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Hi, I'm Callie
Hearing Alert Service Dog
Original Article in the State Journal
Callie is allowed to go to schools, restaurants, courthouses and libraries - anywhere people can go. Not bad for year-old German Shepherd mix. Callie, short for California Rose, was found as a puppy near Interstate 65 guarding the body of another dog hit by a car. With some coaxing, she got into a car and was ultimately taken to Frankfort dog trainer Liz Norris, a former Air Force K-9 trainer and master trainer at Pawsibilities Unleashed in Jett. Under Norris' care, Callie earned a new leash on life, so to speak. Now she works for former Frankfort resident Mindy McGirt, 30, of Stanford. That's right, she works, which explains her virtually limitless access to places where, normally, no dogs are allowed. "She just fit perfectly," Norris says. "She flat out rocks." Callie works as a service dog for Mindy, who is deaf and has worn hearing aids since she was 2 years old. "She is in short, my ears," Mindy says. "She tells me when the phone rings, when visitors arrive, the alarm clock, when Ben gets home." Ben McGirt, Mindy's husband, who works at the Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville, wanted to get another dog as their older one lost his sight and hearing. The couple had met Norris and when they went to see Callie, a partnership was forged. Mindy had been interested in a service dog since childhood, but these types aren't typically placed with young people still living at home with families because of their need to constantly focus on the task at hand. But after they married, Mindy began to talk more seriously about getting a dog to help in situations that would be easier for those who hear. Wearing hearing aids since she was a toddler, Mindy is prone to get ear infections and has considerable discomfort with the devices at times. "I wanted more opportunities to be deaf," she said. "I have more confidence to go in public places without my hearing aids." Callie helps. A lot. Mindy is working on a master's in learning and behavioral disorders at Georgetown College and a practicum in Lincoln County Schools, the only county receptive to having a service dog with a practicing teacher. It would be a tall order without Callie. But Callie attends class with Mindy, who has worked on literacy training at the Thorn Hill Learning Center and helps with the classroom flow. She alerts Mindy when a student says something by sitting next to the student. While children can be distracted by Callie - and Callie can be distracted by them - playtime is often structured into the day so Callie can take a break. She wears a vest containing Mindy's hearing aid batteries and medicines and alerts passersby not to touch or distract her from her tasks. "This isn't an animal you are supposed to pet," Mindy says, though Callie gets lots of affection from her and Ben. Dogs must have three tasks to perform to qualify as service dogs, Mindy says, and Callie has several, though she is learning more. The couple still attends training classes once a week at Pawsibilities Unleashed with Liz. The training is as much for Mindy as for Callie, so she can learn how to respond to the dog's watchful signals. Though she has kept Mindy from the path of oncoming ambulances and cars backing up, she's help around the house, too, alerting her to a ringing doorbell or smoke detector. "She's learning more things every day," Mindy said, like opening the refrigerator, which is good practice for opening other doors. The dog is also useful if she or Ben is locked out of the house. "I have a deaf wife and I'm locked out of the house," Ben says of times when he's been outside without keys. "I don't know how I'm going to do this." A command for the dog to speak or find the other is a big help. Callie has a unique personality, the McGirt's say, wanting to check stranger's references and being mother-hen-like, but fearless of new situations. "She's very protective, very close to both of us," Mindy said. "She gets bored if not constantly challenged." If you see California Rose on the street, feel free to say hello to the McGirts, though don't distract her from her important task. But she's not all work and no play. "My husband calls her a winking dog," Mindy said. "You can look at her and she winks back."