Tracy and Budgie pictured the Earl of Stockton MP and Caroline Thomas MP.
newly qualified hearing dog has just returned from a high
profile visit to Brussels where, with the help of his deaf
owner Tracy, he addressed MEPs at the European Parliament
and also made friends with Belgian royalty.
Tracy Lewis, 27, from Bristol, has been severely deaf from birth and was partnered with tiny hearing dog Budgie just four months ago. Budgie, an 18-month-old mongrel, has been trained by the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People to alert Tracy to various household sounds including the doorbell, telephone, alarm clock, call help and smoke alarm. Since being with Tracy in her home, he has also taught himself to alert her when the microwave pings too. Although he is small in stature, he is big in personality, as the MEPs soon discovered.
Tracy and her small assistant were invited to Belgium by the European Federation of Animal Health, which sponsored Budgie through his training, to take part in Pet Night 2002. This week-long exhibition was set up to raise awareness of assistance dogs in particular, and how animals in general improve the lives of EU citizens. Tracy and Budgie had starring roles, which culminated in Tracy delivering a 10-minute speech, written by herself, to the European Parliament explaining how Budgie helps her, and how, in four short months, he has completely changed her life by giving her security, independence and confidence.
That confidence was evident later that evening when the inseparable pair faced a barrage of Belgian television cameras as they were introduced to Prince Laurent of Belgium. A huge ordeal for anyone, but for someone who relies solely on her lip-reading skills to take part in conversations, a quite remarkable achievement and one that she attributes entirely to her tiny hearing dog Budgie.
For his part, Budgie took the whole experience in his stride, and relished all the attention he received during his first trip to Europe, taking the Pet Night title literally by ensuring all his admirers petted him and in particular rubbed his tummy!
Tracy says: When I received his photo from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People offering me Budgie I fell for him straight away, and after meeting him there was no going back. Meeting him for the first time was unnerving for myself and my pet dog, Sweep, wondering what we would all think of each other; whether we would take to one another or not. Well, Budgie and I clicked straight away. It took a little longer for Sweep, but they are now good friends.
When I completed my training week and was able to take him home, it was one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking times of my life. But I need not have worried as Budgie took it all in his stride. His enthusiasm for his work and his love of life is a joy to me and to everyone who meets him.
I have gained so much from him when at home I can now relax and feel safe knowing that Budgie is there. I no longer feel isolated or worry that I am missing out on phone calls and visits. Also, if there was a fire I would have the chance to get out, and when the alarm clock goes off what better way to wake up in the morning than to see his cheeky face!
To sum up, Budgie is a star: a little dog with a big heart. Im proud that we will face life and all its challenges together. Hes my best friend.