"I've found a passion and a cause I really believe in"

Posted by Matt Sadler

Volunteer Zoe Simmons says parting with her first pup River wasn’t easy, but seeing the difference he’s making to his young partner’s life, inspires her to carry on.

How did you get involved with Hearing Dogs?

An advert from Hearing Dogs, looking for volunteers, popped up on my Facebook feed. I clicked the link and my fate was sealed!

When my first hearing dog puppy, an eight-week-old cocker spaniel named River, duly arrived I was smitten.

We’ve always had dogs in the family, but I’d never trained one to this extent. I learned so much; how to read a dog’s body language and how much a dog is willing to do for that tasty bit of chicken in your hand!

What do people ask you most often?

How do you give them up at the end? Saying goodbye is without doubt the hardest part of being a volunteer. We knew from the beginning that we were just looking after River until he was ready to go and be a little life-changer.

On the day he left it was tough. I got through it with a lot of love and support from our family and friends and from the Hearing Dogs team. 

What makes it worthwhile?

Even with the heartbreak of River leaving us, every moment was worthwhile. Every new stage he passed I was filled with awe and pride at how amazing dogs really are.

And my journey with River hasn’t ended. I’m incredibly fortunate to have contact with the family of Phoebe – the child with whom River is partnered. I’ve seen the difference River has made to her life. She needs him far more than I do.

Hearing dog River in his burgundy jacket

River became quite a hit on social media. How did that happen?

As soon as I posted my first photo of River he captured people’s hearts. As his training progressed and I shared more about his quirky ways and sweet personality, his followers literally lapped him up.

Dogs enjoy life far more than we do and it becomes contagious. I loved how people waited for his weekly updates. I think I found a way to express maybe a more fun side of myself with it. 

How did having a pup help you through lockdown?

We were lucky to have River a little longer than usual due to lockdown, and what a blessing he was during those tough and confusing times. When we went into the first lockdown everybody was confused, worried and a bit lost.

Through my Instagram I strived hard to keep spirits high and smiles on people’s faces by showing River’s face enjoying life to the full. He made me smile every day and I wanted to share that with everyone. 

What’s your new pup Kes like?

Although Kes and River are both Cocker Spaniels, they feel very different to train. River, although energetic, was very cuddly, very clever and excelled in his sound work.

Kes is also clever and quick to learn, but he has a different energy. He’s incredibly enthusiastic and more playful than cuddly.

Zoe and hearing dog in training Kes

Have lockdowns affected puppy training?

It has been a bit of a challenge! Everything we knew and were comfortable with has changed; our wonderful puppy classes, training trips into town and visits from our Hearing Dogs trainer. But we’ve successfully adapted with the help of technology, video calls for support, virtual puppy classes, email and outdoor puppy classes.

What would you say to someone thinking about volunteering?

I’d say just do it! It is literally the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve found something that’s rewarding, fun, challenging and involves a whole lot of love. I used to be very shy and not very sociable. Now I feel able to talk to people with confidence, because I’ve found a passion and a cause I really believe in.

I’ve also made some wonderful friends. I’ve not met a group of people more on my wavelength. To be honest I couldn’t imagine not doing this anymore.

Phoebe and hearing dog River on a walk together

Phoebe (14) beams when talking about her hearing dog River: “He has changed my life,” she says.

“He has encouraged me to become happier every day and he puts a smile on my face. I don't know what it would be like without him now.”

A gentle, affectionate, and extremely intuitive pup, River grew up to be the perfect hearing dog for young Phoebe who was born profoundly deaf.

Phoebe’s parents Lucy and Nathan say River is a complete joy: “We’ve all fallen head over heels in love with him,” says Nathan.

“Not only does River bring Phoebe so much enjoyment, he’s also been a great help to us – especially when times were challenging over lockdown. We’ll always be grateful to Hearing Dogs and the wonderful Zoe who helped turn River into the little star he is.”

The family keeps in touch with Zoe in appreciation of her work training River.

Zoe says: “It’s wonderful to hear how well they’re getting on and how much they all love him. Seeing the smile Phoebe has because of River makes me feel incredibly proud to have been a part of that. It makes the heartache of parting all worthwhile.”

Meet the pups in our Puppy Training Scheme

These cute puppies are training to become life-changers. Sponsor them from £3 a month and follow their journey as they learn how to help a deaf person.

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About the author

blog hearing dogs

Hi everyone, I'm Matt and I look after the Charity's social media, blog and e-newsletter.

I spend a lot of my day talking about our hearing dog superstars - it's a hard life!

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