A little mongrel called Ria has just made history by becoming the 1000th hearing dog to be placed with a deaf person in the UK. What is even more remarkable about Ria is that she is a rescue dog, who started her life wandering the streets as a stray puppy in Burford, Oxfordshire.
Just over a year ago national charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People were contacted by Lynn Rogers, the manager of The Blue Cross animal centre in Burford. Lynn explains, "Gloria, or Ria as she is now known, was brought into us by the local dog warden at eight weeks old, and it was obvious from day one that she would make a good hearing dog. She was very bright and a quick learner, so I rang Hearing Dogs and they came to pick her up. She is a lovely little thing and deserves a good life."
On arrival at The Grange, Hearing Dogs’ centre in Buckinghamshire, Ria was immediately placed with a volunteer puppy socialiser in Hampshire where she stayed for seven months.
She then returned to The Grange to begin the serious task of learning to respond to sounds around the home. Her trainer, Jenny Palser, has nothing but praise for her. "I had no doubt that Ria was going to be a special hearing dog," she says proudly. "She was always very willing to please, and picked up the soundwork training very quickly."
Like all hearing dogs, Ria was trained to alert her deaf owner to various household sounds including the doorbell, alarm clock, telephone, smoke alarm and fire bell. After completing the 16-week soundwork training she was placed with her recipient, Shirley Cooper, who lives in Market Harborough in Leicestershire. Ria is Shirley’s second hearing dog as she previously had Robbie, another mongrel, for over five years before he sadly passed away in 2002.
Although Shirley has only had Ria for a few weeks, she has already fallen under her spell. She says, "She is a very loving little dog and really charms everyone she meets. She does have a mind of her own, sometimes though, and can be a little stubborn! That’s what makes her an interesting character. Everyone falls in love with her, and when we go shopping or to the park, people are always stopping us and saying how beautiful she is."
Like the other 999 working hearing dogs around the UK, Ria will make a complete difference to Shirley’s life. Not only will she alert Shirley to sounds in the home she would previously have missed, but she will have a beneficial effect on Shirley’s confidence and increase her independence. For a small rescue mongrel, it is a real rags to riches story.
Ria, for her part, seems to be unaware of what an important milestone she is for the two charities that have looked after and trained her. For The Blue Cross she proves the point that rescue dogs make not only great pets but can lead really useful lives, and for Hearing Dogs she reinforces the reason the Charity selects as many dogs as they can from rescue centres all round the country. Both charities work very closely together to ensure that they change the lives of rescue dogs like Ria, while they in turn change the lives of severely and profoundly deaf people like Shirley.