Murphy may look like the unlikeliest of working dogs, but the little white dog is making life sweet again for a Brainerd woman who suffers from a profound hearing loss.
Two weeks ago, Sheri Abt was matched with Murphy, a trained hearing dog from Dogs for the Deaf, an international hearing dog training and placement organization based in Central Point, Ore.
Abt had been on a waiting list for a hearing dog from the nonprofit organization for the last 3-1/2 years when she received a phone call last month that she and her husband, Ed, would be receiving Murphy, a Lhasa apso/Shih Tzu mix. After hanging up the phone, she began to cry; she was beginning to think she would never receive a hearing dog.
On Feb. 6, Emily Minah, a hearing dog trainer, arrived in Brainerd for a five-day stay to introduce Abt to her new partner, Murphy, and to work with both of them. Abt was nervous before Minah and Murphy arrived at her home, but she and Murphy immediately bonded.
Sheri Abt and Murphy have become inseparable. Abt said Murphy has given her back her freedom. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"He's an absolute joy," Abt said of Murphy, who wears a hearing dog vest when they go out in public. "He's changed my life."
Abt's hearing had grown considerably worse over the last four or five years. She has only about a 30 percent to 40 percent of her hearing, but has taught herself to read lips.
Murphy is trained to alert Abt to the doorbell or someone knocking on the door and to other sounds, like Ed calling her name, the smoke alarms, the oven timer and the telephone. When Murphy hears any of those sounds, he puts his paw on Abt's leg and takes her to the source of the sound. He often gets a doggie treat or toy as a reward.
Murphy is trained to be obedient and sit by Abt's feet when she's at a restaurant or out in public. When his hearing dog vest is on, Murphy knows it's time to work. His personality changes like night to day.
"Murphy bonded with her right away and that's a huge piece of it," Minah said. "That relationship between dog and owner is so critical for it to work and that happened from day one."
Abt took Murphy for a walk near her Brainerd home Monday. Abt, who suffers from a profound hearing loss, received Murphy two weeks ago from Dogs for the Deaf, an international hearing dog training and placement organization based in Oregon. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
It can be an isolating experience to suffer from a profound hearing loss. Abt used to be much more of an extrovert, but after she began to lose her hearing, she became less comfortable talking to other people, particularly strangers. It becomes embarrassing to ask people to repeat themselves over and over again or when you've misunderstood a question and give the wrong reply.
Dogs for the Deaf
Dogs for the Deaf, a nonprofit organization funded by donations based in Central Point, Ore., is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
The organization rescues dogs from animal shelters throughout Oregon, Washington and California and trains and places more than 100 dogs annually as hearing dogs.
The dogs are typically mixed breeds, small to medium size, and up to 36 months of age. The trainers look for shelter dogs that are friendly, energetic, healthy and intelligent.
Training averages about 4-6 months. Recipients pay only an application fee and $100 for a good-faith deposit returned to them a year after they've had the dog.
The program's investment per hearing dog is about $25,000, which includes the dog, veterinary care, training, placement and follow up.
For more information on the program, visit the Web site at www.dogsforthedeaf.org.
During the last two weeks, Abt has discovered - to her pleasant surprise - that Murphy has become an icebreaker of sorts. Strangers come up and talk to her to learn more about the 16-pound white fluffball wearing the orange hearing dog vest. When she explains that she has a hearing loss and reads lips, they seem to take the time to share a conversation with her, making sure to face toward her so she can understand what they are saying.
Most ask if they can pet Murphy, and most often they can, but only once, and it depends on the situation. It's always best to ask, she said.
In just this short time with Murphy, Abt said she can't imagine not having him beside her. He's allowed her to regain the freedom she lost when she began losing her hearing. While she's always had to rely on her husband to hear sounds, particularly at night, now she has Murphy, too.
"We work together, me, Murphy and Ed," Abt said. "It's changed our lives a lot for the good."
Abt learned about Dogs for the Deaf through her daughter, Terri McCalla, a veterinary ophthalmologist in Bellingham, Wash., who learned about the program through a client. McCalla also volunteers to annually check the eyes of the hearing dogs who are in training at the Center Point, Ore.
Abt turned 75 on Saturday and said Murphy was the best birthday present she could have ever received.
"I really feel blessed I got him," Abt said. "I really do."
The Abts plan to move to Elk River to be near their son. They have three children, seven grandchildren, a great-granddaughter, and now Murphy.
Murphy was sponsored by the Oregon Single Sams Good Sam Club.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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