Sally Watson’s and Eileen Fuller’s talk on hearing dogs, given to members of Hastings and Rother U3A, was nothing short of a revelation.
Sally joked that in some situations we may be glad to lose our hearing, but on the whole it limits your life as you gradually shut down. She found that when she began to lose her hearing at the age of 50, she ceased to listen to the radio because voices and music all sounded the same.
Relationships also suffer, as you can only talk to people face to face and you cannot hold a conversation on the phone. Belonging to a book club and attending French conversation classes also presented challenges.
Before losing her hearing, she had been sociable and outgoing, but after losing it, giving dinner parties was impossible for even a party of four. She found texting invaluable, as were lip-reading classes, but unfortunately there are few of the latter about. Hearing aids were empowering for her, having been made redundant from teaching at 56, she now runs her own business looking after other people’s dogs. As one door closed, another opened.
Sally explained how vital the Hearing Dogs charity is, as in Britain one in six people suffer from hearing loss and one million are profoundly deaf. Deafness can isolate people and make them feel depressed. The charity was co-founded by Ben Fogle’s father Bruce in 1982, the Princess Royal became their patron in 1992 and it has moved from strength to strength, but it takes £45,000 breed, socialise train and maintain a hearing dog over its entire lifetime.
Dogs need to be bright, calm, and adaptable and love people. Eileen has found it takes her an extra hour going round Sainsbury’s as people greet her dog Kai and this gives Eileen greater confidence. The charity now has a scheme where people look after breeding bitches in their houses. Puppies stay with their mothers until they are eight weeks old and then are socialised for a year and taken to obedience training once a fortnight.
At one year old, they are given specific hearing training at the Grange or one of the other training centres. They must recognise doorbells, smoke alarms, phones and texts coming in, in fact any noise vital to the wellbeing of their owner. When dogs have been matched to an owner, the dogs are trained with them in mind. Sally told us about a dog provided for a young mother who became deaf when pregnant and the dog could listen for the baby’s cry and later on saved this owner from a fire.
Eileen spoke about the challenge of becoming partially deaf in her 30s with four young boys and of how, after nursing her dying husband for five years, she went completely deaf and felt as if she was in a black hole. It was her son who suggested she applied for a hearing dog and after a few years she was successful and was paired up with Kai, who changed her life.
Sally finished the talk by reading the poem The Deaf Person’s Number Lament, which underlined the particular problem numbers present for someone with reduced hearing, as many numbers: eight, 18 and 80 for example, lip-read the same.
The next U3A meeting will be on Monday, February 23 at 10.30am at St Peter’s Community Centre, Bexhill, when Dr Graham Whitham will be talking about Immortality Intemperance and Industry. Coffee is served from 9.45am. Visitors are welcome to attend two sessions before deciding whether to pay £17 to join for the year. Talks are free to members. For further details ring Sian Trevellion on 07970727180 or email email@example.com.