THEY say a dog is man’s best friend.
But this dog, Ember, is a young man’s best friend.
Ember, who is three years old, is a hearing dog.
Her role is to help 11-year-old Sam Russell, from Lytham, and his family, with daily tasks.
Sam took part in a pilot project and a ground-breaking study by charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, which showed how the lives of deaf children can be profoundly improved by having a hearing dog.
And now Ember, a black labrador/retriever cross has become part of the family, having been with them for 14 months.
She is loved by all the family – including Sam’s fellow triplets Edward and Isabelle.
Ember helps Sam with tasks like getting up in the morning, as he cannot hear the alarm clock, with cooking because he cannot hear the oven timer, she will go and fetch him when his mum wants him, and if a smoke alarm was to go off, she would alert Sam to the danger.
Sam, who goes to St Peter’s School in Lytham, is not profoundly deaf, but is severely deaf, and tends to speak at home, as well as signing.
Mum Jane said having Ember had made a huge difference to the family, mainly in boosting Sam’s confidence.
She said: “Ember is wonderful, she is a well-mannered dog and very laidback, great with children, toddlers and babies.
“The biggest difference she has made is to Sam’s confidence. He is now quite happy to talk to unfamiliar adults and young people he doesn’t know.
“People who like dogs will just come over and chat to him, and he is always happy to tell them about Ember.
“It’s also security too. Sam wears hearing aids, but when he goes to bed at night of course he takes them out.
“He then can’t hear anything – all those little background noises like the washing machine, the TV etc, that make you feel safe, so when he was younger he used to get up in the night.
“Since getting Ember, he sleeps straight through, because he feels safe.
“One thing he worried about was the smoke alarm – he wouldn’t hear it of course.
“But with Ember, Sam knows if the smoke alarm goes off, she is trained to nudge him and then lie down the floor – that’s the signal. The really clever thing is, if it’s at night, she knows she needs to pull the duvet off him first, before nudging him and lying down. She helps him get up in the morning by pulling the duvet off him when the alarm clock goes off.
“She helps with his independence – if he is upstairs and I want to ask him a question like ‘what do you want for tea?’, Ember is trained to take a note to him.
“Having Ember has also helped Sam learn about responsibility – looking after her, grooming and feeding her.”
Sam and his family are so impressed by the difference hearing dogs can make, they hope to hold a fundraising event in the summer for the charity.
After the study found hearing dogs could help families, the charity has plans to start providing hearing dogs to children right across the UK.
Michele Jennings, chief executive at Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, said: “The families we have worked with are reporting significant improvement in their levels of concern about their child’s wellbeing and positive changes, not only to the child’s life but with the wider family as well.
“The study is so clear in its positive findings that as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations we are delighted to announce we are extending our life-changing service for adults to now include children and we hope to make a significant difference to many young lives well into the future.”