Trained Service Dog Lends An Ear To Newport Resident With Severe Hearing Loss

May 6, 2020

When Newport Beach resident Lisa Westerhout goes out in public, there’s only one thing that sets her apart from the denizens around her — a 3-year-old Golden/Labrador Retriever mix named Arrow, who sports a blue vest emblazoned with a gold logo.

Canine Companions for Independence, it reads.

It’s not a fashion statement so much as an indication to the general public that the dog, while adorable, is performing an important job.

Arrow was raised and trained from puppyhood by the Santa Rosa nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence and is one of 268 active hearing service dogs capable of alerting a deaf person to important sounds in their environment, from a crying baby to a smoke alarm to the ring of a cell phone.

His set of capabilities is a lifeline to Westerhout, 48, whose hearing loss began when she was in the third grade and got progressively worse until she was almost totally deaf.

“If I were to stand next to a jet engine, I would barely hear it,” she said of her natural hearing.

Although she’s been fitted with high-powered hearing aids and a cochlear implant — which bypasses a damaged ear to send signals directly to the hearing center of the brain — the devices can be cumbersome and difficult to sleep in. Arrow lets Westerhout be free of that, and more.

He’ll nudge her if he hears one of her children call out her name from downstairs, or if her cell phone is on vibrate but not directly on her person. She takes him to Costa Mesa’s Waldorf School of Orange County, where she is a counselor, and brings him on trips.

If she’s cooking meatballs, Arrow will even remind her to set the timer.

“He’s so extremely good at his job,” Westerhout said. “He’s very, very observant.”

Arrow’s keen responses are the result of more than 250 hours of training he’s received through Canine Companions for Independence, a group that provides service dogs to people with disabilities free of charge.

Puppies are bred for qualities and behaviors that will assist the dogs in their work, said CCI senior instructor Ken Reid, who oversees hearing dog training at the Santa Rosa location.

At around 8 weeks old, they are placed with raisers, who help socialize them and prepare them for up to nine months of training they will begin somewhere around 18 months of age.

“Puppies are returned to one of six training centers. That’s where the dog gets its next phase of professional training with an instructor,” Reid said. “Along the way we’ll start to see the dog’s individual strengths and weaknesses, so we’ll start to select them for specialized tracks.”

Canines learn skills specific to the individual they will serve — CCI trains companion dogs for children, adult disability service dogs, PTSD service dogs for veterans and hearing dogs like Arrow.

“These dogs help people become more independent and not have to rely on other people for the rest of their lives,” said CCI spokeswoman Stacy Haynes. “The end goal is to enhance the lives of people with disabilities.”

After dogs complete training, clients come for a two-week session to learn more about living with a service dog and be paired up with pooches who, in turn, learn customized tasks and commands before heading to their new homes.

Since Westerhout returned to Newport Beach with Arrow in late November, she’s been amazed at how well he executes commands and alerts her to sounds.

But, for her, another important function of a hearing dog is that they act as ambassadors to the public, opening the doors to conversations about what she calls her “invisible disability.”

“(Normally), people think you’re rude because you don’t respond to them. They think you’re not very smart because it takes you a while to piece together what they’re saying, or they think you’re crazy when you respond to them in a completely different way,” Westerhout said of the social difficulties often associated with hearing loss.

“Taking him out draws attention,” she said. “I get to talk to people and share about my invisible disability. It’s just life-changing.”

  • Most Recent News

    Former Victoria man’s diabetic alert dog helps him get back to life

    June 2, 2021

    When Luke Hengen’s diabetes worsened in his early twenties, it stripped him of the outdoor activities where the country kid felt at home. Countless wilderness adventures and years of hard-fought football games took a toll on his body, to the point where he could no longer sense when his blood sugar was too high or […]

    Read more

    Students Get Therapy Dog

    January 8, 2021

    When middle school students return to class on Jan. 11, they’ll find a new face at the door: Daisy. Daisy is a therapy dog and the personal pet of Rob Kreger, principal of the Rock L. Butler Middle School. The five-year-old golden retriever is not a school pet or mascot, but rather a working dog […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dogtor

    January 8, 2021

    Last March, Caroline Benzel, a third-year medical student, began to notice the stress and discomfort her nurse friends were feeling from the pressures of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “[Personal protective equipment] can be really rough on the skin,” Benzel, 31, tells PEOPLE. Benzel and her 3-year-old Rottweiler, Loki (who’s also a therapy dog) hatched a […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dog Pups

    January 8, 2021

    When Stanley the miniature fox terrier’s owner passed away, the little dog started a ‘paw-some’ new role – bringing puppy love to some of the Gold Coast’s oldest residents. After Carinity Cedarbrook Diversional Therapist Julianne Staff adopted Stanley, he began visiting the aged care community at Mudgeeraba as a therapy dog. Therapy dogs help to […]

    Read more

    Puppy Cams

    January 7, 2021

    A nonprofit is providing an unusual form of therapy for those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic – puppy cams! “You spend five minutes with a puppy and try not to smile,” said registered nurse Robin Lingg Lagrone. Lingg Lagrone says watching little furballs wag their tails and prance on their paws helps […]

    Read more

    Pet Committee

    January 7, 2021

    When Moore County’s school doors were abruptly closed earlier in 2020, two- and four-legged volunteers from the Moore County Citizens’ Pet Responsibility Committee (PRC) were in their 12th year of presenting a six-session Pet Responsibility Education Program for fourth-graders. The PRC quickly shifted gears and placed its program materials online as part of a home […]

    Read more

    The Right Rescue Dog

    January 7, 2021

    If your New Year’s resolution is to add a canine family member, good for you. Somewhere out there is the perfect puppy or adult dog for your family. You have a lot of things to think about when you begin to look for that new family member, puppy or dog? Large or small? Purebred or […]

    Read more

    Police Dog Attack

    January 7, 2021

    A resolution headed to the Duluth City Council on Monday could put to rest a lawsuit filed by Teri Lynn Ehlers, an employee of the Patch Motel, who was bitten by a Duluth police dog named Oakley. Former Duluth Police Officer Marc Johnson was a registered guest of the Warroad establishment May 28, 2018, when […]

    Read more

    PAWS With A Cause

    January 7, 2021

    Pebble Hill Plantation and the Thomas County Public Library are pleased to announce the upcoming Enlightening Bites program, “PAWS With a Cause,” on Friday, January 8, 2021 at noon in the Flipper Room of the Library. The program is being presented by Jeri Anderson, field representative. Anderson is recently retired from the City of Monticello, […]

    Read more

    Police Canine Team

    January 7, 2021

    Kingston Police revealed in a news release late Wednesday afternoon that they’ve been keeping a four-legged secret for roughly three months. The force announced it added a second canine unit, with the arrival of police service dog Dak this past October. He is working with Const. Jeff Dickson, while police service dog Bask is working […]

    Read more

    More Recent News