Dogs for the Deaf

Robin Dickson of Dogs for the Deaf with a trainee. / Photo by Ezra Marcos

Bonnie H. had missed a lot in her life. She taught herself to read lips to keep up with conversations, but phone calls, alarms and doorbells escaped her, leading to frustration and anxiety.

She learned about Dogs for the Deaf through a friend and applied for a service dog more than sixteen years ago. “I was blessed to have them so close,” Bonnie says of the Central Point-based nonprofit. Bonnie’s first hearing dog, Bogart, a spaniel mix, served her needs for nearly fourteen years. After Bogart died, Bonnie had to wait more than a year before receiving her second dog, Nanuq. “I felt edgy, and I couldn’t relax,” she recalls of that interim. “Now I know someone is there for me, and I’m not afraid of being alone. I feel complete with Nanuq here now.”

From its inception in a dairy barn in Applegate, Oregon to its current forty-acre training facility hugging the base of the Table Rocks in Central Point, Dogs for the Deaf is in its thirty-fifth year of serving clients with special needs throughout the United States and Canada.

“Like every nonprofit, we started out with nothing,” says DFD president and CEO Robin Dickson. “Through the years, though, we’ve made significant changes in people’s lives, and we have saved a lot of dogs in the process.”

The nonprofit adopts dogs from shelters across the West to train them for one of its three programs. The staff looks for any breed and size of dog up to three years old with a combination of confidence, good health and mild temperament. One out of four dogs screened successfully completes the program. The graduates are then fitted with their official DFD vests and head off to work in their new homes.

Dogs trained at DFD fill a number of social roles. Some are trained for the deaf to alert their owners when a telephone rings, a doorbell chimes or a baby cries. Dogs trained to work with autistic clients are taught to keep them away from dangerous situations and comfort them. Other dogs accompany professionals in different fields ranging from education to psychology.

Once DFD adopts a dog, it is never returned to a shelter. Dogs that don’t successfully complete training in one of the three programs are placed with a family to live out their lives as beloved pets. “We make a lifetime commitment to these dogs,” says Dickson. “It’s a lot more than just training the dog; the whole process is critical to our success.”

Dickson has always loved animals. “I grew up training elephants, horses, and lions.” Dickson’s father, Roy Kabat, retired to Applegate in the 1970s after a career in training animals at the famed Jungleland wild animal park in Thousand Oaks, California.

A call from the American Humane Association in 1976 brought Kabat out of retirement and changed his family’s destiny. The Humane Society of Colorado needed help training a dog to be someone’s ears. When Kabat returned from Denver, he decided to begin his own training program.

After Dickson graduated from college in Wisconsin, she taught high school English for a bit and then joined her family as a dog trainer in 1981. Five years later, she was at the helm of DFD.

“Saving the lives of dogs and training them so they can go on to help people with disabilities—it doesn’t get more rewarding than that,” says Dickson of her family’s work. “It is an honor to have been able to make this dream become a reality.”

Quick Facts

– Established in 1977

– Tours open to the public: M-F 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

– 3,000 dogs placed in 35 years

– Dogs available for general adoption

– Nonprofit relies upon individual donations

– Betty White serves on the advisory board

Find Dogs for the Deaf online at

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.