After 6 years of partnership, the team of Itzl and Noddy works almost seamlessly. The process of alert and response is automatic and to observers, it's virtually invisible. Sometimes, Itzl shows off by reverting back to his early training and making an obvious alert, but most of the time, it's subtle signals between the two of us.
Thursday, I met some friends for dinner. We ate at Applewood's. While we were there, one of the cell phones went off and Itzl planted his nose practically on top of it to tell us it was ringing then walked back to me and back to the phone - an alert technique from his early days.
Normally, these days, he'd sit in my lap or curl up in his pouch. If a cell phone went off belonging to someone we were with, he'd shrug and stare in the direction of the phone. If I didn't give him the "good boy" signal, he'd nudge his head against me and stare. The shrug and the nudge would be slight, subtle, and only I would notice it. To those with us, it looks very much as if I'm responding directly to the sound rather than to Itzl's alert.
I am always aware of Itzl's tiniest movements and any movement of his out of the ordinary triggers a scan of my surroundings to spot the sound. It's fast, so fast that lots of people think I hear much better than I do.
That means they aren't aware of just how hard Itzl works or how seamless our partnership is.
It's hard for me to get pictures of Itzl when he alerts because I usually have him too close to me and the alerts happen so fast that a camera is never ready at the moment it needs to be. Itzl won't alert unless there actually is a sound, which means he doesn't pose in an alert posture just because he was trold to.
One of the important things about service animals is their ability to extrapolate and to think independently These animals are smart. They have a position that could be very stressful to them, which is why the actively on duty time of a service animal is so short. Not only are their lives short, but the demands on them age them fast.
Hearing dogs have it better than mobility, balance, or guide dogs because they aren't doing tasks that are physically demanding, nor are they outside their instinctive duties. Most packs have outliers and scouts, and that's the job a hearing dog performs - to alert.
That's Itzl, doing what comes naturally for a curious little dog.
And then, it's up to the pack leader to determine the response. That's me, responding to the sound and taking action.
For people who've never had that intense degree of intimacy and dependence upon a service animal, this relationship is hard to truly understand. It's not just that of co-workers, or even of spouses, as some people postulate. We are literally one being split across 2 closely kept bodies. Itzl's ears are mine, and I hear through them almost as rapidly as he does. I am his legs, his hands, and he is my ears. Two bodies, one enhanced set of senses.
My ears, they have a wet nose.