"I really value what volunteering brings to my life"
Posted by Matt Sadler
When Sue Hagues had to stop working in 2007 following an operation to remove a brain tumour, she felt lost. She had to leave a job she loved and found herself alone at home all day while her husband was at work. Sue felt lonely and isolated, until one day she responded to an advert looking for volunteers to help train a hearing dog puppy.
Sue says that becoming a volunteer puppy trainer for Hearing Dogs gave her focus, particularly when she was recovering from cancer a few years ago. Following her recovery, she says volunteering gave her something worthwhile to do at a time when she could have easily slipped into feeling sorry for herself.
Sue is in the ‘shielding group’ during the Coronavirus lockdown and has to self-isolate. Despite this, not only is Sue continuing to train a hearing dog, a cockapoo called Merlin, from home, but she has also been helping to make special ‘scrub bags’ and other items for frontline NHS workers.
Here, Sue tells her story in her own words:
In 2005, I had surgery to remove a benign brain tumour. This left me with memory problems and cognitive difficulties, and while I tried to return to work – in a training role for a major retailer – after treatment, sadly I was not able to so I took an early retirement.
I went from a busy, people-focused job to being at home on my own, with very little confidence and nothing to do. I felt really frustrated. My husband John, who was still working, suggested getting a dog, but at that time I thought it was quite a big tie having my own dog, and I wouldn’t have known where to start in training a dog.
Sue with husband John and cockapoo Merlin
One day I bumped into someone in a shop who had a hearing dog puppy that they were training, and we had a chat about it. Shortly after that I saw something in the local newspaper about Hearing Dogs for Deaf People – they were looking for people who might be interested in volunteering to look after and train a little hearing dog puppy, with full support from the charity, so that it could go on to change a deaf person’s life. I’m a dog lover and had been looking for something to do that would keep me busy and focused – this looked perfect, so I decided to apply.
When I got my first hearing dog puppy to train, I felt I had a responsibility to help the puppy achieve its full potential and go on to be a life changer. As hearing dog puppies live with their volunteers while they are learning everything they need to know, I had company during the day and a worthwhile activity to do. Walking a dog gave me a reason to go out. I would chat to other dog walkers. I suddenly realised how lonely I had felt at home alone all day every day.
Over the next few years, I continued training hearing dog puppies and slightly older dogs who were ready to be taught how to alert deaf people to sounds.
Then, in 2016, I found out I had cancer. I once again started treatment. It was major blow. I was ‘in-between puppies’ at this point but at the very end of my treatment I was asked if I’d like to take a young dog called Buffy for her soundwork training. This couldn’t have come at a better time. Having a hearing dog puppy after cancer gave me something incredibly positive to focus on, at a time I could have easily slipped into feeling sorry for myself.
Sue and hearing dog Buffy
One of the unexpected benefits of training a hearing dog puppy was that it gave me something to talk to people about other than cancer. When you go through that, people often can’t see beyond the cancer – although they mean well of course. Having a hearing dog pup took the focus off me and gave people something else to talk to me about, which was nice.
The pup I am training now, a gorgeous cockapoo called Merlin, also seemed to come to me at exactly the right time. Just a few weeks after he came to live with me, the Coronavirus crisis hit, and lockdown began.
Merlin gives me a real focus. I use the word focus a lot when I talk about what volunteering for Hearing Dogs has done for me, because it really does give me something to turn my attention to, particularly during difficult times.
I am in the highly vulnerable group and so I’m ‘shielding’ during the Coronavirus lockdown and training Merlin while I am self-isolating keeps me busy and gives me many reasons to smile. He gives me a routine, which is so important, and he keeps me entertained.
So many people are struggling right now because of the Coronavirus lockdown. I really feel for folks out there. For some people it must be awful. If I didn’t have Merlin living with me, it would be so much harder.
Cockapoo Merlin, who is currently training to be a hearing dog
I really value what volunteering for Hearing Dogs brings to my life. It gives me direction, teaches me patience, has brought me friendships, and keeps me busy.
I can’t think of anything else that would give me what training hearing dogs does. It’s all about the people, the support, the friendships, and of course, the lovely dogs!
It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that the training you are doing with a dog will help it to one day change the life of a deaf person who needs help.
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