Steve & Service Dog for Hearing Charlotte

Army veteran and retired Chicago police officer Stephen Hood’s hearing was profoundly deteriorating; even his hearing aids and cochlear implant were not enough to alleviate the mounting challenges of his daily tasks. He was no longer able to recognize alert sounds or when someone spoke his name. Not only was this frustrating, but his safety became an ever-greater concern, so Stephen’s wife and daughters encouraged him to seek the help of a Service Dog.

Having never encountered a Service Dog for Hearing, I wasn’t sure exactly how our relationship would work. I had thought, she’s trained to provide a service for me, and she’s a working dog. What I didn’t expect was the strong emotional connection we’ve developed. But she’s definitely my dog. She always looks for me and wants to know where I am.

Pre-Covid, my wife would travel to visit our daughter in Texas for a week at a time, and I would be alone. Being alone changes everything. Today, if I don’t hear my alarm, Charlotte jumps up on the bed and wakes me up.

Then there are the little things that you don’t think about. Prior to Charlotte, I would drop things from my pocket and not even realize it. Now, if that happens, she stops immediately and grabs whatever I’ve dropped and turns to give it to me. When I’m out walking with her, if she hears something behind her, she’ll stop and turn. When she stops and turns, it means I’m supposed to look back also.

All this takes practice, and I try to be very conscientious about her training. I paid attention during my time on the NEADS campus.

It was apparent that the training wasn’t for Charlotte, it was for us, the clients; what we have to learn, and what we need to do to reinforce the training. You receive a highly trained dog, but you can’t just sit back and assume that that’s it. You have to commit to keep her skills sharp.

Charlotte and I go through a whole routine at least three or four times a week. She loves to work. We practice with the fire alarm so she knows to come looking for me. She bumps me and runs to the front of the house, because she knows we have to go out. We practice alerting to door knocks and to my wife calling my name. We practice with dropped items. At first it was just keys, but then I started dropping other things, like a pen. The first time she just kind of looked at me but she quickly figured it out.

All the neighbors on our block know Charlotte now. She’s friends with everybody. People ask me, “Why is she so calm?” I answer, “It’s the training. She’s a Service Dog, and when she’s out and dressed, she’s working.” And she knows it. I let people say hello, but then she turns around and comes right back to me. I’m her main person.

I’ve had dogs my whole life, but this is a totally different experience. It’s been phenomenal.

Photos: Courtney Laper of Courtney Michelle Photography