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 The three lives of two very special dogs

They say cats have nine lives. Collie-cross pup Gimili and mongrel Rizzo are hot on the tail of this old saying, with three new lives in just one year – from rescue pups to trainee hearing dogs, and now very promising agility dogs!

It is almost one year to the day since the lives of Gimili and Rizzo dramatically changed for the first time. Both pups were resident in rescue centres in the north of England because their owners could no longer look after them. Although he is not a fully working Collie, Gimili was given to the Border Collie Trust of Great Britain, Staffordshire at five months old and mongrel Rizzo celebrated her first birthday as a resident of Manchester Dogs’ Home.

Rizzo was spotted by Hearing Dogs’ assessor Karyn Brown in July 2003 on one of her routine visits to Manchester Dogs’ Home in her quest to find new recruits for training as hearing dogs. In the same month, The Border Collie Trust of Great Britain contacted the Charity to offer Gimili as a potential new recruit.

Both pups displayed all the right attributes to become hearing dog trainees with their outgoing, friendly temperaments and interest in sounds. They were adopted into Hearing Dogs’ training scheme and were taken to the Charity’s national training centre near Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire.

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People is the only registered charity in the UK that selects and trains dogs, mostly from rescue centres or similar backgrounds, to alert deaf people to important household sounds such as the doorbell, telephone and alarm clock as well as danger signals including the smoke alarm.

About Hearing Dogs for Deaf People

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People is a registered charity that selects and trains dogs to respond to specific sounds.  Hearing dogs alert deaf people by touch, using a paw to gain attention and then lead them back to the sound source.  For sounds such as the smoke alarm and fire alarm the dogs will lay down to indicate danger.

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People provides a national service and no charge is made to recipients.  Seventy four per cent of all hearing dogs adopted into the scheme are either rescued or unwanted and since its inception in 1982, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People has placed over 1,000 hearing dogs.  The Charity has two centres operating in the UK – Buckinghamshire and North Yorkshire.

Gimili and Rizzo embarked on the first stages of their training, but unfortunately after a few months it became apparent that both dogs would be better suited to a different life and the Charity’s dedicated re-homing officer Sheila Foreman set about finding them the perfect homes.

Sheila says: 'Although Gimili and Rizzo initially displayed all the right qualities for training, it later became clear that they were far too active to become working assistance dogs. They could not sit still for five minutes!... and being able to sit or lie down quietly when in public places, such as restaurants, is a vital attribute of any assistance dog. They needed experienced handlers and a very active lifestyle where they would receive lots of stimulation and exercise. Homes with agility enthusiasts were the ideal solution.'

Gimili was re-homed to Lynn Parker, an agility competitor from Bognor Regis in West Sussex. He was re-named Jimmy and is the third edition to the Parker’s family of rescue dogs, with German Shepherd Buster and Border Collie Jessie already re-homed from Battersea Dogs’ Home.

'I was looking for a new mini size dog on the website when I saw the Hearing Dogs for Deaf People advert desperately trying to find an agility home for Jimmy. I immediately telephoned the Charity and organised to meet him. It was love at first sight and I took Jimmy away as my new agility hopeful.'

After three weeks settling down to life together, Lynn began Jimmy’s training and soon realised that he was something very special.

'After a period of initial training I took Jimmy and my other dogs for a week’s training at Lower Eastcot Agility Centre in Dartmoor, owned by Mick and Gill Shettle. By the end of the week, we all watched on in amazement as Jimmy completed courses as though he had been doing it for years!

 'We now go for weekly agility training with Kathryn Tasker in Guildford. He absolutely loves his agility. He can’t wait to get out of the car to get started when we arrive at Kathryn’s training club at Merrist Wood College, and I am looking forward to competing with him very soon.

'I am over the moon with Jimmy. He is a fantastic dog and I have been totally inspired by him. He is a real live-wire with a huge personality and lives life to the full. He is also very affectionate and we always enjoy a cuddle at the end of the day – with Buster and Jessie, too!

'If I was ever looking for another agility dog, without a shadow of doubt I would contact Hearing Dogs to see if they had any trainees in need of a new career and home.'

Rizzo was re-homed to agility competitor Sarah Palmer from Thirsk, Yorkshire. Rizzo settled in well to Sarah’s home with her other six agility dogs, five of which are also from rescue centres.

'I saw a re-homing poster for Rizzo at the Dashing Dogs agility competition back in April. As soon as I saw her, I knew she was supposed to be mine – we were just meant for each other.  Hearing Dogs is such a worthwhile cause, and the training standards are incredibly high. So, although I knew she hadn’t quite made the grade as a hearing dog, I knew she would be a friendly dog and that her obedience would be of a high standard. I also felt I was doing my bit to support the Charity.'

'She has fitted in perfectly with my six other Border Collies and has taken to agility like a duck to water. She picks up each part of her training very quickly and is as bright as a button. She has beautiful contacts, is very fast and jumps like the wind. Although she is a Midi size dog, she has no trouble jumping full height!  For now we are concentrating on Midi, and I have very high hopes for our future competing together.'

Sarah and Rizzo, whose Kennel Club name is The Black Velveteer, will be taking part in their first serious competition during Northern Agility Week in August, and hope to progress to Super Dogs and on to the qualifiers for next years’ Crufts and Olympia.

Jimmy’s and Rizzo’s stories really are ‘tails’ of rags to riches and illustrate how the lives of unwanted puppies and young dogs can be transformed. If you think you could offer a change of career to a hearing dog recruit that didn’t quite make the grade, then contact Sheila Foreman on tel. 01844-348122 or email

For more information about the work of the Charity visit  

From Barbara Bird
I have just been reading about the two 'failed' Hearing Dogs who are making good in Agility. I wondered if you would like to hear about another 'Qualified' Hearing Dog who is also going great guns at Agility?

I have a four year old X Jack Russell/Border Terrier who, along with her sister, was rescued by NCDL in Wales when she was a puppy. She has been with me for three years now and was Hearing Dogs 'Rescue Dog of the Year' in 2003. Her name is Ceri and she is wonderful. (10/09/04)


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