delight so she would know her job with me. The office rule is no play time until Delight’s vest is off. But when it is off she loves to snatch a toy and run the halls jumping and playing keep away. She helps me know when the nurses need me, alerting me to door knocks and name calls at our office. She also dutifully lets me show nervous patients how I’ll be looking in their ears by serving as demo patient. Delight has travelled with me back to Dogs for Better Lives in Central Point, Oregon for Board meetings. She reminded me that the school dogs get to eat at 4:30 pm not 8:30 pm and she should too!