Volunteer of the Month - April 2020 - Zoe Simmons

Posted by Victoria Leedham

Volunteer Dog Trainer Zoe Simmons has long been on the radar for our Volunteer of the Month award. When she single-handedly set our volunteers’ Facebook group on fire last Thursday we knew that this was most definitely her month!

Isabelle Cottle in the Volunteering Team explains: “I think many people on the VolTeamHDogs Facebook group wait for Zoe’s wonderful daily updates, but it was her recent ‘Throwback Thursday’ post of puppy River that really set things alight. It generated over 350 responses with other people sharing their own adorable puppy throwback pictures, a record for our page!”

Zoe is responsible for the top three posts on this Facebook group this month, a fact that certainly hasn’t escaped the notice of Social Media Executive, Matt Sadler:

“I can’t put into words just how much Zoe has helped with our social media and I don’t think she quite knows just how important a role she plays at Hearing Dogs.

Zoe takes the most amazing photos and videos, which have enabled us to share River’s hearing dog training with thousands of people. He has become a social media celebrity with his own fan club, and brightens up everyone’s day, and that is all thanks to Zoe.

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I remember at the Christmas Market hearing lots of people say ‘Look who it is’, so I thought we must have had a special celebrity guest. Well, it turned out we did as it was River walking through and everyone wanted to go and say hello, even though they had never met him before.

Zoe is such a positive person and has become a hugely influential member of our volunteers’ Facebook group, sharing a little happiness every day during these uncertain times.

She is one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met and does everything she can to promote the Charity.

If ever we need social media content, a feature in Favour magazine, a dog for a photoshoot, then Zoe is always willing to help us.”

For last year’s Christmas Gift Guide photoshoot Zoe brought River along to model as Alicia Shepherd, Production Manager, recalls: “It was a hot, sunny day and the shoot went on longer than expected, but as usual Zoe was completely accommodating, patient and a pleasure to work with. We got some great shots of River, one of which was used as a full page in the Guide. I really don’t think we would have achieved such great shots if she hadn’t trained River so well.”

Our Trusts & Major Giving Team are also grateful to Zoe. Laura Matthews says: “River is one of the special puppies that are sponsored and named by a supporter that has made a large donation to Hearing Dogs. It can be a daunting task for the volunteer who looks after a sponsored puppy as we require lots of photos, information and updates in order to report back to the generous funder. Zoe has taken all of this in her stride and provides the most amazing content.”

Jo Wengler confirms this sentiment: “Zoe’s amazing photography and stories of the photogenic and handsome River have been a real asset for our reporting, enabling us to send brilliant images and anecdotes to the foundation that are involved with funding his training.”

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Whilst being a social media star, Zoe never forgets the day job and is not only entirely dedicated to River’s training to become a working hearing dog, but also very successful at it. Dog Trainer, Heather Howard, is appreciative:

“River is the first hearing dog Zoe has trained, but you would never have guessed she hasn't done this before! She has the most incredible natural ability to read and work with dogs which, in my opinion, cannot be taught to the level that Zoe exhibits. Working with Zoe is just like working with a fellow trainer which makes all my visits and trips with this pair an absolute delight.

Zoe has done all the training with River, taking him right through to his Hearing Dog Accreditation and beyond what I would ever expect a volunteer to do. River will become a child’s hearing dog which means he needs to have a special kind of personality that Zoe and her family (Sienna, Mya, Luca, Omar and Ash) have nurtured. In terms of the training Zoe has particularly involved Sienna and Mya because River is eventually going to work for a deaf girl. He now does all the soundwork for them, as well as sleep in their room, and have his health checks and grooming from the girls.

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The moment which blew me away the most during my time working with Zoe is when she taught River what we term as 'the purse'. This is where the dog carries a pencil case or purse with a little note pad and pen in it so that family members can communicate with their deaf child without having to go anywhere. It is hard to teach as the dog has to not only carry a pencil case, they have to find the person, drop it and then take it back to the first person again. Quite a feat! I sent Zoe a short clip of how to clicker train a dog just to 'hold' something. The next time I went to visit, less than 2 weeks later, he was doing the full routine! To be honest, I think she is doing me out of a job!

Zoe throws herself fully into everything at Hearing Dogs which includes our puppy classes and social occasions. I don't think Zoe and River have ever missed a single event. She always comes armed with tasty party snacks, for humans and dogs alike. The children come along if they are free and has even recruited her mother as a volunteer!

My job is made an absolute pleasure by being able to spend my days with all my volunteers who are an amazing, dedicated and wonderful group of people. The last two years have been made extra special by working with and getting to know Zoe and her family.”

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It’s no surprise that Zoe and River are actively involved in the current 2.6 Challenge which aims to help charities, including Hearing Dogs, compensate for the cancellation of fundraising events like the London Marathon due to the Coronavirus outbreak. They have fundraised themselves, gamely got involved with challenges set by others and of course shared bright and cheerful social media content along the way.

Matt concludes: “Zoe often talks about how Hearing Dogs has helped her, but the truth is she has helped the Charity far more than she could ever realise.”

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About the author

Victoria Leedham

Hello, I’m Victoria and Head of Volunteering at Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. It’s my privilege to celebrate and share stories about our wonderful volunteer family.

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