Bert Lederer, 79, has been deaf since he was a child. He can’t hear the doorbell ring, can’t hear the oven ding and can’t hear his wife, Claydene, call for him from another room.
That all changed when Warren, an 11-year-old Australian Cattle Dog, came into their lives 10 years ago. Warren was placed with the Lederers by Dogs for the Deaf, a nonprofit organization based in Oregon that rescues dogs from animal shelters around the U.S. to train and place them with people with hearing loss and deafness.
Warren has improved the Lederers’ quality of life, alerting Bert to sounds by nudging him gently in the direction of the sound. Warren is able to lead Bert to the correct elevator when it arrives. If Claydene, 75, needs her husband and he’s in another room, she can call Warren, who will get Bert for her.
Bert was raised in Washington, D.C. Claydene, who grew up in a military family that moved around every few years, calls Bellingham her hometown. They have a daughter and three grandsons who live nearby. They have been married for 55 years and have lived in Bellingham for 25.
“We are still best buddies,” Bert says, and that is evident.
The Lederers seem to do everything together, along with Warren, who is the subject of a children’s book written by Claydene. “Warren: The True Story of How a Herding Dog Became a Hearing Dog,” tells the story of how Warren was found in a Humane Society animal shelter by a Dogs for the Deaf trainer and eventually found his way to the Lederers.
“When we learned Warren’s story, it was just a natural that somehow this needed to be told,” Claydene says.
She self-published the first edition of the illustrated book, with photographs, in 2012. The second edition came out in 2014, with the photographs replaced with illustrations by Suzanne Ackerman, an animal trainer at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma. Proceeds from sale of the new edition go to Dogs for the Deaf to help cover the cost of training and placing the hearing dogs.
“We really wanted to do our part by paying it forward,” Bert says.
They also give PowerPoint presentations of the book in elementary schools. Bert reads aloud from the book as the children follow along from the screen.
“The children love it,” Claydene says.
“It’s wonderful to see the kids giggle and clap,” Bert adds.
Bert retired several years ago as a civilian personnel director for the Navy, but he doesn’t get much downtime. He and Claydene, who still works as a managing broker for Windermere Real Estate, always have some place to be. And that means Warren does, too.
They volunteer tirelessly for Dogs for the Deaf, manning booths at animal welfare fundraisers and speaking on behalf of the organization at deaf awareness events.
They also serve as ambassadors for the Cochlear Awareness Network to educate people about benefits of the hearing device. Bert has a cochlear implant, which he says enhances his ability to hear beyond the capabilities of hearing aids.
They will speak “anywhere there is a need for people to correct their hearing,” says Claydene, and that’s evident by their busy schedule. On average, they travel four times a year to speak on behalf of the network and Dogs for the Deaf, and they speak regularly at retirement homes and health seminars.
The Lederers also are collaborating with Dogs for the Deaf on a fundraising campaign titled “Where in the World is Warren?” Readers can take a picture of themselves holding the book and post it to Facebook and, the Lederers hope, donate to Dogs for the Deaf.