Hearing dog helps Moore at work, at home
Bo has a furry black coat with a splash of white on his chest, wags his tail enthusiastically, and has the important duty of alerting Wilhelmina "Willy" Moore to common, everyday sounds she can't hear at work at the Medical School.
Moore is severe to profoundly deaf. She gradually began losing her hearing after a viral infection in 1987. Hearing aids help her understand some sounds, but she communicates with people mainly by lip-reading. She works at the Medical School as administrator of the Harris County Jail contract.
Bo is a professionally trained hearing dog from International Hearing Dog, Inc. (IHDI) - a nonprofit organization in Henderson, Colo., with a mission to train and place hearing dogs with persons who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, with and without multiple disabilities, at no charge to the recipient.
"The dogs are worth over $6,000, but we give them to the people free of charge," said IHDI Field Representative Bob Cooley. The $6,000 fee covers training and placement of the dogs and is funded through donations to IHDI.
Moore decided that a hearing dog would help her become more aware of sounds and actions going on around her, so she applied for a hearing dog through IHDI.
"Getting my hearing dog has been great for the help and secure feeling he gives, so that I will be aware of important sounds," Moore said. "Bo is a wonderful creature to have around, and I feel much more at ease now that I know nothing of importance happens around me that he does not let me know about."
Bo was specially matched to be Moore's companion to help her both at work at the Medical School and in her home. He was trained to alert her to three specific sounds: the doorbell or a knock at the door, the telephone ringing, and the smoke alarm.
In July, Bo flew on a plane with Cooley to meet his new owner and see his new Houston home. The dog spent a day at the Medical School, learning Moore's routine and even taking a ride on the light rail.
"He's listening to everything going on around him," Cooley said, referring to Bo. "He's supposed to take in everything and then decide what she needs to know about."
Moore's office is tucked away in a quiet suite at the Jesse H. Jones Library Building. "Bo warns me when people enter the suite," she said. "It is pretty isolated, and he alerts me to the phone."
In public, Bo wears an orange cape and leash at all times - the official legal symbols of a hearing dog. At work at the Medical School, he also is outfitted with an official UT badge.
At home, Bo is still hard at work. "He alerts me to the doorbell or a knock, telephone, and smoke alarm, as well as to my husband coming in or leaving," Moore said. "While many dogs do this, Bo is trained to lead me to the sounds."
Cooley has trained dogs through IHDI for more than 12 years and said the dogs' abilities to help others never cease to amaze him. "I am still amazed on a daily basis by what these dogs can do," he said.
All dogs trained at IHDI come from animal shelters. Bo is a border collie/labrador/spaniel mix who started the training program when he was a 6-month-old puppy. He trained for one year and was given to Moore when he was 1½ years. He was the 1,000th dog placed through the organization.
"I like that he comes from a shelter - a 'second chance' dog," Moore said.
Moore said Bo is becoming better adjusted to life at the Medical School and in the city of Houston.
"Bo is adjusting very well to life at the Texas Medical Center and city," she said. "Even though he spent most of his life in the IHDI training facility in Henderson, he has become used to the hustle and bustle of city life. He rides the bus and train very well. He sleeps in the office or chews his bone but is always alert and ready to jump up when he hears a sound he feels I should know about."
To learn more about hearing dogs or to donate to International Hearing Dog, Inc., visit www.pawsforsilence.org.
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