Casper, a Hearing Dog for deaf people, has become a regular visitor at the ASB Community Trust’s office since he took up his duties with new owner Ursula Becroft-Thynne.
Ursula is the daughter of Trust staff member Moi Becroft and often calls in to visit. And Casper feels right at home, having been part of the staff team for a few weeks earlier this year when Ursula was overseas at a conference.
Ursula became deaf after contracting meningitis as a baby, so Casper is trained to alert her to everyday noises such as when the alarm clock goes off, telephone calls or a knock on the door. He will also warn her if a smoke or fire alarm goes off.
“Hearing Dogs like Casper are specially trained to alert their owner to sounds by gently pawing them and then leading them to the sound,” says Ursula. “If there is a smoke or fire alarm, they will lie down directly under the sound, alerting you to immediate danger.”
The dogs are trained by Hearing Dogs for Deaf People in New Zealand and there are now about 50 registered dogs working throughout the country. In recent years ASB Community Trust grants have helped with operating costs, training and building upgrades.
Hearing Dogs NZ staff interview potential recipients in their home to make sure everything is suitable. The new owners then visit the organisation’s national training centre in New Plymouth for training before they take the dog home.
“Hearing Dogs have rights of public access, so Casper comes everywhere with me in his official yellow jacket,” Ursula says. “It’s great, because people quickly understand that I am Deaf when they see Casper in his jacket, so they make an effort to speak directly to me, which makes it easier to lip-read.”
Ursula says the Hearing Dogs are an incredible gift to people in the Deaf community. “Having Casper has changed my life for the better,” she says. “He really is part of the family now.”