THS student preparing for college with hearing dog

ALABASTER – Like many other high school students, Thompson High School student Makenzie McGuire is looking forward to going to college next fall. Unlike most teenagers, however, McGuire is deaf in both ears and has had to do things a little differently to get there.

Currently, one of the biggest parts of McGuire’s life is her service dog, a yellow Labrador and golden retriever mix named Hanalei, who will make it possible for her to live on her own while she attends classes at Auburn University.

McGuire and Hanalei

McGuire said Hanalei alerts her to different sounds, such as doorbells, alarm clocks and phones vibrating, to make her more aware of her surroundings.

“She also lets me know if I’ve dropped my keys or my debit card,” McGuire said.

McGuire said one of her biggest concerns when she leaves home is safety, which is why she is glad that Hanalei can alert her in the case of a fire or a break-in.

“I’ve actually heard about cases of deaf people getting left in apartments or dorms when there was a fire,” McGuire said.

McGuire was first paired up with Hanalei through Canine Companions for Independence in May 2017. Before she took in Hanalei, she went through extensive training at the Canine Companions Regional Center in Orlando, where she learned all of Hanalei’s commands and how to care for her.

“Team Training is an essential part of the program because it gives the recipient an opportunity to learn how to work with and benefit from an assistance dog,” read a press release from Canine Companions. “The process consists of daily lectures, exams, practice and public outings.”

Currently, McGuire is involved in her school’s marching band and Health Sciences Academy.

Additionally, when she graduates, McGuire will have left her mark on THS after she convinced school officials to implement American Sign Language classes that count as a foreign language credit. She said the first classes were offered during the 2016-2017 school year and benefit both deaf and hearing people.

So far, McGuire said she has enjoyed having Hanalei around and will have an easier time at Auburn, where she plans to march in the school’s marching band and study to become a veterinarian, because of her.

“We’ve been getting along really well. They do a really good job with matching people to dogs,” McGuire said. “I’ve been able to relax a lot more when I’m in public.”