Sound Companion


Life is easier with a hearing assist dog
By Karen Smith

Sassy, a 16-month-old terrier mix who resembled Winn Dixie, was my first hearing assist dog. She had been a homeless dog in Sacramento before the SPCA of San Francisco rescued her and trained her as an assistance dog.

Sassy was clever and helpful. She would alert me by touching me with her nose and leading me to the sound source when the microwave, oven, or dryer timer beeped, or when a person came to the door.

When we were in public, she helped me find my husband if we got separated. One of her most endearing traits was how she would bring the two of us together using signaling alerts of her own accord.

Sassy loved sleeping curled up on my pillow, and when it was my bedtime, she hopped into her crate for the night.

After 13 years, Sassy passed away from hemangiosarcoma in January 2016. The loss to our family was great. Sassy had been a devoted companion with a loyal heart to serve.

Both my pillow and the crate felt empty. Soon afterwards, I applied for a new hearing assist dog from Can Do Canines in New Hope, Minn.

A match with Midge

Most of the dogs from Can Do Canines are mobility assist dogs, but some are hearing, seizure, diabetes, and autism assistance dogs.

All dogs undergo around two years of training before they are matched with the appropriate applicant. The young puppies might spend some time at a partner prison for crate and potty training. Puppy raisers raise the dogs in their homes and teach them basic obedience skills and how to behave in public areas, such as malls, grocery stores or restaurants. The dogs spend several weeks at Can Do Canines for training in their specialty before meeting their new partner.

In February 2019, I was matched with Midge, a 2-year-old Yellow Lab, and spent three days of intensive training at Can Do Canines.

In addition to obedience tasks, Midge also had learned basic mobility tasks such as picking up her leash with her mouth and handing it to me or picking up dropped items. I was impressed with how quickly Midge understood my unclear voice and sign commands.

She looked up at me when I said her name, not an easy one to pronounce. She loved the “park” command where she turned around and backed up underneath my chair.

Then we practiced sound work; Midge alerted me to the doorbell, kitchen timer and smoke alarm in the training apartment. When she heard the sound, she nudged me with her nose and then led me to the sound source. Of course, she was more than happy to earn yummy treats for her work.

We also practiced walking around the grocery store, passing by counters filled with delectable temptations within Midge’s reach, to practice self-control in public areas.

After training with Midge at the Can Do Canines facility, I brought her home and worked with a local trainer to teach her how to respond to the sounds unique to my home and to address behavioral challenges such as pulling on walks.

In April, Midge passed her sound proficiency test and was certified as my hearing assist dog. What an accomplishment for both of us!

On June 29, Midge and I graduated with 16 other assistance dog teams. One highlight of the graduation was meeting Midge’s Puppy Raiser who gave me a “paw” painting and photos of Midge as a young puppy.

Life of joy

Midge is a sweet, affectionate dog that likes to be near me. We have seen her on occasion revert to a puppy, get the zoomies, and dash around as fast as a spinning firework. She has a lot of energy, and loves playing endless games of fetch, especially chasing down a launched tennis ball.

Midge likes to go out in public. She has permission to attend the deaf church services, and also accompanies me to the YMCA, restaurants and coffee shops, museums and stores. Last summer we went to MSP airport for the Can Do Canines “Flight to Nowhere” training to give her a taste of going through TSA security and boarding a plane.

I look forward to the years of service that Midge will bring, thanks to all the trainers and volunteers at Can Do Canines who made my partnership with her possible. I also thank the puppy raisers who tended to Midge so that I might have the joy of an assistance dog, and I am humbled by their labor of love.

Karen Smith is a retired IBM technical writer and a freelance writer and editor. She is involved with the deaf ministry at her church.