James Cheung and Kurt
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How hearing dogs help change deaf children's lives

5 March 2012 Last updated at 07:34 GMT

Dogs are commonly known as man's best friend, but it turns out they may also be a child's, particularly if those children are one of the 45,000 deaf children in the UK.

Hearing dogs, as they are known, could transform many young lives by offering companionship, confidence and independence.

Not only that, but these specially trained dogs could improve behaviour at school and lead to better academic performance, a recent study has found.

Graham Satchell reports.

Read more: Dogs 'make deaf children safer'


Reporter: 7.59 and 11-year-old James is about to get a unique wake-up call.


Reporter: James is hard of hearing. His dog Kurt has been trained to get him out of bed. James is one of the first children in the country to get a hearing dog for the deaf. They've become the best of friends.

James: I love my dog, and he's a very good boy.

Reporter: Kurt has been trained to respond to certain sounds and commands. It's been a godsend for James's mum, Louise.

Louise: If I'm cooking downstairs, I can call the dog, Kurt will go and get James and give him a nudge. James will say, 'What is it?'

James: What is it?

Louise: And he will follow Kurt back to me, so he brings him to me. It saves me a lot of running up and down the stairs.

Reporter: But it's not just about convenience. Kurt has also been trained to respond to things like the smoke alarm. (BEEPING NOISE) As soon as it goes off he'll find James and lie down. James knows that if Kurt does lie down there is danger and he goes to find his mum.

Louise: I'm amazed what an animal can do for a human being. James has problems with his speech - he's become more confident as a person. Those feelings of isolation, I'm sure, are getting less and less. It's wonderful to have the dog in the house, in fact it's hard to think back to how life was without Kurt.

Reporter: Kurt has become part of the family and James helps to look after him. In the last year, the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People has for the first time placed 12 dogs with children. Like James, they have all grown in confidence, have slept better and, they say, feel safer.

James: Kurt is my best friend

Reporter: A friend, a guardian, a carer.