Elmo’s Dog Blog: the preview

Puppy Elmo - destined for stardom
Puppy Elmo – destined for stardom

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.

In working gear
In working gear

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.

Off duty
Off duty

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.

Deb and Elmo
Deb and Elmo

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.”

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18 thoughts on “Elmo’s Dog Blog: the preview

  1. My son and his wife have just donated one of their beautiful puppies to Hearing dogs. He is being collected on Wednesday. We look forward to hearing of his progress

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    1. That’s what’s so wonderful about all the fantastic people who support Hearing Dogs – they give so freely of their time, their money or, in this case, their puppies! Thank you so much Jen – please pass our thanks on to your son and wife.

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  2. So look forward to reading about your life with Elmo! I’m awaiting a hearing dog so think it’s all very exciting to be able to get some more insight into the way these wonderful dogs enhance our lives

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    1. Good luck with your application Heather, I’m sure you will develop a fantastic bond once you are matched. And believe me, that is a science in its own right, though I often refer to it as a doggie dating agency.

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  3. Hi Deb/Vera. Your dog sounds lovely. I understand you might have had to wait for approx a year when you applied for your hearing dog. I have often read the Hearing dog website and did wonder about the commitment of having a dog. I am fond of dogs but have never had one as a pet due to work commitments as I thought it cruel for a dog to be on their own all day. There was also the fact that a dog is not always welcome everywhere, I can think of one family member we would stop visiting if I had a dog! Deb, I look forward to reading any future blogs you write about your life with Elmo

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    1. Hi Patricia
      I actually had to wait 3.5 years from application to matching, though it has now improved I understand. And it was less than the worst-case scenario of 5 years I’d been warned about.
      I would agree it’s not fair to leave a pet dog on its own all day while out at work. However, registerd assistance dogs, as Hearing Dogs are, accompany their recipients to work. In fact, except in very specific environments where a dog’s safety might be at risk for instance, recipients are entitled to take their assistance dogs to work with them. Can you imagine someone in a wheelchair being asked not to bring it to work? Deafness is as much of a disability.
      This leads me on though to your point about commitment – it’s 100% with my Hearing Dog, much more so than a pet dog, and I did have one until just a few weeks ago. This is an important distinction, Elmo is not a pet, he is a working dog. And 100% means just that – I spend more time with Elmo than with my husband. He accompanies me on hospital & doctor visits, on public transport, shopping, restaurants, theatre – he even comes to the loo with me! So anyone thinking about a Hearing Dog needs to consider that very carefully. I could write a lot more but will stop now otherwise I’ll have nothing left to blog about!

      One last thing (honest!), maybe it’s because I’m an animal lover but I tend to give a wide berth to those who don’t like dogs – unless they’ve had a bad experience for instance – and I don’t think my life has suffered 🙂
      Deb

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  4. Just brilliant to read, Deb. Elmo is lucky to have someone with a sense of humour, too. My Brownie group are sponsoring a Hearing Dog puppy at the moment so I hope you (& Elmo & Keith, of course) won’t mind if I read some of this to them. I’m sure some of them think it’s just Brown Owl who can’t hear them unless I can see them. Though trying to decipher which one of 20+ excitable girls has just apparently shouted “Brown Owl” takes some doing. Thanks for a great guest blog.

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      1. Gosh – lucky Brownie Group. Say hi to them from 3rd Cowley Brownies in Oxford. I’m sure they’ll be absolutely mesmerised. We had a wonderful visit from Fudge and his trainer. The one thing our Brownies just couldn’t get to start with was the fire alert drop! And we had two who really were terrified of dogs – that is until Fudge worked his magic!
        You’re stars for visiting – just be yourselves and I’m sure they’ll really love it.
        Lots of luck – perhaps we’ll read about it in one of your future blogs.
        HilaryG.

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    1. Thank you Teresa, it’s been a pleasure. And I’ve taken inspiration from Vera whose blogs brighten my weeks.
      Oh one thing – don’t tell Elmo he’s gorgeous, it goes to his head 🙂
      Deb

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