© 2006

 by Gladys Russell, Vistas

 “Do you know that you are my hero?”  Those words seem to flash back and forth between the adoring eyes of Daisy, a five year old hearing dog trained by the San Francisco SPCA Hearing Dog Program, and Dawn Cirrito, her proud owner.  The two are a joy to behold as they interact with one another.  Their obvious hero worship is richly embroidered with mutual warmth, love and appreciation.
If you saw the two of them playing fetch with Daisy’s favorite chew toy “Kitty,” or playing Frisbee in the California sun in their spare moments, you would likely see nothing more than a woman in a motorized wheelchair enjoying the companionship of her frisky medium-sized, brindle-colored dog.  All this changes, however, when Dawn snaps on Daisy’s bright orange hearing-dog vest and orange leash that identify her as a hearing dog. Daisy’s demeanor completely changes.  She is now “working,” and becomes all business.  At this point she is totally focused on being Dawn’s link to human voices and all environmental sounds.  Dawn has been profoundly deaf since the age of 25 due to Meniere’s Disease.
Dawn first met Daisy in June of 2002 in San Francisco at the SPCA Hearing Dog orientation training.  After three days of learning how to care for Daisy and learning her schedules and commands, the big night finally came when Dawn and Daisy were alone for the first time.  Dawn settled Daisy and herself in for the night, and drew a hot, luxurious bubble bath in the hotel bathtub.  She had just gotten herself adjusted to the comforting warmth and soothing scent of the bath when she caught a flash of brown out of the corner of her eye — and it was heading her way.  The next thing Dawn knew, Daisy was airborne, and landed with a great “splash!” to join Dawn in the tub!  “What can you do but laugh,” said Dawn.  “It was a great bonding experience, even though it was a bit messy!”
With Daisy by her side, Dawn quickly regained much of her former independence, and was able to once again attend social activities and enjoy going places in her wheelchair, just as she had prior to losing her hearing. She no longer had to rely upon her husband Vince to escort her to these functions, or to let her know what was going on around her.  A sharp new set of ears was on the job!
Daisy’s role (when she is working, that is) is to alert Dawn to each sound around her, whether it is the sound of an alarm clock, the telephone, ambient room noise, or environmental sounds.  She alerts Dawn to these sounds in a variety of ways, by either nudging her, putting her paw on Dawn, or by licking her.  She then leads Dawn to the source of the sound. Daisy understands spoken commands, as well as sign-language commands.
A particularly dramatic example of Daisy’s importance in Dawn’s life came in Las Vegas during a family vacation in August of 2002, just two months after Dawn and Daisy became partners. In a burst of newfound independence, Dawn chose to go ahead of Vince to the restaurant they had selected for dinner, and she and Daisy set out to cross the busy four-lane street as Vince watched them proceed.  Daisy halted halfway across the street, and adamantly refused to move forward.  Dawn saw no reason why Daisy would behave this way, but she trusted Daisy’s insistence that they not continue.  Much to her husband Vince’s relief, Dawn and Daisy did a U-turn, and returned to the safety of the sidewalk.  What Vince and Daisy could see and hear was a speeding police car, approaching the intersection with lights flashing and sirens blaring.  It would have undoubtedly run over the two of them if they had gone on.  Dawn could not see the police car because of a truck in the turning lane that concealed it from her line of vision.  Daisy’s reward for saving Dawn’s life was an extra doggie cookie and heaps of love and praise.
Dawn is a strong supporter of promoting independence in people with hearing losses through partnering with a hearing dog.  She says these dogs are usually mixed breeds like Daisy, and are most often acquired by hearing-dog programs through animal shelters.  Dawn stresses that there is no charge to the hearing-impaired person for the hearing dog.  The costs of food, training and medical care prior to the placement are all covered by contributions.
Hearing dogs all allowed in all public places, such as restaurants, parks, hospitals, grocery stores and drug stores under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  They are also allowed by the ADA to accompany their owners on all modes of public transportation and in lodging — at no additional charge.
Anyone interested in finding out more about hearing dogs can do so at the Assistance Dogs International website.  It contains a program locator to find a hearing dog program in your area.  The website is:  http://www.adionline.org/hearing.html
Dawn would also like hearing-impaired people in California and Nevada who are considering a hearing dog to know about the San Francisco SPCA Hearing Dog Program where she was partnered with Daisy.  You can locate it at: 
When Daisy’s working day is over and the vest comes off again, she is once again the playful, rambunctious dog she was before the vest was put on.  She is at all times the lovable, well-trained companion of a deeply appreciative owner.
And, yes, it is easy to catch them looking at one another once again with that aforementioned look that clearly says, “You are my hero!”
NOTE:  This article is available in capital letters for the benefit of low-vision readers.  Please contact Gladys Russell at baracuda@frii.com to request a copy in capital letters.

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