Daisy's Daring Rescue: A Hearing Dog Steers a Deaf Woman Clear of Danger

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All in a Day's Work

Four years later, Daisy is still happily oblivious to the profound role she plays in Dawn's life. "She's forever present in my day by letting me know my TDD [telecommunication device for the deaf] is ringing, say, or my microwave is going off." Daisy also keeps loneliness at bay. "It's easy to get isolated when you can't hear and aren't very mobile, but Daisy does not allow that," says Dawn, who lives near Palm Springs, in Calimesa, California. "She'll Velcro herself to me and cheer me up." Dawn walks around the block with Vince and Daisy once a day wearing a full leg brace.

Their rewarding bond comes after years of hardship for Dawn. In 1982, the dizzy spells and hearing loss that she had suffered since childhood worsened, and doctors diagnosed her with Meniere's disease, an inner-ear disorder. Twenty-two years old and a new mother, Dawn at first managed her symptoms. But despite her doctor's best efforts to ease them (there's no cure for the disorder), her condition worsened.

By December 2000 severe vertigo attacks struck frequently. Dawn was forced to lie in bed -- sometimes for an entire week -- fighting nausea while the room seemed to spin. "Dawn is at the severe end of the spectrum of this disorder," says Olivia A. Galvan, MD, a family-practice physician from Corona, California, who treats Dawn. "When she's having a severe attack, she gets nauseous, sweaty, and pale until the attack peaks and eventually subsides."

Dawn also had trouble keeping her balance. "Falling became a concern and I couldn't do the things I'd always loved, like spending the day at the mall or walking through the park," she says. Worst of all, her world had gone silent. "That was devastating, knowing I'd never hear the leaves rustle or my husband say, 'I love you' again." Work was out of the question.

Depressed and angry, Dawn withdrew, staying home alone while Vince worked and her daughter, Errin, went to school. "It was easier than trying to explain myself," she says. Getting a wheelchair helped, but the solitude was brutal.

Intrigued by an acquaintance's guide dog, she began researching online and found a Web site for the San Francisco SPCA Hearing Dog Program. Like the many other hearing-dog programs around the country, the San Francisco SPCA's teaches dogs basic obedience commands (both voice and sign language, according to the recipient's needs) and sounds. The dogs are rescued from animal shelters, as was Daisy. "At first, 'sound work' -- learning to respond to fire alarms, microwave timers, alarm clocks, and phones -- is a fun game for the dogs," says D. Glenn Martyn, program director. "Eventually dogs observe that their new guardians don't react to sounds. That's when they begin to truly alert the person to significant sounds in the environment. No longer is it just a game."

Dawn's first night with Daisy set the tone. Exhausted from a day of training classes, she decided to soak off her stress in a hot bath. "Next thing I know, here comes Daisy in a full sprint right into the tub with me," says Dawn. "Water and soap flew everywhere! I knew right away that we were going to get along."

All Daisy asks for in return is love -- and the occasional dog treat, which is what she got that day in Las Vegas. "She had just saved my life," says Dawn, "and she's sitting there looking at me innocently like, 'I have no idea why I'm getting all these hugs and cookies -- but I love them both!'"

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, October 2006.


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