Weather Forecast


Compassionate canines

Press Photo by Beth Wischmeyer Sarah Dukart spends time recently with Wyatt Earp, her hearing assistance dog.

Sarah Dukart said her ears belong to a furry Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

The dog, named "Wyatt Earp," is Dukart's hearing assistance dog, who alerts her to sounds that she cannot hear, such as sirens.

After getting spinal meningitis when she was about 6 months old, Dukart said an IV containing penicillin which was attached to her head caused hearing loss. This progressed throughout her life.

"I taught myself to read my mother's lips because I was home with her all the time," Dukart said. "Then when I was going to kindergarten, I started coming home complaining of headaches and I couldn't hear the teacher. That's when I found out I was going deaf."

At 31, Dukart said she has between 10 to 12 percent hearing capability. With hearing aids, her hearing is at about 50 percent.

"I do wear my hearing aids most of the time," Dukart said. "When I go in crowded places I take them out because they don't help."

Dukart uses visual cues to help her.

"Like, if a dog is barking behind me and I don't see a dog, I won't recognize that as a dog," Dukart said. "I need to see a dog to understand what it is that I am hearing.

"My hearing doesn't work the same as most people's does. That's one of the reasons why I have Wyatt because he helps me with those things I can't identify. Even though my speech is really good and I still hear things, I am still completely deaf."

Over the years, Dukart said she's become an avid lip reader and uses people's facial expressions to help her understand what they are saying, especially through her grooming business, The Grooming Gallery, which she has had for about 12 years.

"The customers have been very understanding," Dukart said. "Sometimes people call, leave a message and get impatient and go call somewhere else, because they want a response right away, but once they get to know me, it's not a problem."

Those that want to make an appointment must leave a message, which her family members listen to and relay to Dukart.

"On the phone I may be able to hear the voices a little bit but I can't understand them," Dukart said. "I need to read lips. The hearing aids are more to just help me."

Wyatt Earp, who she has had since he was 8 weeks old, is someone she depends on heavily.

"I got him not with the intention of having a hearing assistance dog," Dukart said. "I was looking for one, but he just ended up having the perfect personality to train for that. He was very devoted to me, very alert to everything and extremely smart."

Donned in an orange vest with the words "My owner reads lips" and certification patches on the sides, Dukart said Wyatt knows it's business time. It's time to relax when the vest is off.

Wyatt was trained by a private trainer and advanced through training very quickly, doing what would normally take about six months in about six weeks.

He alerts her to sirens and fire alarms but his main job is to let people know she is deaf.

"With him, more people are alerted to the fact that I'm deaf. I'm much more comfortable when he's with me."

Watching Wyatt's reaction can also alert her to noises she might not be aware of, such as someone coming in the front door of her business.

With a flick of her wrist and a quick hand motion, Dukart can soundlessly ask Wyatt to sit or lie down.

Dukart said Wyatt gets along well with her other pets, those that come into the shop and even cats.

"I really like the security of having him, I think I would miss him a lot," Dukart said.