DAVIS, Calif. — Ann Middleton had a normal, happy childhood until she was 10. That's when she got spinal meningitis, resulting in immediate, profound deafness.
Middleton grew up in Rancho Santa Fe, where she was encouraged to raise animals on the family's 3 1/2-acre lot. She raised pigs, lambs and steers, went to local schools and learned lip-reading and sign language to cope with her loss of hearing.
She worked for a veterinarian during high school, then earned a bachelor's degree from the University of California-San Diego before being accepted to the UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
"I don't think of myself as a deaf person," she says.
But her life has been greatly affected by her deafness. She can't listen to lectures. She can't take notes because her eyes are on an interpreter, who accompanies her to class. She can't listen to a stethoscope, or review videotapes of lectures without her interpreter.
Two Dramatic Turns
However, her life recently took two dramatic turns. The first came in August, when she underwent surgery for a hearing implant. The following month, she got Oly.
Oly is a boxer-Labrador combination, but his claim to fame is of greater importance than his breed to Middleton--he's a "hearing ear" dog, specially trained to respond to a knock at the door, a ringing telephone or the jangle of an alarm clock.
To alert her to the door or telephone, Oly races from those objects to Middleton and back. To wake her up, Oly leaps on the bed when the alarm sounds.
Kelly Havelock is Oly's trainer; she works with the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She brought Oly to Davis and spent three days working with Ann and her new companion.
Companion and Worker
"A trainer does more than just train the dog," said Havelock. "A big part is training people to make the best use out of the animal as a pet, a companion and special worker."
After a month or so, Middleton says there are a few problems. For one thing, Oly likes to sleep in.
"Many dogs are eager to go in the morning," she said. "They want to get fed."
But Oly is a slugabed who would just as soon get a little extra shut-eye as wake her up. Oly comes alive when they are on their way to class and it's not because she's academically inclined.
"She loves attention from the people in class," Middleton said.
The hearing dog program has been in operation for seven years, and has placed more than 250 otherwise stray dogs with hearing-impaired individuals.