One of the best things about starting this blog has been the fact that I’m now in touch with many more people with similar hearing problems to my own. I was delighted when I heard that one of those people, Deb, was about to launch a blog about her life with a Hearing Dog. Here’s a sneak preview. It’s going to be great………
“I am the very lucky recipient of a Hearing Dog and Vera has kindly invited me to write a guest blog about Hearing Dogs. So where to start? It is, as you may imagine, a large topic so maybe I should address the most frequently asked question I get on a daily basis. But perhaps before that I should tell you a little about me and my Hearing Dog. He is a large black Labrador by the name of Elmo and he is three years old. I have had him for just over 18 months and he is my first Hearing Dog. My name is Deb, I am in my 50s, severe to profoundly deaf, with age-acquired hearing loss which has been deteriorating for some 15 or so years.
So the question – “I’ve never heard of a Hearing Dog – what does he do for you?” This is by no means an odd question particularly as, to most people, I appear to hear perfectly well due to very good and powerful hearing aids (thank you NHS!). For me personally the short answer is he does most of his work overnight when my aids are out (or if I can’t wear them due to ear infections, heaven forfend). Bliss – I hear nothing and I mean nothing! I slept through the major Buncefield oil depot explosion in Hemel Hempstead a few years ago even though we were only a couple of miles away and it was heard on the south coast. Thunderstorm? What thunderstorm? And I no longer have to request quiet hotel rooms in order to get some sleep. Those are some of the upsides of deafness – and yes, there definitely are some, just ask my husband about the many 4 hour flights he has endured listening to others’ screaming children while I just turn off my aids.
On the downside I can’t tell you the number of planes, trains and automobiles I have almost missed when travelling alone on business because I didn’t hear the alarm clock. The worst was probably waking up in a hotel in Denmark 10 minutes before I had to leave the hotel in order to make my flight back to the UK. This despite having set 5 different alarms – my personal alarm clock, the hotel alarm clock, the hotel phone, my mobile phone and a request for the receptionist to come in and physically shake me awake. The panic was awful – I’ve never washed, dressed, packed, checked out so fast in my life – but, with the help of an unsuspecting taxi driver who I leapt in front of, I made it with moments to spare – phew! So my Hearing Dog’s most important job is to wake me up when the alarm clock beeps in the morning.
How does he do that? Well, when the front paws of a 34kg Labrador land on your chest it tends to be a pretty effective wake-up call. And he is nothing if not persistent. If I turn over muttering something about just another couple of minutes, his snout finds its way under my elbow and flicks it up several times if necessary. And if that fails he jumps on the bed and steps all over me. There is no snooze button on a Labrador wanting breakfast!
Another troubling experience highlights the next key task for Elmo. Before I had him I was asleep in a London hotel on business when I was woken in the middle of the night by a very loud noise I couldn’t identify. Disorientated, at first I thought it was a howler put down the phone by BT when you leave it off the hook but no. Maybe it was the TV or radio – again no. I spent 5 minutes desperately hunting high and low in the room, terrified I was inadvertently disturbing all my neighbours before I opened the door and saw guests streaming past in the corridor in their night clothes. It was a fire alarm and the hotel was being evacuated. Those 5 minutes could have been the difference between life and death had it not been a false alarm. So Elmo alerts me to fire alarms too. For all other sounds he comes and nudges me to which I ask “what is it?” He then takes me to the source of the sound. Except the fire alarm when, in response to the question, he goes straight in to the down position. I swear the look on his face says “I don’t know what it is Mum but it’s really dangerous and it’s up to you to get us out of this”. Seriously, he is trained not to take me to the source of the fire alarm in case he is leading me in to danger.
And his final overnight task is to make sure I know if something is wrong with my husband. Keith has back problems and in the past has fallen to the floor with agonising back spasms, unable to get up and called to me for help. If this happens during a bathroom trip at night, I simply wouldn’t hear him and would never forgive myself if I wasn’t there for him after his selfless, unending support of me through my numerous deaf trials. Fortunately, this has to be Elmo’s favourite task – the call. As part of our daily training, Keith calls Elmo then tells him to find me. The thunder of paws precedes Elmo as he races through the house and I brace myself. When he arrives he nudges me or probably more accurately, he canons into me and is so excited he threatens to knock me off my feet (in defence of other Hearing Dogs this is not typical, they are much better mannered and not so over-enthusiastic. Fortunately I am robust). When I ask “what is it?”, he turns tail and flies back through the house, urgently looking behind to make sure I am following and I can almost hear him barking “Come on Mum, hurry up, it’s really important, Dad’s hurt!!”. He goes so fast he often loses me and I don’t know which room he has gone to so Keith has to send him back again. The frustration at my interminable pace is palpable – “Come on Mum!! Don’t you get it? Dad’s hurt!!!!”
His daytime tasks include alerting me to the doorbell (so I don’t miss the postman or parcel deliveries for instance), the telephone and the free-standing timer that can be used to alert me to any number of things, the washing machine/tumble dryer finishing and food cooking for example.
Perhaps the biggest thing Elmo does for me is to “tell” people I am deaf. His constant presence alongside me in his official burgundy jacket advising he is a Hearing Dog for Deaf People and a UK Registered Assistance dog is invaluable and helps avoid many embarrassing situations when my invisible disability means I am in danger of unintentionally ignore people.
As you can probably tell, I love him to bits along with an awful lot of other people he has met on his journey – his breeder, his puppy socialiser, his B&B family, the admin team he shared an office with during training (all the other puppies in training were small and he was too boisterous to be left alone in kennels with them), his trainer, our partnership instructor – the cast is endless. And I thank them all, each and every one of them, from the bottom of my heart.”