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Dog Can Hear, With a Little Aid

October 09, 1986|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

'I thought, "Finally, finally somebody wants to fit a dog." I always knew it could be done.'

--Rudy Stanowski

Covina Hearing Aid Service

When Queenie went deaf several years back, it was a doggone shame.

But thanks to recent advances in canine hearing-aid technology, the 13-year-old mutt is being taught a few new tricks.

Fitted two months ago with an Omni Award hearing aid--the same inside-the-ear device President Reagan wears--Queenie is probably the first Southland dog, and among perhaps only a dozen in the state, to be assisted by one of the new instruments.

"What's good enough for President Reagan is good enough for my dog," said owner Marianne Friedman of Alhambra. "She's more alert. She sleeps less. She's just a more lively dog."

Advances in Technology

Although hearing aids for animals have been technologically feasible for many years, they generally consisted of cumbersome headphone sets and speaker packs that were not considered practical for most household pets.

The new devices, which are molded from plastic to fit completely inside the ear canal, are equipped with miniature microphones and look a little like a prune.

"For the dog, it's like having a fly in the ear," said Friedman, 40, who teaches business courses at Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles and at East Los Angeles College. "I have to work with Queenie about an hour a day to teach her that it will bring the pleasant experience of hearing again."

But while Friedman said the hearing aid has been a success for her dog, the device is still almost unheard of among veterinarians.

"I haven't done any or heard of any being done," said Larry Zarrilli, an Orange County veterinarian recommended by the Southern California Veterinary Medical Assn. for his expertise in auditory problems in animals. "We just haven't had any calls for it."

The canine canal device seems to be a bit more familiar to audiologists, who frequently work with the cashew-shaped human version, but most say that the procedure still is rare for animals.

"The industry hasn't really advertised or pushed it," said Ken Fraser, adding that his North Bay Hearing Aid Center in Larkspur, Calif., has fit two dogs with the device. "The technology works. It all depends on how much value owners place on their pets."

For Friedman, who said she paid $300 for Queenie's hearing aid, the rewards make the price a bargain, even for a dog who is about 91 in people-years.

"I love my dog and would do anything for her," Friedman said of

her 45-pound mixed-breed of shepherd, beagle and terrier. "If she is more aware of her world, it's worth it to me."

Friedman said she started to notice that Queenie was losing her hearing more than two years ago, after the dog began sleeping more and developed a shriller bark.

Normally an extroverted animal, the brown, black and white mutt "gradually went into her own world," Friedman said.

In search of some kind of hearing aid, she took the dog to her veterinarian, who politely told Friedman that she was barking up the wrong tree.

Problems of Age

"He told me it was to be expected of an old dog and that her other senses would compensate for (the hearing loss)," Friedman said. "I wasn't quite satisfied with that."

For the next two years, her hunt for an auditory aid brought her in contact with dozens of veterinarians and hearing specialists, each telling her that little could be done for Queenie.

The search finally ended when she came across a recent copy of "Dogfancy" magazine that featured an article on canine hearing loss.

In the article, she saw the name of Omni Hearing Systems, a Texas-based firm that had several years before constructed the canal device popularized by President Reagan.

"I figured the President would get only the best," Friedman said.

Available in Covina

Omni told Friedman that their devices could be purchased from Covina Hearing Aid Service, which runs hearing aid centers at 20 Montogomery Ward stores in Southern California.

Rudy Stanowski, vice president of the Covina firm and a state-licensed dispenser, placed the sophisticated equipment into a canine-style device.

"I thought, 'Finally, finally somebody wants to fit a dog,' " Stanowski said. "I always knew it could be done."

Stanowski made a house call on Queenie and after a few simple tests determined that she had a severe hearing impairment.

Ear Mold

He then injected a plastic paste into the dog's ear canal that quickly formed to the shape of the ear. Later, he equipped the plastic device with the miniature electronics.

"It was an experiment," Stanowski said. "I wanted people to see that anyone can have a hearing aid if they need it. If Marianne thinks that much of her best friend, wouldn't somebody else do that for theirs?"

Although Queenie felt some initial discomfort, Friedman said that the dog has adjusted to the hearing aid and is quickly relearning the auditory vocabulary she forgot in her two years of silence.

Of course, with her hearing back, Queenie barks a bit more, but Friedman said that's a small price to pay.

"I'm enjoying the bark," she said. "Something that might have been annoying at one time is now a pleasure to me."

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