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My dog Beth is my love, my friend and my ears
FOR most of us, our dogs are beloved family pets, entertainers, comforters and companions.
But Carly Water’s dog Beth is all that and much more – she’s a specially trained hearing dog.
Deaf since birth, Carly never let her deafness stop her pursuing both a regular career and a sporting one.
As well as working for Essex Cares Sensory Service where she fits people with hearing loss and sight problems with mechanisms to make their lives easier, she also plays in goal for the Great British deaf ladies football team.
Completely deaf in her left ear, she wears a hearing aid in her right ear where she has about ten per cent hearing, and lip reads as well. However, when her husband Phil started having to work away, she suddenly realised how vulnerable she felt when alone.
Carly, 33, from Langdon Hills, says: “When I was growing up it wasn’t a problem because mum and dad were about all the time.
“When I moved here with my husband I had no worries, but then he got a new job which involved him going away on business and that made me realise I didn’t want to be on my own.
“I couldn’t hear things at night – I’d often leave my hearing aid in but it’s so uncomfortable. I’d stay awake until 3am or 4am and that’s when I decided ‘right, I’m going to apply for a hearing dog’.”
Carly applied to charity Hearing Dogs UK, which trains dogs and places them with those who need them and began the waiting process.
The group has Royal patronage from Princess Anne as well as endorsement and support from other celebrity names.
The charity, which celebrates it’s 30th anniversary this year, was set up by Dr Bruce Fogle, father of TV personality Ben Fogle, and Lady Wright of the RNID (now Action on Hearing Loss).
When Carly was sent a picture of Beth, a collie labrador cross, it was love at first sight.
She says: “I had an assessment to see if I’d be accepted for a hearing dog. They looked around the property and the area and I had to have an audiogram to prove I had hearing loss.
“I waited one-and-a-half years for her, but she’s worth the wait.
“I’ll never forget the moment when I got the photo of her. They posted it to me and I just fell in love with her, she’s so gorgeous.”
At ten months old, Beth – who’s now eight – had already started her training, and Carly had to go to the charity’s special house, kitted out with all the things Beth would eventually recognise to respond to, phones, doorbells and alarms, and the two worked on the rest of her training together.
Beth then went home with Carly and Phil where she was checked up on by the charity to make sure she was settling in. She was also presented with her special hearing dog jacket to signal she was fully qualified.
Carly laughs: “When she has her jacket on she’s sensible – not crazy like she is usually.”
Although Beth is highly trained, when she’s off duty and around the home, she’s like any other dog, rolling around on the floor with her toys, jumping up to greet people and racing around the lounge.
Carly says: “She concentrates on what she’s doing as soon as she’s got her jacket on. She stays with me and sits down beside me or under the table and there’s no pulling – on normal walks she does pull on her normal lead.”
Beth knows to recognise the doorbell, oven timer, kettle and alarm clock – and responds by pawing Carly to get her attention and then leading her to the source of the sound.
But with smoke alarms she has a different response – so as not to inadvertently lead Carly into danger. Carly says: “She paws me and then crouches on the floor. Then I know it’s a smoke alarm.
“I’ll never forget when I brought her home and Phil was away at work, it was the first day here, just me and her, and all of a sudden Beth pawed me and crouched on the floor.
“I thought ‘oh no, it’s the smoke alarm’, but I put my hearing aid in and I couldn’t hear anything, the I found out it was the neighbour’s smoke alarm going off.
“She was just doing her job, bless her.”
The longest Carly has been away from Beth is one month, when she travelled to Taiwan to take part in the Deaflympics.
Carly admits: I was worried she might’ve forgotten her job when I came back, but she hadn’t, she remembered what she was doing.”
Although Carly has a pass that states Beth is a hearing dog and is allowed to accompany her into shops and restaurants, she has come up against the occasional tricky situation.
She explains: “I took my husband to a restaurant for his birthday once. We rang up in advance and the guy said ‘you can’t bring a dog in here because of the food’.
“We had a bit of a debate, but in the end we left Beth with my mum. When we got there we said ‘what do you do when a blind person has a guide dog?’ They said ‘we tie them up outside and guide the blind person inside’.
“They can’t do that. We have the right to go into a restaurant, and we couldn’t believe that response. A guide dog for a the blind costs about £12,000 to £13,000 to train. There’s no way you’d leave £12,000 to 13,000 worth of dog tied up outside.”
The training costs aren’t quite so hefty for a hearing dog, but the overall amount the charity spends on a dog over the course of its lifetime tops £45,000.
Carly admits such incidents are pretty rare, and the most people are delighted to see friendly Beth, particularly some of the elderly people she visits when she’s kitting them out with equipment to help them cope with their own hearing or visual problems.
She says: “They really love her. They always say ‘leave the dog’.”
One thing’s for certain, Beth gives Carly the confidence to be independent, go into shops without people thinking she’s ignoring their offers of help and to be alone in the house when Phil is away.
“She’s my ears,” says Carly. “We’ve got a good bond, we know each other very well.”