Real Life: The Story Of An Unlikely Assistance Dog

The story of many dogs abandoned or placed with a rehoming shelter is often a sad one. Dogs that are rehomed once face a challenge competing for homes, but the odds of a twice abandoned dog finding a happy end are even slimmer.

Which is why the story of Lily, a soon to be invaluable hearing dog is quite remarkable, says Annie Rogers.

Who would ever imagine that a marriage break-up could be the start of something really good? Well, not many of us. But, for the South Cotswolds Branch of the RSPCA in Stroud, this particular marriage break-up made us the guardians of a most delightful dog called Lily.

Here is Lily's story.

Lily originally came into our care in August 2005. She is a golden Labrador crossed with a Cocker Spaniel – a very neat little dog. She was just a year old then and you could tell that she was very bright and the right age to learn just about anything! She had more energy than a collection of Mexican Jumping Beans and a wonderful need to please her human. She was only with us for just over two weeks when she was adopted by a family with five children!

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We waved her good-bye and felt confident that this large family would be one that would keep her busy and positively challenged. By June, Lily was back in our care. The adults in her family had sadly had to change their working hours and, with the kids out at school, Lily was on her own for too many hours in the day.

It was only a matter of days, however, before Chapter 2 in Lily’s life began.

Our Branch had been planning their big event of the year since January 2006 – a Dog Show and Fun Day which was to be held in August. Among the many groups asked to attend the show was the Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. In confirming that they would be attending the show, we got side-tracked and started asking about the ‘hearing dogs’ – what age should the dog be? what size is best? what breed is best suited?

After a little while it seemed to us that Lily might be the perfect candidate to be a hearing dog. She was now nearly two years old (best ages between eight months and two years!), medium size (small to medium size make the best hearing dogs), and a gundog combination (this combination is particularly attentive during training).

We asked if someone could come out to ‘interview’ her and within a few days one of the representatives was with us at the kennels to meet Lily and test her potential.

Lily’s first hurdle was ‘how’ she reacted to certain everyday sounds – a squeaky toy, a dropped pen, an alarm clock. She reacted to each sound by stopping what she was busy doing and looking around toward the sound. This was very good and the representatives asked if they could take Lily with them to their training centre for a 12-week assessment. Their centre was at Saunderton, near Princes Risborough, Oxfordshire, so we needed to make a decision right there and then. Well, opportunities like this don’t come around every day.

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A chance for Lily to work in a partnership with her human some day was just too good to miss so we packed her best blanket and favourite bunny and off she went. The Hearing Dog Centre was wonderful in keeping us up to date on Lily’s progress. We were like proud parents every time we had a report on how her assessment was going, but there was still no guarantee that she would be accepted for proper training.

Needless to say, Lily passed every aspect of her assessment with flying colours and moved into proper training. Her training would be another three to four months long and the outcome of all this still wasn’t a certainty. So, we waited some more to hear how she was getting along. We then got the news that Lily had finished her training and had rated a First Class Pass – 89% in her exam. Gee, were we ever proud parents!

Her graduation came and I was able to attend a demonstration at Saunderton showing just what she had learned. Her work was brilliant and her enthusiasm unflagging. Her trainer also made it clear that a hearing dog possibly has the best of both worlds – being a working companion for its master fulfills the ‘need’ in a dog but there is also plenty of time to do what a dog loves best, be it chasing a ball, rolling in muck or just racing about happy and carefree. I also had a lovely tour of the Hearing Dog site and met some of the other dogs in training there.

After 'graduating' it was time for Lily’s 3rd Chapter to begin, and her next step was to find her perfect recipient. This process is one that takes several interviews and many meetings with both dog and recipient. When any new recipient is chosen, he will actually come to the Hearing Dog Centre in Saunderton to stay for a week with the dog.

During this stay, the new owner will learn the language that the hearing dog has been taught so the transition will be easier and moving from the trainer to the owner will, hopefully, be a positive experience. Lily had a bit of a wait for her ‘recipient’ as the Hearing Dog people are very careful, hoping to get their dog/human pairing right the first time.

Lily is now with her new recipient after working through her bonding time. I am sure that Lily’s recipient will feel more and more blessed as time goes by – a solid helper around 24/7 and a brilliant companion all rolled into one little bundle of furry phenomenon.

So, we wish Lily the best of luck and will always have a proud, beaming smile when we think of her – just like any parents would!

Does Lily's story make you want to give a dog a second chance and new home? Visit the UK's largest dog adoption site - www.dogsblog.com - to find the dog of your dreams.

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