A four-year-old hearing dog that alerted her owner to an intruder in their hotel room has been named Heroic Hearing Dog of the Year by the charity that trained her. Black Labrador Nellie, who lives with her severely deaf owner Gill Houghton in Brighton, East Sussex, was presented with the award by TV vet Joe Inglis at the Charity's recent Summer Fayre held at their headquarters in Buckinghamshire. This annual award is given to hearing dogs that have acted above and beyond the call of duty, or used their training to avert possible danger or tragedy.

Hearing dogs are trained to alert their owners to everyday household sounds including the doorbell, telephone, cooker timer and alarm clock, touching them with a paw when they hear a sound and leading them to the source of the sound. With danger sounds such as the smoke alarm and fire bell, the dogs will alert then drop straight to the floor. The majority of dogs selected by the Charity for training come from rescue centres or like Nellie are donated by members of the public.

Nellie was donated to Hearing Dogs as an adult dog by a family that were sadly unable to keep her due to personal circumstances. She was placed with Gill (48) just over a year ago, and has made a huge difference to her life. "My partner of 14 years left me when I became deaf," explains Gill. "I felt deaf, dull and dowdy. I was alone with a 10-year-old boy and a 15-month-old baby.

My son had to tell me when the doorbell went and when my daughter cried in the night. My son even had to deal with phone calls to the solicitor for me. Having Nellie has helped in a lot of ways, but the most important one is that she has freed my son from lots of responsibilities. I can relax now that Nellie will tell me about things. I no longer sit up at night worrying about the smoke alarm. Also people no longer think that I am rude and ignoring them."

On a recent holiday when Gill, Nellie and the children were staying in a bed and breakfast, Gill had occasion to bless the day that Nellie came to her. She explains: "It was the middle of the night and Nellie woke me. I thought she had made a mistake so I told her to get off the bed. But she jumped up again, alerted me and dropped to the floor in the emergency position. I then sat up and put my glasses on and saw that the door to the room was open and a man was standing in the doorway looking at us. I put my hearing aids in, and as I did this Nellie jumped on the bed again and placed herself between him and the children. I told the man to leave and eventually he did. During the whole episode, Nellie did not flinch but sat and protected the children with her body."

Nellie has fitted into Gill's life completely, and accompanies her on vintage motorbike rallies. She is a very sociable dog and has given Gill the confidence to go camping, something that she would never have done before. Nellie loves travelling in the car, and gets very excited when they are approaching their destination - wherever it is! She has learned to tell tales on the cat too; if the cat is on the work surface in the kitchen she will go and tell Gill.

TV presenter and ex Blue Peter star, Matt Baker, judged this category. This is what he said of Nellie: "A heroic dog that has not only given a new lease of life to Gill, but also given her son his childhood back. In addition she has prevented what could have been a potentially horrendous ordeal occurring. A hero in anyone's eyes."

Gill is in total agreement. "If Nellie had not been there that night I would not have heard the man come into the room. He could have taken the children without my knowing. The children love her and are very proud of her. They know that she helps their mum keep them safe."


About Hearing Dogs for Deaf People

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People is a registered charity that selects and trains dogs to respond to specific sounds. Hearing dogs alert deaf people by touch, using a paw to gain attention and then lead them back to the sound source. For sounds such as the smoke alarm and fire alarm the dogs will lay down to indicate danger. The Charity celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2007.

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People provides a national service and no charge is made to recipients. Seventy four per cent of all hearing dogs adopted into the scheme are either rescued or unwanted and since its inception in 1982, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People has placed over 1450 hearing dogs. The Charity has two centres operating in the UK - Buckinghamshire and North Yorkshire.

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People