Meet Sian, the hearing dog from Bolton

PUBLISHED: 00:00 23 June 2017

Sian in her working jacket

Sian in her working jacket

Emily Rothery

She may only be small, but Sian has made a massive difference to the life of a woman from Bolton. Emily Rothery reports

Eileen and SianEileen and Sian

Nearly 100 enthusiastic walkers and more than 60 dogs of all shapes and sizes gathered in Gisburn Forest to take part in the Great British Dog Walk and raise funds for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. The walk is part of an annual national event and anyone can join the walks throughout the UK but few of the people taking part could be as passionate about the cause as Eileen Hosie.

Eileen and her hearing dog, Sian, travelled from Bolton with her family to complete the 7km route. Sian, a bright little poodle-cairn terrier cross, is never far from Eileen’s side and has become more than a best friend.

‘During the eight years Sian has been with me, my life has changed completely. She helps me with daily tasks but, above all, she makes me feel really safe and has given me confidence to do things that once I would never have imagined doing.’

Hearing dogs are trained to alert deaf people to important household sounds such as doorbells, texts, cooker timers, and baby alarms. A gentle paw or nudge will alert the recipient who will then be led to the source of the sound. If the alarm signals danger, such as fire, then the highly-trained dog will lie down.

The Great British Dog Walk in Gisburn Forest Picture by Jessica Stott, Hearing Dogs for the DeafThe Great British Dog Walk in Gisburn Forest Picture by Jessica Stott, Hearing Dogs for the Deaf

Whether it’s alerting Eileen to danger or acting as her alarm clock by jumping on the bed in the mornings, as a hearing dog Sian plays a pivotal role in Eileen’s life. ‘She’s not a morning person but when the alarm goes, she gives a little shake and then just gets on with it. Even my husband Peter gets a wake-up lick. She’s very much part of the family and at the command ‘Sian, call Eileen,’ will come to find me if, for example, I’m out in the garden and needed by another family member.’

What Sian lacks in size, she more than makes up for in personality. ‘She’s very intuitive – once I had to look after my small grandchild and was feeling worked up because I was alone; Sian came to place her paws on me which was when I realised that the baby was crying and my clever little dog, although not trained to do so, was alerting me,’ says Eileen.

‘Before Sian came along I could never sleep if Peter was away, for fear of fire but now I feel completely safe. I am now confident to go shopping knowing that people will realise that I am deaf and be more understanding when it comes to lip reading and queuing.’

When Sian is working she wears a distinctive burgundy jacket which prompts people to ask about her role and thus gain an insight into Eileen’s invisible disability.

Sian waking EileenSian waking Eileen

Eileen explains: ‘I was born with hearing but developed whooping cough at three months and grew up partially deaf until not long after I left school when my hearing went very quickly. Living in a deaf world can make you feel very isolated but Sian helps me cope in a hearing world. She gave me the confidence to move house after 40 years of living among people that I knew well. She was very much part of the community accompanying me on walks and to Holy Family church in Boothstown where she was so well known that she was always blessed before the congregation during communion.

‘Now people, especially the children, have grown to love her at St Brendan’s church. Wherever we go, people see Sian and her coat and they are really helpful.’

Eileen has been so impressed by the difference a hearing dog can make that she has become involved in raising funds and awareness of the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. Her passion shows as tears fill her eyes. ‘Sian has done so much for me. I want other people to have the same. Training dogs for deaf children is very special to me.’

With the support of Peter, Eileen travels throughout Lancashire to give talks to groups such as WI, Rotary, Inner Wheel, Beavers and Brownies, businesses, banks and schools. ‘If anyone had told me years ago that I would be speaking in public I wouldn’t have believed them. It’s so important to get the message out and the people of Lancashire are very generous with their donations. Children love Sian’s visits and they often do follow up fundraising such as a non-uniform or cake day. Our ten-year old granddaughter Rachel is now getting involved too.’

Eileen, Peter, son Liam & Granddaughter Rachel. Picture by Jessica Stott, Hearing Dogs for the DeafEileen, Peter, son Liam & Granddaughter Rachel. Picture by Jessica Stott, Hearing Dogs for the Deaf

Sophie Meadows, community fundraising manager for the north west, says: ‘No matter where I ask Eileen and Peter to go, they will travel to talk. We normally suggest that our volunteers give about six talks a year but Eileen and Peter do 20.’ The couple tell me that they would be willing to give talks in South Lakes too.

Sophie explains that the charity which has no government funding, couldn’t do the job without volunteers. Alongside fundraisers there is invaluable help from volunteer breeders and puppy socialisers who teach basic obedience. When ready, the pups go to one of the centres for advanced training. Each dog is trained to the specific need of the individual they have been matched with. It costs £25,000 to breed and train a dog and £15,000 for lifelong support.

At nearly 10 years, Sian is still very active and alert to Eileen’s needs but is due to retire soon. ‘I will be matched with a new dog according to my needs and the size of my home but a main priority for me will be that she gets along with Sian. I could never get depressed with Sian around. She just makes me so happy.’

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