Wednesday, December 30, 2009

British deaf, visually impaired woman begins to use one of country's first "dual purpose" dogs

From the South Wales Argus in the UK:

They say a dog is man’s best friend.

And for a Newport teenager who is deaf and partially sighted, Border Collie pup Kim is becoming a vital lifeline as she is trained to be one of the country’s few “dual purpose” dogs.

Eighteen-year-old Elinor Scott (pictured) was born deaf and is now losing her sight due to Usher's syndrome - a condition damaging cells in the retina of the eye.

Although Elinor communicates using British Sign Language and lives at the family home in Glasllwch, her mum Catherine knew that she would soon want more independence.

Guide dogs trained to look after blind and deaf people are available, and charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People said it has so far trained 12 dual dogs in partnership with Guide Dogs for the blind.

But Mrs Scott found her daughter does not qualify for one because she does not live independently, and decided to take matters into her own hands.

Six month old border collie Kim moved in with the family in August, and is now being trained to help Elinor with both her disabilities by Newport dog trainer John Bills.

A former police dog handler with 30 years experience, Mr Bills has just finished Kim’s basic training, teaching the puppy to respond to a vocabulary of 20 sign language commands such as “sit” and “stay”, as well as guiding skills to help Elinor find her way around safely.

The second stage of Kim's training, due to start in January, will involve agility training.

But over the next two years, Kim will also be taught to alert Elinor to sounds, such as an alarm clock or a ringing smoke detector, through touching her.

The whole process is expected to cost in excess of £300.

But if the training is successful, Mrs Scott hopes her daughter will eventually be able to move out into sheltered housing, where she can live independently with Kim.

She said: “Kim is giving Elinor some independence and the companionship is great because as a deaf person who is losing your sight, it can be very isolating.

“Elinor has found it hard to come to terms with her deteriorating eye sight and the puppy has given her a new lease of life.”