Posted by Isabelle Cottle
The most common thing we hear from potential volunteers is: "But I'd never be able to give them back!".
Unquestionably, saying goodbye can be a challenging part of being a volunteer with Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. Most of our dog care volunteers go through the experience of returning one of our dogs or puppies for the next stage of its training or placement - whether that be after a few days, a couple of weeks, or after well over a year or more.
The first thing to say is that, rest assured, all of our volunteers are charity-minded, big-hearted dog lovers.
They are not robots, nor indifferent to a dog departing, but they can - hand on heart - let you know that although it is hard, there are many benefits to volunteering your time to help train and care for hearing dogs, and also some significant positives of having a "temporary dog" rather than one of your own.
Here are some favourite pieces of advice, and other wise words, from volunteers who have been through the experience:
Knowing you have transformed a deaf person's life definitely makes it easier.
"I think I found it hard with the first one (I'm on number four now) because I had not done it before and didn't know what to expect. I was lucky to be able to see Jessie two months after she left us and witnessed her doing her sound work. She had grown up so much and was well on her way to becoming a full-fledged hearing dog.
I also got a chance to speak with a recipient and seeing the love and pride they showed their dog was wonderful. I knew then that my sadness at letting Jessie go was totally surpassed by the sheer joy that dog gave the recipient. The feeling I got when I heard Jessie had gone to her deaf partner was one of the most amazing feelings...I thought I would burst with pride...Jessie had moved on and so had I. It was time to start all over again with puppy number two."
Karen Hardcastle, Volunteer Puppy Trainer.
They may have moved on, but they will never be forgotten.
Training from Home volunteer of 18 years, Helen Boddy, says: "It is always a huge wrench to say goodbye to every one of these gorgeous dogs, and we always shed a little tear - of pride, as well as sadness. One of the most important ways of coping has been adding to our gallery of graduates - it means our wards are never forgotten.
Every day we're reminded of each one, and their individual idiosyncrasies - Nita with her gorgeous head tilt, Margo with her incredible eyelashes, Buster's regal posture... And more significantly, especially for our children, we're reminded to take pride in the part we've played in helping these wonderful dogs become the life-changers that they are."
"I have a wall of fame with photos and names of all the dogs that have been through my house. My children know where each dog goes, and this helps them in letting go."
Rachel Robinson, Fosterer.
Get ready for your next guest!
You can decide whether you would like a break between dogs, or, if available, you can have another puppy straight after one leaves. It can also be fun having different dog breeds and getting to know their quirks and personality traits.
"The joy the dogs give me and my family is overwhelming to say the least. It's always lovely to know that you will be getting a new one to get to know and to welcome into your life. Learning all their funny ways and habits is so interesting too."
Angela Johnson, Training from Home volunteer (currently on dog number 28!).
"Feel proud of what you have achieved, rather than sad, when your dog moves on. The best way to get over it is to get another puppy and start all over again!".
Jilly & David Hay, Volunteer Dog Trainers.
The kids will probably handle it better than you.
Many prospective volunteers express concern and worry on behalf of their children as to how they may react when the dog leaves however, from lots of experience, we have found that our volunteers' children actually deal with it better than the adults!
Children are often hugely pragmatic and it's pretty exciting waiting for the next fun new puppy to come home. We also know that volunteer puppy training can become a wonderful and bonding family project:
"Getting my children involved with training a puppy for Hearing Dogs has had so many benefits. They learn to be generous and selfless, they get to develop their empathy for those that will benefit from Peppa's company when she "graduates", and it gives them so much joy and pride. Even though our boys are young, we have all embarked on this journey together as a family, with the amazing aim to get Peppa to be the best assistance dog she can possibly be - knowing that one day she will change somebody's life for the better. This sense of achievement will be with my children forever."
Reyes Nuño, Volunteer Puppy Trainer.
"As a family, we very often remind each other that whichever four-legged hero we have at the time, they are not ours. I think this helps my boys (16 and 18) to accept their role in the dog's training life. What the dogs give and teach us is unmeasurable and we love being a part of an amazing journey. As much as we love and want to keep the hearing dog pups that we welcome into our home, we do not ‘need’ them in the way that their deaf partner does."
Roisin Stewart, Training from Home volunteer.
Distract yourself - take a well-deserved holiday, or give the house a good spring clean!
"We try to tie in a holiday or short break after we have handed in a puppy so there is a distraction. I have learned a lot from each one I've trained and love the moment when it clicks and the dog works out 'oh that's what you want me to do'. It's a tremendous moment when I realise the puppy is ready to move on and go out to do its work."
Sue Hagues, Volunteer Puppy Trainer.
If you’ve suffered a pet bereavement, then saying goodbye to a hearing dog trainee is likely to be easier.
Dog Training Instructor, Ruth Turner, says: "When you have your own pet dog, sadly you still have to say goodbye in the end.
Being a Hearing Dogs volunteer means you can have all the joy of a dog in your life and then send them off young, knowing they are going to do something life-changing. At a certain age, a lot of people don't want to commit to the lifetime of having a dog, so being able to have a dog for around 12 months can really suit. You can go on holiday and take a break as and when you need to. The flexibility can work out really well for families and retirees."
“I would rather be saying goodbye to a young dog who has the rest of their life ahead of them as someone’s hearing dog, than saying a final goodbye, like to our boy Harry who was 15. That was absolutely heart-breaking, I could never go through it again.”
Angela Locke, Volunteer Puppy Trainer.
Our dogs often help in many ways before becoming qualified assistance dogs.
"I feel very privileged to do something I love with such a wonderful charity, and sometimes the puppies help us through difficult times. I lost my husband three years ago, but having a puppy to train and having to get out and about was a very big help. There was no time to mope with an energetic pup around! I know there are other volunteers who have also been through upsetting times. So, it's not only the eventual recipients that benefit, it's us volunteers too."
Margaret Conrad, Fosterer to Ambassador Dog Alfie and previously a Volunteer Puppy Trainer.
You are not alone - there is always support from the Hearing Dogs family.
There's an incredible amount of support and understanding on handover day. Volunteers can specify their preferences as to final hugs and walks, or whether a matter of fact collection makes it easier for them.
Our dog trainers are skilled in supporting volunteers individually through the "moving on" process. Volunteers are also encouraged to connect with others who have been through the same thing, be that in real life or through our social media channels. You will definitely not be alone unless you want to be.
You will be thanked!
Whether it's from the Charity itself or from those who've directly benefitted from your volunteering, your hard work and the love and care you have given to one of our trainees will never go unnoticed:
"Thank you so much for the flowers. They are beautiful. It was a lovely gesture thinking of us. We love volunteering with Hearing Dogs. We have met so many wonderful people since we signed up. We feel we are part of the Hearing Dog family and wish we had been able to become involved much earlier. Our wonderful Wish is almost ready to join her forever partner while we wait for puppy number 6 to arrive. Thank you to everyone at Hearing Dogs for thinking of us."Margaret & Ken Ness, Volunteer Puppy Trainers.
"I would like to thank all you amazing volunteers for EVERYTHING you do to enable deaf people to have their life changing hearing dog. Pippa is my best friend, I feel so safe with her, and do things I would never do without a dog, and it’s because of wonderful people like you who enable this!"
Sue Robertson, partnered with hearing dog Pippa.
One Final Thought...
Volunteer Dog Trainer Joanne Bill summarises: "In short, how can I give the cute puppy away? With immense pride."
Hearing Dog scrapbooks
When your pup starts their training you will be given a link to their individual scrapbook. These scrapbooks look back over a dog’s journey, from birth through to placement and beyond, meaning our volunteers and deaf partners can both add to and have a wonderful digital keepsake of the different milestones of the life of their hearing dog, or the one they have helped train. These are updated quarterly and are continued to be updated once the dog moves on to their next training home or their partnership.
Click below to discover Suki and Wren's scrapbooks, who have recently joined their new partners and started work as fully qualified hearing dogs for deaf people.
Psst! Don’t miss all the latest Hearing Dogs news…
- Updates on how we train our dogs and how they change deaf people’s lives.
- A monthly dose of Cute Corner – a post dedicated to our adorable puppies!
- Behind-the-scenes stories and photos.
- News of upcoming events and ways you can help us create more hearing dogs.
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