They say not to work with animals and children on live TV but one very special young puppy was on her best behaviour on the BBC Breakfast sofa recently.
20 week old Button, a beautiful chocolate Labrador from melted audience’s hearts when she appeared with her handler Cath Kirwan of Chester’s Deafness Support Network (DSN), to be interviewed by presenters Charlie Stayt and Rachel Burden on BBC Breakfast.
Cath Kirwan, a support care worker who specialises in working with deaf people in Cheshire, was inspired to spend 14 months volunteering to socialise and train Button to become a Hearing Dog for Deaf People (HDfDP).
DSN raised £10,000 for a dog in 2015, who was aptly named Chester and after seeing what the dog could do for a deaf person, Cath along with her husband and two sons Jacob and Harrison decided to embark on a meaningful venture of becoming an important part of Button’s journey into adulthood, to become a hearing dog.
Cath and her family, who live in Winsford, are now part way through the 14 months of training Button to achieve everyday tasks fluently. These included bus rides, getting used to trips out and experiencing the hustle of bustle of everyday life.
For Button and every other Hearing Dog, it was especially important that she had a dedicated volunteer like Cath who could take her to regular training sessions. Button and like many other hearing puppies come from specialist breeders and learn their obedience training from their volunteers, however, the process is vigorously monitored by Ruth Turner, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People’s local dedicated puppy training instructor.
Cath and Ruth now work together, seeing each other once a week at puppy training school in Sandbach to ensure their newest puppy is gaining her essential puppy training stars in the HDfDP programme. Button will be sent for her final stage of training in one of two specialised training facilities in Buckinghamshire and Yorkshire where she will continue through the ranks to become a highly specialised Hearing Dog for Deaf People.
Ruth said: “The 14 months a hearing dog puppy is with their socialising volunteer is an especially important time for them, as their early training ensures the dog has the responsibility and resilience to support their deaf recipient. From alerting them to day to day sounds such as waking them up to the alarm clock in the morning, to letting them know when the doorbell is buzzing, and helping with extremely important safety aspects like letting them know when the smoke alarm is going off.
“A Hearing Dog also provides their deaf recipient with companionship and confidence, accompanying them out to places such as to work and shops. Recipients of Hearing Dogs often describe how having the dog with them has increased their independence.”
For Cath the reward of helping outweighs any doubts of being unable to let go of the hearing pup. She said: “I have had people ask me is it difficult to give up a puppy who you have spent so much time with, and you have to think very pragmatically. This adorable puppy fills our lives with so much happiness, but she is going on to make a massive difference to someone’s life, which makes the process a whole lot easier.”
Cath and Ruth’s BBC Breakfast volunteer appeal has had a tremendous response with over 300 enquires and 20 people confirming they are seriously interested in becoming a socialising volunteer for one of their puppies this summer.
Cath said: “I wanted to appeal to people like me, who have the energy to give a little something back and help to transform a person’s life. My experience has been one that had brought me and my family so much joy, and although I am volunteering my time and efforts to help someone else, what I get back is more than I could ever have imagined.”
If you’ve been inspired to become a socialising puppy volunteer or would simply like to learn more about Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, email@example.com
To learn more about DSN and find out more about the work carried out to help support D/deaf people across Cheshire, go to their website for more information.