IM this article to a friend!

October 25, 2003

Students raise money for hearing dog guides for the deaf

From: Charlotte Sun-Herald, FL - Oct 25, 2003

Wendy Owens' ears broke when she was 33.

Her hearing had been worsening since she was a teenager, but the middle school teacher could still hear with the help of hearing aids. Without her ears, she could not teach or even speak. Crushed, she eventually went back to school to learn how to teach deaf students.

But when she moved to Florida, a Belgian Shepherd named Jo Bear gave her her ears back. Through Florida Dog Guides for the Deaf Owens' dog was trained to be her ears, just like a Seeing Eye dog is trained to the eyes of a blind person.

"She was a lifesaver," Owens told a gymful of students at Port Charlotte Middle School, where she is a special needs teacher, Friday. "She told me what my world of sound was that I was missing."

Just last week, students at the school raised nearly $1,900 to donate to Florida Dog Guides for the Deaf in Bradenton. The money will pay to train a hearing dog, which costs about $1,800.

Collecting pennies and change, students raised the money in six days. While other schools do donate to the organization, its director, Arlene Dickinson, said Port Charlotte Middle students donated more than any other school in the state.

"What these students have done is amazing," she said.

To thank the students, Florida Dog Guides gave a demonstration at the school Friday with Owens' new hearing dog Kobe, a golden retriever and Mi Guy, a Lhasa apso who belongs to Janice Phyfer of Bradenton.

The organization's director, Arlene Dickinson, said training dogs to be hearing guides was a relatively new concept when Florida Dog Guides got its start in 1982. The first hearing dog had been trained in 1978, she said.

Through the years, more than 400 dogs have been trained across Florida.

Kobe was just certified last week as a hearing guide. Every week, Owens drove him to Bradenton to take three hours of training classes.

It takes about eight months to a year to train a hearing dog. The dogs first learn obedience and then move on to hearing training. They're taught not to bark, Dickinson said, unless there is an intruder.

But Mi Guy can bark at math questions.

"Two plus two!" Dickinson called out, holding a treat in her hand.

"Woof, woof, woof ... woof!" Mi Guy barked back.

Eventually, Kobe will come to school with Owens. While she now has a cochlear implant that allows her to hear some things -- it also enabled her to speak again -- she still cannot hear ambulance and police sirens when she is driving.

"That's an uncomfortable feeling," she said.

Kobe will also help her communicate with her students. When she has her back turned, Kobe will be able to tell her when a student needs her. Since her first hearing dog, Owens has always brought them to school with her.

While Kobe is working, he wears an orange vest that lets people know not to pet him and Dickinson asked the students to be conscious of this when he is in the school.

When she is no longer a teacher, Owens plans to train Kobe to be a pet therapy dog.

"People's faces just light up when they see an animal," she said.

You can e-mail April Frawley at


Staff Writer

Sunline© 2003 All rights reserved.