CEDAR RAPIDS — Lorette Vanourny and Sherry Steine Ross launched Deafinitely Dogs a year ago for the purpose of training hearing dogs for the deaf or hard of hearing as well as diabetic alert dogs.
A hearing dog can alert its owner to common household sounds like smoke alarms, babies crying, oven or dryer timers going off, or somebody calling their name.
Diabetic alert dogs are trained by exposure to scent.
“Our dogs will encounter 1,000 saliva scents during their training,” Vanourny said. “We receive samples of saliva from diabetic volunteers — typically Type I patients.”
Steine Ross said the dogs are trained to notify 15 to 30 minutes before the diabetic patient’s blood sugar has dropped too low.
“The dog will wake the person out of a sleep by licking them or pawing at them,” Ross said. “It is especially helpful with children because they are not as good at noticing that they are low in the middle of the night.”
Larger diabetic dogs are trained to retrieve diabetic kits for their companion.
Deafinitely Dogs, a non-profit organization, provides dogs to qualifying applicants at no cost. Grants, corporate sponsors, and donations fund the operation.
Having healthy and successful dogs is crucial to the objective of Deafinitely Dogs.
“Approximately 30 percent of all service dogs fail,” Vanourny explained. Failure can come from health issues such as hip or eye problems.
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“That’s a huge number to me when we put our blood, sweat and tears into a prospective service dog,” she explained. “We check them at 18 months, but we’ve put a good year and a half into the process before we know if the dog is going to make the grade for our program.”
The breeds of choice for the program are Brittanys, standard poodles and golden retrievers. Deafinitely Dogs oversees the breeding process for the program.
Vanourny said all dogs will have to be OFA-certified (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) as well as CERF-certified (Canine Eye Registry Foundation) for eye health.
“We want to stack the odds that these dogs, once placed with a partner, will have the longest and healthiest working life possible.”
“What we need are puppy raisers,” Steine Ross added. “We need them to love, care for, socialize and exercise our puppies for four to 18 months. Those puppies then come back to us for their advanced training where we prepare them for placement in the homes of our qualifying applicants.”
Requirements and guidelines for those who wish to be a volunteer puppy raiser or how to apply for a dog can be found on the Deafinitely Dogs website or by calling the organization’s office.
AT A GLANCE
Co-Founders: Lorette Vanourny and Sherry Steine Ross
Organization: Deafinitely Dogs
Address: 2121 N Towne LN NE, Cedar Rapids, IA
Phone: (319) 930-DOGS (3647)
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