A tiny Chihuahua that acts as a hearing dog for his severely deaf owner in Merthyr Tydfil has been named Hearing Dog of the Month for April by the Charity that trained him.
The little hero, ironically called Tiger, was nine months old when he was donated to Hearing Dogs by his owner. As he had lived in a home and was not a puppy, he progressed into the advanced soundwork training very quickly and was placed with his first deaf recipient. Unfortunately after a few years, Tiger’s owner passed away and he returned to Hearing Dogs to be rematched, after which he was partnered with Carol Hopkins in 2003.
Tiger has now been with Carol for almost six years and has made a huge difference to her life. Despite being one of the smallest hearing dogs to be trained, his huge personality and zest for work has been a real help to Carol, who suffers from poor health. Carol, who had been a music teacher, lost her hearing very suddenly, and just as she was coming to terms with that shock, she was struck down with a severe illness which resulted in her being permanently confined to a wheelchair. This left her feeling extremely depressed and knocked her confidence to the point that she never thought she would be the same person again. Tiger changed all this, and restored Carol’s confidence in herself as well as in human nature.
One of Tiger’s unique characteristics is the fact that he is missing a few teeth which sometimes means his tongue sticks out of his mouth. This endearing feature attracts people to him like a magnet, especially children, and he loves the attention! Carol says: “We are always greeted with such warm welcomes, and wherever we go everyone is so pleased to see Tiger.” Having Tiger as her constant companion has meant that Carol feels confident enough to go out and about, and she now regularly attends operas and concerts. Tiger, of course, accompanies her everywhere, and this has made Carol feel so much better about herself.
As Carol has limited mobility, Tiger has had to be trained to alert her to the household sounds while she is in the wheelchair, and he does this with enthusiasm. However, he has also acted above and beyond the call of duty, quite possibly saving Carol’s life. When Carol lies down, she sometimes suffers a reflux problem which means she can vomit and choke, and this often happens when she is asleep. Not long after Tiger went to live with Carol, she had one of these episodes in her sleep. She woke suddenly to find Tiger scrabbling frantically at her face and licking her constantly to wake her up. Carol is in no doubt that had he not been there she could have choked to death.
On another occasion, Carol had an accident with her electric wheelchair and she fell out bringing the chair down on top of her. Tiger instantly sensed the danger and ran out to the garden to alert Marion, Carol’s carer. Marion put a blanket over Carol to keep her warm until the paramedics arrived, but Tiger’s caring nature took over. He wanted to make sure that Carol was all right, so he lay on the blanket and comforted her until help arrived. The paramedics had to gently lift him off as he wanted to stay as close to Carol as possible, and was a real comfort to her.
Carol sums up her feelings for her tiny companion. “I’m very proud and privileged to have Tiger. He is a little bundle of fluff who has changed my life. I think the world of Tiger and couldn’t imagine life without him. If I didn’t have Tiger with me, I really don’t think I would have the will to live. He is a real star.”
Click here to find out more about the Hearing Dogs.