It seems like a simple request, especially for a talented dog like Otter: a highly trained, mixed breed miniature pinscher/beagle whose abilities were once showcased on “The David Letterman Show.”
Unfortunately, however, at 17 he’d become severely deaf due to age. Luckily for Otter, his owner, Pete Scheifele, PhD, is the director of UC’s Facility for Education and Testing of Canine Hearing and Laboratory for Animal Bioacoustics, also known as FETCH/LAB, located within the College of Allied Health Sciences where Scheifele is an assistant professor of bioacoustics and hearing/speech sciences.
Since mid-2008 Scheifele and the FETCH/LAB team have been conducting hearing screenings on canines and other animal life, such as Squash the python, and Otter was the first up to be fitted for an exploratory hearing device.
The reason, says Scheifele, is that highly trained dogs like Otter are amenable to handling and new experiences.
The difficulty in developing something for the “average” canine, he says, is that they would refuse to wear it or scratch it off as an irritant.
Once Otter started wearing the aid, though, it seemed to grow on him, to the point where he now seeks it out.
“At first he went from basically hearing nothing to then hearing some level of soft sound. I was there when it came over him that he was hearing something and you could see he realized he was hearing,” Scheifele says.
A retired member of the U.S. Navy, Scheifele, who also has a love for marine life and has long studied whale acoustics, says the ultimate goal for a clinic such as the one he’s developed at UC is to the change the way we think about hearing loss in animals.
“Right now, there’s really no clinically normative data about canine hearing or sensorineural hearing loss, yet many dogs and families are dealing with this issue,” he says.
“In addition, a hearing screening is paramount for assistance, military and police dogs. I hope that the knowledge we gain will lead to the creation of an audiology subspecialty in veterinary medicine so that more animals can be diagnosed and treated at their vet’s office.”
There’s still a lot of engineering to do, he says, and the aid is certainly not ready for commercial production—but it’s more than a good start and there is a long list of people willing to give it a try.
The next trial will be on a Ginger, a small sheltie who belongs to another staff member, and there are eight people waiting in the queue, he says.
The FETCH/LAB is a collaboration of UC audiology staff, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center audiologists, MRI team and genetics researchers, as well as collaborators at Marquette University’s computer and electrical engineering department, the University of Connecticut’s animal science department, the Georgia Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium and Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
There is a screening fee and dogs must be referred to the clinic by their veterinarian. For more information, call (513) 558-8519 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org..