By Celeste Alexander
18 September 2018 – With her friendly nature and happy wagging tail, Gem, a Shihtzu cross Bichon hearing dog, is the perfect companion for Blenheim woman Lynn Evans.
Lynn has moderate hearing loss in her right ear and no hearing in her left ear, so ever since her hearing dog arrived she has enjoyed the peace of mind that Gem will alert her to important sounds that most people take for granted. What’s more, Gem is the only hearing dog in Marlborough.
Gem is trained to respond to certain sounds such as the doorbell or knocking, the smoke alarm, the telephone ringing and even alerts Lynn if there are people walking close behind her.
“If the doorbell or phone rings I don’t hear it unless I’m close by them, so Gem will come to me and put her paws on my knees. I say, ‘what is it’ and she leads me to the phone or door.
“If the smoke alarm goes off she lays flat on the floor. I have a specialised visual vibrating smoke alerting system but if I don’t notice it, it’s comforting for me to know that Gem will get my attention,” Lynn says.
Being a hearing dog, Gem has special privileges and can go anywhere with Lynn, with the only exception being a hospital’s intensive care unit.
Gem wears a yellow jacket with the words ‘hearing dog’ printed on it so people know she has the right of access to any public place as well as public transport.
“Gem attracts a lot of interest from people who are curious about her, so I wanted to create an awareness of what she is and how she helps me with my everyday life by going everywhere with me,” Lynn says.
Hearing dogs like Gem are specially trained by the charitable trust Hearing Dogs for Deaf People NZ. They are trained in Taranaki at a specialised centre and no specific breed or type of dog is preferred, hearing dogs can come in all shapes and sizes.
The cost to train each dog is $30,000 so as you can imagine, the application process is quite “intensive”, Lynn says.
“There’s quite a bit of paperwork to submit as well as interviews and face-to-face meetings. Referrals are also required from an audiologist. I’ve also had support from my hearing therapist Tania Shearer of Life Unlimited (now known as Your Way | Kia Roha), a charitable trust that provides free aural rehabilitation.
“Once I was approved I went up for a week and stayed at a cottage on the compound, free of cost, to meet the dog and spend a week with it. “My first dog was called Ava which I had for 12 months but she got sick and was retired to a nice home.
“Then I met Gem and we had an instant connection. “I’ve had Gem since May and she is a lovely dog, a good companion and I couldn’t imagine life without her now,” she says.