The "Silent Dogs" Association Changes the Lives of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

If everyone knows guide dogs, few people know that there are also service dogs for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The association "The Dogs of Silence" is the only one in France to form.

In the same way that guide dogs show life differently to those who do not see, dogs help compose some notes a sweet melody in the daily life of those who do not hear. This melody, if it is for them inaudible, is nevertheless very concrete. Palpable. A sort of melody of happiness that brings them serenity and security

Australian Shepherds trained to become ears

But before getting there, these dogs must be trained. Trained to become ears. This is the role of the association The Dogs of Silence which, in seven years, has placed twenty-four service dogs. Cathy Bire and her husband are at the origin of this association, unique in France. The dogs that pass in their hands are all Australian Shepherds, " dogs calm, balanced, interacting with their environment and are able to capture the sounds ," explains Cathy Bire. And above all, they have this "energy to work all day" that distinguishes them from other breeds.

The association The Dogs of Silence form Australian Shepherds - © The Dogs of Silence

After having been selected by their breeder, Australian Shepherds spend sixteen months in a host family. This is where they learn to recognize sounds and not be afraid of them. At the end of this stage, they are supported by Cathy Bire who educates them more intensively, but always according to the positive reinforcement approach. His secret? " The sausages ! Along with their educator, and with some rewards, the Australian Shepherds learn to master all the sounds and nuances: noise of the city, fire alarm, alarm clock or telephone... nothing should escape them Dogs are also introduced to sign language as their future master may not speak, and must know how to stand outdoors perfectly, in public places.

Once the training ends, dogs must pass an examination that will confirm their ability to recognize a maximum of sounds and to adopt an exemplary attitude outdoors. It is only after this test that they are deemed fit, or not, to join their masters who are already waiting for them and with whom they will follow a fortnight of training together before they can return home.

A daily help

For the beneficiaries, the dog is not just u A pet that brings comfort and cheerfulness. The service dog is a daily aid. By physical contact, the dog warns his master of the slightest sound he hears : the alarm clock, the ringing phone, someone who knocks at the door, someone calling them, a car coming, a child crying... The dog follows his master everywhere, on public transport, in the shops, at work... When he hears a sound, he touches his master who will then ask him, either verbally or in sign language, what happens. The only thing left for the dog to do is to go to the place of sound: the phone, the door, etc., while making sure that his master follows him.

Service dogs follow their masters everywhere - © The Dogs of Silence

Alongside his master twenty-four hours a day, the dog works about twelve hours a day. His goal is not only to bring some serenity to his master - who no longer has to run around and fear to miss a call - but in addition, to ensure his safety. One Dogs trained by Les Chiens du Silence thus had the reflex to push his mistress against a wall to avoid being knocked over by a skateboard that was heading straight for her and that she could not hear.

Cathy Bire says: "the dog knows that his master does not hear and he is fully aware of his role". The response of the dog to the day after his meeting with his master is proof of this: "from the first morning, the dog wakes him up when the wake-up alarm sounds". If the dog lives his learning as a game during his training, this game is transformed into a real mission when he joined his master. And this mission, the Australian Shepherd wants to carry it out: "When he finds himself alone, he is in panic. Not because of separation anxiety, but rather because he says to himself "but how will my master do without me? "Says the educator

" Accessibility? A disaster !

Although these service dogs are the ears of their masters, they are still denied in many places. "Accessibility for people who are deaf or hard of hearing with their dog? It's a disaster ! Exclaims Cathy Bire. These dogs may have a blue vest on which "service dog" is registered, and a card that confirms their status, they are the subject of daily reflection, especially in transport and stores. "In the United States - where there are assistance dogs for the deaf for forty years - we have no right to ask you for proof of your disability because it is discriminatory. In France, even with a service dog, you are thrown out, you are put down! The

The service dogs for the deaf or hearing impaired suffer from a blatant lack of knowledge : most people are unaware that this type of service dogs exist or think they are not necessary. "When the manager of a store calls me to say that he can not let the customer's dog in, I tell him that he will be liable if anything happens to the person as long as he is not with his dog. If the fire alarm goes off, if she is dizzy, whatever happens, she will be under her responsibility. And strangely, once I say that, the manager lets the dog in."

The service dogs have a blue vest - © The Dogs of Silence

Before attitudes change, way to go. But Cathy Bire is more determined than ever to wage war on these discriminations . Her next goal is to obtain the label of "education center" for her association: while it currently only works with the generosity of its donors and partners, this label will allow it to benefit from public funds and recognition of the state. The association will be able to hire more people to train more dogs.

To help Cathy Bire in her fight and contribute to the education of a service dog, - whose training costs a total of 10 500 euros - you can make a donation to the association The Dogs of Silence or offer you as a host family if you live in the Hautes-Pyrénées or the North of the Gers.

To read also: Because that yes, a guide dog can really change a life