RICHMOND — Millhouse is not your normal house pet dog.
He has earned the orange vest that distinguishes him as a service dog, and is expertly trained in detecting important sounds for his owner, Tom Rich, who is profoundly deaf. Both Rich and Millhouse, along with fellow volunteer Clare Green, gave talks about the Canines for Disabled Kids last weekend at the Richmond Fair.
“It is an education program where we explain the role of service dogs,” Rich said. “We [give] talks about what [service] dogs can do, giving informational books and displaying our service dog poster.”
Rich and Millhouse are from Massachusetts and go around the nation giving educational talks, Rich said. Rich suffered from chronic kidney disease as a child and was diagnosed with Alport Syndrome, which is a hereditary kidney disease that results in hearing loss. Because of his disability, Rich became involved with service dogs. Millhouse is his fourth companion, he said.
Millhouse, who is a border collie-alaskan huskie mix, graduated in 2008 from the NEADS [National Education for Assistant Dog Services] program with several other dogs — all trained for specific disabilities, Rich said.
Before that, Millhouse had been returned five times to the Worchester, Mass., Animal Rescue League before a NEADS trainer found him and wanted to test him as a potential hearing dog, Rich said. The shelter staff said it was Millhouse’s last chance before he was going to be put down, he said.
Millhouse is specifically trained for Rich.
“He gets me up in the morning [when my alarm goes off], alerts me of the smoke alarm,” Rich said. “The dryer went off the second night we were together and it wasn’t even a sound he was trained for, but he alerted me to it. They are intuitive to know when to help you.”
Millhouse is trained for several other specifics including alerting Rich when the telephone or doorbell rings, there is a knock on the door, when the mail is delivered, when a school bus is backing up on the street, when the neighbor gets a delivery and when his wife, Joanne, needs him to do a chore or come for dinner, according to Millhouse’s bio information.
Millhouse and Rich have been together for more than five years, and it’s time for Millhouse to go back to NEADS soon and be tested to make sure he is still capable of being a service dog, Rich said.
“You do not want [service dogs] to become too much like pets,” Rich said. “He must go back and make sure he is still fit and trained properly to be a service dog.”
Rich, Green and Millhouse planned to give several talks throughout the Richmond Fair. A Smokin’ Pete’s charity dinner was to be Saturday at the Richmond fairgrounds. All proceeds from the dinner were to benefit Canines for Disabled Kids.