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Roddy, The First Ever Dual Purpose Dog

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from BBC Suffolk, United Kingdom, June 28, 2004.

Hearing Dogs and Guide Dogs have worked very closely together over the past year to train the first ever dual-purpose dog. Roddy, a beautiful Labrador cross golden retriever, has been trained as both a hearing dog and a guide dog for Angela Hassall, who lives in Cheshire.

Angela has been severely deaf since she was eight, and applied for her first hearing dog over 12 years ago, and since that time she has had two hearing dogs, mongrels, Buster and Darvo.

In 1999, Angela began to lose her sight, and even though she still went out and about with her hearing dog, she was becoming anxious and frightened. In desperation, she rang Hearing Dogs to ask whether there was any possibility of a dog being trained as both a hearing dog and a guide dog.

Claire Guest, operations director at Hearing Dogs, immediately contacted Guide Dogs and a series of meetings and conversations ensued between the two charities to determine whether indeed it was possible to train a dual-purpose dog. Agreement was reached that Hearing Dogs and Guide Dogs would work very closely together to try and help Angela, and then followed the all-important search for the right dog.

This was the first dilemma as Guide Dogs look for dogs that are calm and not reactive to noise, whereas Hearing Dogs look for dogs that are inquisitive and alert with a definite interest in sounds!

However, Roddy was chosen by both teams of trainers as being the perfect candidate, and he began his early guide dog training last year under the eye of trainer, Richard Whormsley, who described him as being sound and willing from the start.

Having successfully completed this part of the project, Roddy then came under the experienced wing of Jackie Boyle, a trainer at Hearing Dogs' northern centre in Selby. Jackie is full of praise for Roddy and enthuses that he is one of the best hearing dogs she has ever trained.

Roddy became a fully qualified guide dog in July last year, and four months later he achieved fully trained hearing dog status. Both Hearing Dogs' and Guide Dogs' staff are delighted with the outcome of this trial project, and anticipate training more dual-purpose dogs in the future.

Roddy has completely transformed Angela's life. From feeling frightened of going out of the house once her sight deteriorated, she now says she is hardly ever in.

"When I first approached Claire about the possibility of a hearing and guide dog, this is what I hoped for, and it is exactly what I have got. I know how much Roddy means to me--he is a very special dog."

About Hearing Dogs for Deaf People

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People is a registered charity that selects and trains dogs to respond to specific sounds.

Hearing dogs alert deaf people by touch, using a paw to gain attention and then lead them back to the sound source. For sounds such as the smoke alarm and fire alarm, the dogs will lay down to indicate danger.

Seventy-four percent of all hearing dogs adopted into the scheme are either rescued or unwanted, and since its inception in 1982 Hearing Dogs for Deaf People has placed nearly 1000 hearing dogs.

About Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is the leading charity providing guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services that enable blind and partially sighted people to lead the fullest and most independent lives possible.

Copyright BBC Suffolk.