Hard-of-hearing 80-year-old Churchill County woman finally gets her hearing-companion dog

By Becky Bosshart

Nevada Appeal News Service

It is Erma Boepple's third day with Dani, and it's already love.

The nearly 2-year-old fox terrier jumped into her lap, licked her face, then ran around the small living room of her Churchill County mobile home.

Boepple's eyes fill with tears when she talks about how long she waited for Dani. Boepple started losing her hearing 32 years ago. Now it is almost completely gone. Dani is the 80-year-old woman's hearing companion.

She got a phone call two weeks ago and learned that a dog was ready to be delivered. She told her daughter the news first.

"She alerts me to the phone, to the oven timer, to the door bell or someone knocking and the fire alarm," Boepple said about Dani. "She's doing real well."

Dani, a small white dog with spotted legs and a black-and-brown face, is from Dogs for the Deaf, an international hearing dog-training and placement service.

"I haven't been able to hear the door bell in so long," Boepple said. "She gives me security."

Boepple wears two hearing aids, the most powerful kind, and yet she still only hears about 5 percent of conversations.

Boepple signed up for the program about three years ago, and has been waiting for a dog ever since.

Her daughter Mavis Lawrence lives down the road.

"What we were concerned about was that I would call her, and she wouldn't answer the phone," Lawrence said. "And I'd come over and knock and knock at the door, and she'd never hear me. And she'd be sitting right next to the door."

She was concerned for her mother's safety now that she lives alone. Boepple's husband died of Alzheimer's disease about three years ago. He was at a Carson City nursing home before that.

Dogs for the Deaf is a nonprofit that depends on donors to support its rescue of dogs, according to the organization. Hearing dogs are placed in the qualified applicant's home for free.

The Nevada Good Sams Club sponsored Dani. The Sams Club is the largest RV organization in the world. Jan Zumwalt, the Sams' state director, said the Nevada group has sponsored five dogs for the deaf.

Tanya Diaz-Casillas, Dani's Dogs for the Deaf trainer, said all of their dogs are sponsored by donations from service clubs such as the Sams.

"The total price for a team - which is the deaf person and the dog - for the rest of the dog's life is $25,000," she said.

Diaz-Casillas said a large percentage of the dogs come from animal shelters. Some are trained for as long as a year. Diaz-Casillas said they look for dogs that are energetic but teachable. When the dogs come to their new owner's homes, they just have to be taught where the sounds are in the home and who they should alert.

During training, Diaz-Casillas often waited outside because Dani needed to get used to having a new master.

"Often, a dog will run to the trainer first," Diaz-Casillas said. "She's still getting used to Erma."

Dani is rewarded with a doggie yogurt dollop and a spot by Boepple's feet, where she'll be for as long as she's needed.


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