Volunteers of the Month - May 2022 - Ken & Margaret Ness

Posted by Victoria Leedham

In 2015 Ken and Margaret Ness kindly came along to our puppy training scheme launch event at Arley Hall in Cheshire to find out more about volunteering. One year later they were back with their first hearing dog trainee, Kennedy (who became the first dog from Cheshire to join their forever partnership), and now seven years later they are just embarking on training puppy number six, their sixth black Labrador, Crumble! 

In their own words: “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.” 

The time since that memorable meeting at Arley has flown by. Not only have Ken and Margaret dedicated their home and a considerable amount of their lives to training these puppies to become qualified working assistance dogs for deaf people, but also attended numerous fundraising and promotional events, given countless talks to local groups, helped with recruitment activity to attract new volunteers and warmly supported newcomers thereafter.

In fact, it would be an injustice not to include their candid and helpful reflections about Volunteer Puppy Training below for anyone that is thinking of following in their footsteps.

Dog Training Instructor Ruth Turner says: “Ken and Margaret contribute hugely to the Charity. They attend as many local fundraising events that they can, Ken does numerous speaker engagements each year and they have raised six puppies who have successfully gone on to be hearing dogs. Whilst we’ve had some good debate along the way, they are definitely two of my most dedicated volunteers and I would like to say how much I admire how they have embraced different ways of thinking and training methods with such excellent and consistent results.

Their last dog, Wish, arrived just as we entered into first lockdown two years ago. It was unsettling times for everyone and Wish is a sensitive girl, so it was admirable how Margaret and Ken kept calm and adapted what had gone before to give her the very best opportunities possible given the restrictions of the time.

Thanks to their expertise, resilience, and a huge amount of commitment to preparing Wish for her life ahead, she passed her assessments with flying colours and has been placed with her deaf partner in Scotland this month who is ‘over the moon’”.

Willow Stewart, Quality Assurance Evaluator continues: “I have been lucky enough to cross paths with Ken and Margaret many times throughout their volunteer journey with Hearing Dogs. I initially met them when their very first dog Kennedy came into training at the Beatrice Wright Centre and have since assessed two of their dogs, including latest graduate Wish.

Ken and Margaret are truly a pleasure to work with. They always put a smile on your face and are very dedicated to their dogs in training and the charity. It has been lovely to watch them grow, learning new skills themselves and passing their expertise onto new volunteers. I always look forward to meeting them at events for a catch up and hearing all about their latest trainee.”

Gaynor Cavanagh, Community Fundraising Manager, agrees: “Ken and Margaret are absolute stalwarts of our North West community who live and breathe Hearing Dogs. They are both wonderful fundraising volunteers, and nothing is ever too much trouble.

Ken is a regular volunteer speaker and Margaret takes along whichever pup they are training at the time. I always get really excellent feedback from their visits as they are the perfect blend of entertaining and informative. Ken puts a lot of effort into preparing them and they even have their own display board which they made to take with them.”

Ken and Margaret are also a great support to activities undertaken by our Cheshire Fundraising Branch, helping with events such as the annual Arley Walk and local bucket collections such as the Crewe Alexandra home match a few years back. Everyone is so looking forward to meeting their latest pup Crumble who is certainly in safe hands with this exemplary and cherished volunteer couple.



Ken & Margaret Ness, volunteers in Cheshire East and pictured above with puppy Wish,

kindly answered the following set of questions about their experience as volunteer puppy trainers.


What is your favourite thing about volunteering as a puppy trainer?

It has given us the opportunity to have a dog in our lives again providing us with a shared interest in our retirement. We have met so many amazing people and have the satisfaction of knowing that we are part of an excellent organisation which brings happiness, confidence and independence to deaf people.

Why did you start volunteering?

We had been thinking of getting our own dog and went along to a Hearing Dogs presentation by Victoria Leedham and Michelle Taylor when they were setting up a new group in Cheshire. We liked the idea of working with a hearing dog puppy and immediately expressed an interest in joining Michelle’s group.

What is the experience as a puppy trainer like?

We have trained 5 black Labrador puppies so far. Each puppy has had its own distinctive character (just like children). The training is sometimes hard but very interesting and there is a strong support network to help and guide you every step of the way. We are so proud when a puppy is finally placed with their deaf partner.  

Tell us about your latest trainees.

Wish was quite a character and quite headstrong at times, testing our ability as trainers but she has made excellent progress. She is very affectionate and will be a brilliant hearing dog to her forever partner.  

The question we are always asked is “How can you let them go?”. They go because they are not ours to keep and we know that they will make a big difference to someone’s life. Through the puppy we feel that we are also part of this journey, and we are relishing starting it all again with black Labrador number 6, called Crumble.

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About the author

Victoria Leedham

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

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