Hearing ear dog helps deaf teacher, students build confidence in the classroom
Published Friday, February 26, 2016 4:31PM CST
Last Updated Friday, February 26, 2016 6:43PM CST
A new service dog on the job, Jem is working hard for her handler and having a big impact on everyone she meets.
The curly-haired standard poodle is trained to keep an ear out for certain sounds as part of her duties to Cindy Neil, who lives with profound hearing loss.
"When somebody was knocking on the door or if the phone was ringing or the alarm clock going off," said Neil.
Neil is a teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing for the St. James-Assiniboia School Division. In class, Jem is right beside her, ready to help when students call.
But Jem’s best work comes naturally, from the dog’s ability to instantly connect with the students who also live with hearing loss.
"She knows when we arrive at school, where to find certain students and she's happy to see them,” said Neil. “It's just such a positive, loving, type of thing you know? It's beautiful."
That connection has sparked a change in attitude and confidence for many of the students.
For months, fifth grade student Ater Makuer refused to wear his hearing aids.
"Because I was shy and nervous that people would make fun of me,” Makuer said.
Neil remembers the young boy being so resistant to using the aids, he would tear up.
Then, Jem came along.
Within minutes of meeting the poodle, Makuer put his hearing aids in and starting strutting through the halls with confidence.
"Now it's going to be cool. People are going to like the dog and they are going to know that I wear hearing aids and it's going to be like, ‘oh that's really cool,’" said Makuer.
Neil and Jem work with dozens of deaf students across the division, who love to come and practice with Jem to keep the service dog’s skills fresh.
"I just knock a bunch of times on the door until she picks it up," said Angelo Amarila, an eighth-grade student.
Neil said Jem has become an advocate for her students by being a starting point for conversation about hearing loss.
There are eight Lions Foundation hearing ear dogs, like Jem, in Manitoba.
Jem was funded by the Melita Lions Club, who fundraised for four years to cover her training costs.