Debbie Catena kisses Jacob, her hearing dog, at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. Catena has worked at the memorial for six years.

Debbie Catena kisses Jacob, her hearing dog, at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. Catena has worked at the memorial for six years. (Sarah Pastrana, Patuxent Publishing / July 9, 2012)

When Debbie Catena wakes up at 6:25 a.m., it’s not the beep of an alarm clock that gets her attention, but a nudge and a sniff from her golden retriever, Jacob.

A childhood illness left Catena with 60 percent hearing loss in her right ear and completely deaf in her left ear. Jacob is a hearing dog that was paired with Catena, a 55-year-old Ellicott City resident, through Fidos for Freedom, a nonprofit organization based in Laurel that provides service dogs, hearing dogs and therapy dogs to residents of the Baltimore-Washington area. Catena is unable to hear her alarm most mornings, but Jacob makes sure she is up in time to catch the MARC train to Washington for work.

Since Oct. 22, 2008, Jacob has been a near-constant companion in Catena’s life, alerting her to microwave and oven timers, telephones ringing, and people calling her name.

Jacob has traveled to Florida and Massachusetts with Catena via airplane, and he once accompanied her to the White House to present an award to Vice President Biden. He also is trained to pick up anything that she drops, which is necessary because she won’t hear her keys hit the ground if she inadvertently drops them.


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She once dropped her phone on her six-block walk from Union Station to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, where she works as a memorial operations assistant. She arrived at her office and realized that her phone was in Jacob’s mouth.

“When I have to leave him at home for one reason or another, it’s like missing my left arm,” Catena says.