Dog on a mission

Featured in:
October 2012

Merlin, a springer spaniel, has always played a valuable role for the local Lincolnshire fundraising team of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. During 2012 he has been on a special mission to raise £30,000.
Merlin’s role as ambassador dog involves showing how a hearing dog helps deaf people through informative and fun demonstrations at events, raising the profile and funds for the charity. His quiet intelligence and ability to charm the crowds have made him a natural for appearances before the public.

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People was founded in 1982 and celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year. Originally the charity only trained hearing dogs for adults but five years ago twelve children in the UK took part in a pilot project to provide hearing dogs to deaf children. The pilot was a huge success and this year, as part of their 30th anniversary celebrations, they launched Hearing Dogs for Deaf Children, while still providing hearing dogs for adults.

When the local fundraising team in Lincolnshire, Denise Taylor, her husband John and Merlin’s owner, Pauline, were pondering how they could make a special contribution to the anniversary year the idea was created to launch Merlin’s Mission for 2012 with the objective of raising £30,000; this equates to funding three new hearing dogs for deaf children.

“Members of the public are quite familiar with guide dogs but we have to work very hard to raise awareness of hearing dogs when we visit shows and fetes around the county,” said Denise. “Hearing dogs have the same right to access in public places as guide dogs under the Equality Act.”

Each dog costs £10,000 to train. The charity now has its own breeding scheme and selected puppies live with a puppy socialiser between the ages of ten weeks and one year, to build their confidence and learn basic skills. After this time they are sent to one of the two training centres that the charity has in the UK to complete their soundwork training programme. A hearing dog and their new deaf recipient are carefully matched before they have their own intensive week of training to forge their partnership. The Lincolnshire fundraising team has already attended plenty of events this year, including the Lincolnshire Show, Duxford Air Show, the RAF Benevolent Fund Air Show at East Kirkby and they will be at Lancaster Day at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Coningsby on 30th September. Denise is always happy to talk to groups around the county and she can be contacted on the number in the end panel.

“We have always had tremendous support from the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby. Merlin is also the name of the engines in Lancaster aircraft and they have allowed us to attend many events at their centre,” said Denise. “It was last year when Merlin had his picture taken in front of their Lancaster ‘Just Jane’ that the idea for Merlin’s Mission was born.”

Merlin is now twelve and will retire at the end of his mission. “We cannot think of a more fitting way of celebrating the charity’s 30th anniversary and Merlin’s retirement than by achieving our target,” added Denise. “We know the difference a hearing dog can make to a deaf person’s life and helping to fund what equates to three more dogs for deaf children will be a fabulous culmination of Merlin’s ambassadorial career.”

Thirteen-year-old Lauren Brooks of Navenby was one of the first children in the UK to receive a dog from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. She took part in a pilot project three years ago and her golden Labrador, Sam, is now her constant companion.

Lauren has been deaf since birth and taking Sam into her family’s home has meant more then a pair of ears to keep Lauren safe and organised.

“I love doing active things with Sam, taking him for a walk, going to the shops or cinema with me,” she explained. “Sam helps to break down barriers when he wears his burgundy jacket, because people always come and talk to us.”

The Brooks family had not owned a pet before, but once Nicola and Simon Brooks, Lauren’s parents, saw Lauren’s positive reaction and rapport with Sam they knew he would make a real difference to her life.

“From the start Sam has given Lauren so much confidence,” said Nicola. ”She has all the responsibility of feeding, walking (accompanied by her parents) and grooming him but in return he has given her so much more security and independence.”

Sam goes everywhere, except to school, with Lauren, and is there for her every day at home working on his own initiative to the everyday sounds. Among the sounds he has been trained to respond to are those of the alarm clock, smoke alarm, cooker timer and call. In turn he nudges with his nose to alert Lauren about the sound and either leads her back to the sound or drops to the floor for a danger sound. “He is really good at getting me up in the morning. Not only have I got to get ready for school but once the alarm goes off Sam knows that he will have his breakfast too,” said Lauren.

“Sam also loves walking hills and in particular the Lake District, where we go on holiday. We have done our own sponsored walk up Skiddaw and raised over £1,000 for the charity.”

“Having a dog was a bit of a shock for us at first,” said Nicola, “but without Sam, Lauren would be much more isolated. They have a mutual trust and that has really boosted her self-esteem and outlook on life.”

Merlin has been photographed for a special 2013 calendar. Captured at the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Coningsby, the twelve images show Merlin preparing for his mission and getting ready to fly all their iconic aircraft. It is a must for both hearing dog and RAF BBMF aviation heritage enthusiasts; you will be making your contribution to the Merlin’s Mission fundraising target. The calendar is priced at £6 plus £1.50 p&p and is available at his events, through his website and selected outlets. All the information can be found on his website or by contacting Denise on 01572 767515. More information about the charity Hearing Dogs for the Deaf People can be found at

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