Shantee is a playful 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, but when
her owner puts an orange vest on her before leaving the house, the
canine knows it’s time to go to work.
In September, Shantee will accompany Ryann Austin to her special
education class at Burbank High School.
Austin, a 19-year-old senior who has been deaf since birth,
depends on Shantee to be her ears, and the dog takes her work
“If a person knocks, my Shantee touches my hand and takes me to
the door,” Austin said, communicating through speech as well as sign
language, which her mother, Maria Austin, translates.
Before Shantee came into her life, Austin relied on the family
dog, Buffy, a Labrador-Brittany spaniel mix, for assistance. Buffy,
though, died last year.
But Austin said Buffy wasn’t her dog and didn’t love her the way
“She loves me, and I love Shantee a lot,” said Austin, who lives
Her mother said the family did not know how much Ryann relied on
Buffy for environmental cues.
“Any sound that [Buffy] was alert to, that’s what she [Ryann] paid
attention to, and we didn’t realize that,” she said.
After Buffy died, Austin didn’t like being alone. In August, she
filled out an application to receive a trained hearing dog free of
charge through the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals’ Hearing Dog program.
After waiting nearly a year, Austin traveled to San Francisco last
month, where she met and trained Shantee during a nine-day program.
As the dog’s primary caretaker, it is Austin’s responsibility to
feed, brush, walk and clean up after Shantee, and at night Shantee
sleeps in Austin’s bedroom.
Austin has a summer job in the offices of the Burbank Youth
Outreach Employment Program, and Shantee goes to work with her. Once
there, Shantee snoozes at Austin’s desk while she makes copies,
stuffs envelopes and completes other tasks.
For more information on the San Francisco SPCA Hearing Dog
program, call (415) 554-3020 or use Telephone Device for the Deaf at