His master’s ears: meet Rupert the hearing dog

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Warren Love with his hearing dog Rupert… “He’s my best friend,” says Warren. Photo: Belinda Strahorn

By BELINDA STRAHORN

WITH canine companion Rupert by his side, Queanbeyan’s Warren Love knows when the doorbell rings.

Rupert is a Lions Hearing dog and helps take the stress out of everyday tasks for Warren, who is deaf.

“He’s my best friend,” Warren said.

Rupert, a six-year-old shih tzu-cross, has been trained to tell Warren when someone is at the front door, he’s an alarm clock to wake him, alerts him when the phone rings or the smoke alarm goes off; and when the oven bell chimes he lets Warren know that dinner is ready.

Rupert’s capabilities are a lifeline for 71-year-old Warren who has been profoundly deaf since birth. 

Trained to be his master’s ears, Rupert is Warren’s living alert system, pawing or nudging him when common sounds ring, then leading him to them.

“He makes me happy,” Warren said.

Like many Lions Hearing dogs, Rupert was rescued from the pound.

The well-trained pooch is one of 600 dogs helping those who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Retired pre-school teacher Deb Bowles joined the Queanbeyan Lions Club in 2009 in the hope of “giving something back” to the community. The long-serving club secretary was instrumental in matching Warren with Rupert, almost five years ago. 

To date, the club has housed three Lions Hearing dogs with hearing impaired members of the Queanbeyan community.

“The first dog was Happy and he went to a person in Queanbeyan, then there was Tod the dog with an owner in Jerrabomberra and then. of course, Rupert with Warren,” she said.

Deb said Rupert helps Warren feel confident and maintain his independence.

“When we met Warren he had never lived independently, he was living with his mother Jean – she was a lovely lady – and shortly after Rupert finished his training Warren’s mother passed away so Rupert became even more of a companion for him… the timing was bittersweet I suppose,” she said.

Hearing dogs have the same access rights as guide dogs for the blind and can be identified by their orange jacket, collars and leads.

There is no one shape or size of Hearing Dog, breeds vary from labradoodle and beagle, to terriers and chihuahuas.

The dogs are trained in Adelaide – from the age of eight weeks old – for up to eight months and are provided free to eligible people across Australia. The $37,000 training cost is covered by Lions through its fundraising. 

“After the dogs are trained, the trainers then spend a week with the dog and their new owners in their homes and after that the local Lions Club members visit three times a week to make sure everything is going smoothly,” said Queanbeyan Lions Club president Max Carrick.

Founded in 1982, Australian Lions Hearing Dogs is the only accredited Hearing Assistance Dog training centre in the country.

The Lions Club Community Bookstore on Crawford Street in Queanbeyan – which has just reopened and has raised more than $35,000 for community projects since its inception in 2018 – is a hub for the Lions Hearing Dogs program. 

With one in six Australians currently suffering from some form of hearing loss there is growing demand for hearing dogs. 

“There’s a lot of people who rely on these dogs to do normal things around the house and in the community,” said Max.

“It’s a fantastic cause and provides people who need it with a valuable resource.”

The Lions Community Bookshop, 146 Monaro Street, Queanbeyan, open 10am-4pm, Thursday-Saturday. 

 

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