Volunteer of the Month - September 2023 - Karen Hardcastle
Posted by Victoria Leedham
Karen Hardcastle is the type of volunteer who can turn a puppy class into a party! She’s sociable, bubbly, good fun and universally well liked for her good humour and cracking personality. It’s easy to see that she was a gift to the NHS, before joining Hearing Dogs for Deaf People in early retirement.
"She’s awesome!” says Amie North, Yorkshire Hub Area Manager. “There’s been many a time that puppy classes have descended into near hysteria we’ve been laughing so much. Karen is such an asset to the group – she’s game for anything, like dressing up and acting out scenarios that help train our puppies to become well-rounded assistance dogs.
I remember one of the first times we worked together, Jessie - her young trainee at the time - toddled off. I suggested Karen hide from view and make a fun noise to catch Jessie’s attention. Karen whooped! It’s one of the best recalls I’ve ever heard, and Karen’s been giving big whoops to all her trainees since! She really is great.”
Karen is known for being a one-breed woman, however it was Amie that first suggested and almost twisted Karen’s arm that she might like to train a Miniature Poodle! Ten years later and it’s been Poodles all the way: Jessie, Peach, Sonny, Ziggy and current trainee Merlin.
Volunteer Rosemary Edginton looks after Teaka, Jessie’s mum: “Karen is such a special person, we’ve been friends from the word go. Jessie was from Teaka’s first litter of puppies, so it meant a lot to me that she instantly understood how I felt and kept in touch with progress and updates, which she continued to do with Sonny and Ziggy who were also born in my home.
Her training of Jessie was second-to-none, she welcomed Sonny back recently when there was a change to his partnership, and Ziggy is now an Ambassador Dog with her daughter (and staff member) Anneka. I couldn’t be prouder of these outcomes, and I thank Hearing Dogs for bringing us together. As well as having a wonderful sense of humour, Karen is hugely empathetic – our friendship is one that I treasure.”
Volunteer June Scatchard agrees with these sentiments: “Karen is a popular member of the Yorkshire team of Hearing Dogs staff and volunteers. She is well known for her love of the Poodles she has trained, and for keeping in touch with the breeders of those pups.
Karen is involved in all aspects of Hearing Dogs life, from puppy classes and promotional events, to fundraising and social gatherings, where she warmly greets and gets to know people from across the whole Charity.
She is a good communicator, compassionate and caring - always willing to lend a hand in times of need.”
June is right. Karen gives her time generously, and is happy to get involved in anything and everything to support the Charity and fellow volunteers. She’s a go-to ‘buddy volunteer’, helps out with the interview procedure for new staff, has been integral to our Volunteer Fairs at the Beatrice Wright Centre, got behind the Great North Run when Anneka and her partner Connor ran for Hearing Dogs, is consistently enthusiastic about new ventures such as Pawtrails and the Dog Skilz Club, and - along with husband Russ and other local volunteers - set up and hosted a stall to promote Hearing Dogs at North Duffield Summer Fair where they live.
As if that wasn’t enough hard work from the Hardcastles, Karen is also active on social media with a massive following for Merlin! In fact, she’s as popular on Facebook as she is in real life, her positive posts and pictures are utterly charming, such as her visit to Pets at Home in Clifton Moor, York, to support this year’s Summer of Fundraising campaign.
Hayley Towell, Dog Training Instructor, knows Karen well: “Alongside her outgoing personality, Karen is highly attuned to others and has a sensitive side.
Unfortunately, her current trainee Merlin has several health issues, but she is still soldiering through, been wonderful in getting him to his many veterinary appointments and staying upbeat. I have recently buddied her up with a new volunteer who is in a similar position, and she has been brilliant. Karen has already put them at ease and made them feel a lot better about everything in only the first catch up!”
Karen was a key contributor to our Saying Goodbye blog, a resource that aims to alleviate the number one volunteer concern of “But how do you give them back?”. She would be the first to admit that she’s an emotional wreck when it’s time for a puppy to move on to the next stage of its career, however she equally has the bravery to write about it and speak on camera to hopefully allay the worries of others by sharing her experiences.
Emily Whiting, Operations Training Resource Developer, explains: “A while ago Karen offered to take part in any filming and articles to show what volunteers do, encourage others to come forward to volunteer, or to help prepare existing volunteers for the moving on process.
It was a really kind offer, as I know she finds it emotional to talk about, but really wanted to help others through doing so.”
Karen was recently candid about her own motivations for volunteering in a truly beautiful social media post, that we know she won’t mind us sharing below. Her words speak volumes of her commitment to helping others, kind-heartedness and family values. We are blessed that Karen joined Hearing Dogs and hope that another decade of volunteering is unfolding – our Yorkshire community certainly wouldn’t be the same without her.
As this is Deaf Awareness Week I would like to acknowledge my lovely mum (pictured below with Sonny) who has been deaf since childhood. She has had multiple operations on her ears over the years and now has a BAHA hearing aid. When she removes this at night, she hears nothing.
She doesn't have a hearing dog herself but it's because of her I got involved with this amazing charity and became a volunteer. I've witnessed her struggles and the lack of understanding from people about her deafness and I wanted to do something to help improve a deaf person's life.
Through the dogs I have trained my mum has gained the confidence to speak up and admit freely to people about her deafness. Her talking point is always about Hearing Dogs. These dogs help people in so many ways often without us realising it.
I admire my mum so much; she never complains and is always cheerful. So, to all deaf people out there, may understanding through deaf awareness continue to improve for you all.
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