Journalist Liz Jones accused of “irresponsible journalism” as deaf charity finds no record of her having an official hearing dog

Posted on October 20, 2014

The Mail journalist Liz Jones, who regularly writes about her deafness, has been criticised for saying that she has four hearing dogs.

The charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People have found no record of her having an official hearing dog, and say they have asked her not to say she does have one on two previous occasions. They have contacted Mail on Sunday’s editor to make an official complaint.

In an article about disabled workers published in yesterday’s paper, a photo on the article showed a dog wearing an official Hearing Dogs jacket.

Screen shot 2014-10-20 at 13.45.45

In her article Jones said:

I’m disabled. You might not believe this… a libellous comment was placed under one of my online columns, about living with a hearing dog. I have four, actually, all trained to create a commotion if my fire alarm goes off.

Official hearing dogs are legally allowed to enter public spaces in the UK, and Jones’ article later added:

Last Sunday, I went for lunch in a country restaurant. I checked beforehand they were happy with dogs, so I took along Mini Puppy.

In response to this, a blog called ‘Fake Hearing Dogs’ appeared yesterday on the Pardon Group site, written by Lisa Baldock, a hearing dogs user and a volunteer for the charity.

Of Jones adding an official jacket to her dog, Baldock said:

When someone places an old hearing dog jacket or a makeshift jacket on a dog that isn’t properly qualified it makes me cross – I know I shouldn’t sound like a know-it-all but I’m stating facts as a trained Hearing Dogs speaker– I just know how hard my assistance dog charity works to produce and get properly trained dogs to assist a deaf person’s life.

Following her blog (of which more below) Hearing Dogs for Deaf People’s Chief Executive Michele Jennings told us:

The Mail on Sunday has printed a very irresponsible article by Liz Jones, and published a photograph alongside that is both misleading and upsetting. She has caused an enormous amount of distress amongst disabled people, and wasted a significant amount of the charity’s resources.

The Hearing Dogs for Deaf People’s Facebook page  provides just a flavour of how much the disabled people we help have been upset by her article, and how furious they are with the Mail for publishing it. Twitter and Yammer are also full of posts by concerned supporters of the charity.

Liz Jones does not have one Hearing Dog, let alone four. We have no evidence of Liz Jones even applying for a Hearing Dog. To publish without checking the truth is extremely irresponsible. To then publish a picture of a genuine Hearing Dog alongside, that was also an ambassador for the Charity, and that has had nothing to do with Liz Jones, is misrepresentation.

Liz Jones may have four pet dogs that she considers are trained to assist with her hearing loss. They are not Hearing Dogs, which are dogs that undergo 18 months of socialisation and training to become fully qualified Assistance Dogs, and which are owned and supported by the charity for their entire working life.

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People currently have almost 1,000 fully trained and qualified dogs in service, and we are second in size in our provision of Assistance Dogs to Guide Dogs for the Blind, with whom we work closely to train dogs for people who are both deaf and blind. We also work with the other UK Assistance Dog charities – Dogs for the Disabled, Canine Partners, Support Dogs, Medical Detection Dogs and Dog AID, all of whom employ experts who work incredibly hard to train dogs to a very high standard to help disabled people.

It is this very high standard of training and qualification that the hospitality and leisure industry, and the Institute of Public Health, recognises and therefore allows disabled people access to public places with their Assistance Dogs, where pet dogs would simply not be permitted.

Liz Jones, by her irresponsible journalism, jeopardises the very rights for which disabled people and the charities that help them have campaigned for decades. A poorly trained dog that behaves badly in a restaurant, whose owner fraudulently claims is an Assistance Dog, simply causes restaurant and leisure operators to think twice in future about admitting disabled people with their genuine Assistance Dogs.

Disabled people can then be refused entry to public places with their Assistance Dogs, which is wholly distressing for a disabled person when confronted with such a refusal, as well as being illegal. But it would appear Liz Jones fails to comprehend the damaging consequences of her irresponsible journalism. Far from championing the rights of disabled people, she is actually jeopardising them by her actions.

I have written to Liz Jones on two occasions previously, asking her to stop saying she has a Hearing Dog, and I have invited her to visit our training headquarters in Buckinghamshire so she can see the skills we have developed over 32 years, the dedication of our 160 staff and the kindness of our 1700 volunteers. She has not even had the courtesy to reply.

I would hope that Liz Jones and the Mail on Sunday would not want to force a charity that is funded entirely by donations from the public into a position where we have to pay for expensive legal advice to pursue this matter further. However, we have yet to hear from either.

Baldock’s blog pointed out some key differences between how an official hearing dog would behave, and how Jones’ dogs reportedly behave:

Inca’s alerting to my fire alarm is very different to how Liz describes it – she nudges me and lays flat on the floor – the commotion that Liz describes wouldn’t be right – when a danger sound sounds you are wanting calm not chaos!

That is just one of the examples why our assistance dogs are uniquely trained – so much thought has gone into the long process.

Another thing to consider here is that the jackets are awarded – only dogs trained by the organisation are given Hearing Dog jackets.

This photo in the article may possibly be Liz’s dog with the charity’s Hearing Dog jacket on, and I feel saddened because that’s a misrepresentation of a wonderful charity’s work. How did she acquire it??

All Hearing Dogs have new ones now – this helps us to keep up to date records of all the properly qualified ones and also eliminate the fraudulent examples!

People claiming that their dogs are official hearing dogs is more widespread than many people think – Baldock says she has previously spotted ‘fake’ hearing dogs three times in her home city.

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