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It's Really a Dog's Life When It Can't Hear

December 09, 1987|DANA BEYERLE | United Press International

A hearing expert at Auburn University in Alabama has adapted human technology to dogs and is fitting the canines with hearing aids.

Jumping, a 12-year-old mixed breed owned by April Agee of Litchfield, Conn., has a hearing aid.

Jump, as the mixed German shepherd and husky is called, is a sort of guinea pig in the new field for veterinarian and human audiology researchers at Auburn and Texas A&M. And several hearing aids have been delivered to Tufts University in Massachusetts for independent research.

"Most vets occasionally get inquiries from clients who want to know what to do about household pets who lose their hearing," said Dr. Arvil Marshall, an assistant professor at Auburn's veterinary college who specializes in anatomy. "Some dogs are very dear to them and they perceive that their quality of life is dropping."

The inventor of the hearing aid for dogs, Curtis Smith, says the idea grew from a casual conversation.

"I took my dog to my vet to get shots, and since my business is audiology, I asked him do you ever have people who bring dogs in here with hearing problems,"said Smith, an audiologist in the communication disorder school at Auburn.

"He said they do but there wasn't anything you can do to treat it,"Smith said. "I told him I believe I can do something, so I got to work on it and I'm down to the third generation, so to speak, of hearing aids for dogs."

The aids are made by Unitron in Port Huron, Mich., said Smith.

Jump was chosen for an aid because of her availability and good health, which is important, said Sandra Clark-Lewis, who is Smith's colleague at Auburn and Agee's cousin.

Jump was fitted with the hearing aid at Texas A&M and had to be trained to accept it. The hearing aid is a device made for humans but wrapped with foam rubber instead of the molded plastic used in human ear canals. The foam rubber expands in the hearing canal to hold the aid in place.

The hearing test is about $100 and the aids cost $300-$500.

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