Yorkshire Countrywomen’s Association: the February meeting of the YCA had three speakers, Val and Brian Russell and Jude their spaniel. Jude is 5 months old and is being puppy trained by Val and Brian to become a Hearing dog for the Deaf. Brian is the secretary of the Harrogate group of volunteers for this charity. He started by giving some of the history, hearing dogs for the deaf was founded by Ben Fogle’s father Bruce and Beatrice Wright a member of the institute for the deaf. Bruce and Beatrice had to do a lot of fundraising and get sponsorship before they could start the charity but it was launched at Crufts in 1982. One of the innovations which the charity brought about was that shops are no longer allowed to display the sign Guide dogs only it now has to say Assistance dogs only. Deafness is considered a “hidden disability” and there are over 10m people with hearing problems, 850,000 of these people are profoundly deaf and would qualify for a hearing dog. The first dog to be trained was called Favour and this is the name of the charity magazine. The charity has approximately 160 paid staff and 1,240 volunteers. The volunteers as well as puppy training dogs help with fundraising, finding sponsorship and selling merchandise. Since the start in 1982 16,000 dogs have been trained. The volunteers keep the dogs until they are about ten and a half months old and the dog then goes to the training centre for 18 weeks to finish its training. Three years ago it was decided to train dogs to help children and 12 puppies were put through training to see if they would be suitable and after one year the results were so outstanding that now dogs are trained specifically to help children. Val and Brian have had five dogs and enjoyed every minute of their time. A year ago Brian was given the award of Volunteer of the Year and attended a dinner in London. He was then guest of honour at a dinner in Harrogate given by Ackrill Newspapers. The same year he was invited to Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s garden party. Everyone was fascinated by the talk and many questions were asked, throughout the whole evening Jude behaved impeccably and placidly chewed his “chewy”. One interesting fact which all the dog owners were interested in was that the puppies are trained to do their toilet to order. I wish I could get my dog to do that! But then my dog is a Border Collie and apparently they are the only dogs not suitable to become hearing dogs because they are too intelligent and although they are the quickest to learn they get bored when there is nothing to do. Audrey Kidd gave the vote of thanks to Brian and Val.
The business continued after coffee with a few announcements. The knitted squares were made into blankets and have now been taken to the Gambia and the secretary had received photographs of the families with their blankets. The schedule for the produce and handicrafts classes in the Flower Show has been submitted to the Horticultural Society committee for their approval. Chris Graham is having a coffee morning in aid of Marie Cure Cancer care on Saturday, March 23 in the Village Hall. The meeting on March 8 is the AGM and because it is the 30th anniversary of the start of the YCA the business part of the evening will be followed by a social evening and buffet supper. New members and visitors are welcome to attend this meeting.