When out and about with my dog, Tilly, I have been known to refer to her as my ‘unofficial hearing dog’ as a bit of an ice-breaker when meeting new people. I do this as a way of letting them know they’re talking to a deafened person and that I might not be able to follow everything they’re saying. I’ve also used the term in my writing and in my event speaking in the context of telling people about the five year waiting list there is for an official hearing dog. And, I sometimes speak about how, when I lost my hearing suddenly, I suffered panic attacks and a loss of confidence in going out of the house without my husband. I felt I just couldn’t wait that five years for a dog and so we started looking for a rescue dog to adopt to keep me company and help me feel more secure when my husband goes out.
Tilly is a rescue Westie – an ex-breeding bitch from an illegal ‘puppy farm’. She lets me know when someone’s at the door (by barking and running to the front door or if we’re in a room where the door is closed, she lets it be known she wants to get out of that room so she can run to the front door). However, when the phone rings, the smoke alarm sounds or the burglar alarm goes off, she does absolutely nothing at all. She is clearly not a proper hearing dog!
Her main gift to me is her love, loyalty and devotion. She is by my side most of the time and when she’s not, I feel anxious and am unable to properly relax. It’s well-known that stroking a pet lowers the heart rate and is good for you and I have truly benefited from having such a patient and gentle dog who is prepared to sit with me for hours at a time, giving me strength through her companionship, letting me give her lots of cuddles.
I am always grateful when I find shops and cafés which are dog-friendly but, inevitably, there are many places where Tilly is not allowed to accompany me. This is when I feel most anxious : when I am out of the house on my own without her. And this is where having a service/assistance dog is so important to people with disabilities, as they are allowed to go with you wherever you’re going.
On 1st October 2014, an amazing thing happened to me: my husband got through on the phone to the Hearing Dog application line and, after answering the initial screening questions, I was accepted to make a full application. We were over the moon and I sent off my application form straight away. In January, I will be going to the Hearing Dogs for Deaf People’s assessment centre in Yorkshire and, if I’m accepted, my name will be added to their waiting list.
The three years since I suffered sudden sensori-neural hearing loss have flown by so, now with my new-found confidence, bi CROS aids and with Tilly by my side, I’m sure the next five years (if that’s how long it takes) will whizz by too. If I’m fortunate enough to be accepted to become a recipient of a Hearing Dog, Tilly will be over ten years old by the time one comes to live with us (which is a requirement in respect of dogs already in the home). I’m sure Tilly will enjoy showing off all her favourite haunts to the new dog and will welcome them into our family.
If you would like to know more about hearing dogs and the work of the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People you can visit the website or you can invite a volunteer speaker to an event. Who knows, as I’ve just volunteered to become a speaker for the charity, that speaker might even be me!