"Irving has done so much to keep me safe"

Posted by Matt Sadler

Derek applied for a hearing dog following a near miss, when a fire almost broke out in his house. Now, with Labrador Irving by his side, Derek feels much safer at home and he has also noticed an improvement in his mental health.

He explains: “I’m a bit of a multi-tasker and put something on the stove before going off to do something else. After causing smoke damage in the kitchen, I realised something had to change for the safety of me and my family. My wife, Alison, suggested I should apply for a hearing dog.

“I’ve been deaf most of my life, since contracting meningitis at the age of four. It left me with only 10% hearing in one ear and no hearing in the other. Despite my parents’ efforts to get me properly assessed afterwards, my hearing loss went undiagnosed until I was six years old.

“I was fitted with hearing aids, repeated the year I’d missed at school and continued in mainstream education. I’m naturally a very positive person so, despite being bullied at school, I kept my head down and worked extra hard to achieve good grades and make something of my life.

“I had to fight hard to get on the advanced BTEC course to complete my education as they constantly underestimated my ability because of my deafness. The challenges of hearing loss continued when I started work. I had good lipreading skills in face-to-face communication, so people would assume my hearing loss wasn’t that bad. I’d regularly have to remind them of my profound deafness and was often accused of ignoring people when they spoke to me from behind – I even received a warning for it.

“Then, in 2015, Irving, a handsome black Lab, entered my life and everything changed for the better.

“Irving makes it easier for me to engage with new people and acts as a constant reminder that I have a hidden disability. We gelled together straight away. He quickly became a star at the college where I worked at the time, supporting students with special needs through their college course. The students called him ‘Henry’ and he was great with them! His calming influence made a big difference, particularly at exam time, when they were feeling anxious or having a bad day.

“I discovered early on just how intelligent Irving is, and how strong the bond is between us, when he alerted me to something important that he wasn’t trained for. We were walking in the park during the college lunch break when Irving kept nudging me and pointing towards a bush. He was so insistent that I went over to have a look.

“Peering inside I was shocked to see a large chef’s knife, about 35cm long, hidden there. I alerted the police, who were extremely impressed by Irving and grateful for the find. I knew from that moment that Irving would always look out for me and keep me safe, it’s an incredible feeling.

“Since 2022 I’ve been full-time self-employed and work privately in tech support. Irving helps to keep me in some sort of routine and gets me out for regular walks where he now employs his nose for sniffing out muddy puddles and finding tennis balls!

“Having a hearing dog has made all the difference to my awareness of sounds, but I wasn’t prepared for the number of people who stop and chat with you when you have a dog. This has had a very positive effect on my mental health, and I’ve gained many friends through walking Irving in the local area; people I would never have spoken to prior to having him.

“Irving is very popular in our village – here he’s also known as ‘Henry’! He leads me into all the shops where he knows the staff will make a fuss of him, whether I want to buy anything from the shop or not! He’s particularly fond of the veg shop because he gets a free carrot!

“I’m still in touch with Irving’s volunteers, Paul and Jo, who cared for him from puppyhood and all through his training. We try and meet up with them and their current hearing dog pup at least once a year for a catch up. We’ve become firm friends and Irving has never forgotten his first family, he’s always over the moon to see them. It’s so nice that that they’re still interested in Irving and how he helps me.

“Irving and I also volunteer for Hearing Dogs, and regularly attend the Charity’s community days to talk about our experience and support others with hearing loss. It’s our way of helping and giving back.

“Irving is now 10 and will be due to retire within the next couple of years. The Charity will soon begin the process of looking for a successor dog for us from among all the pups in training with their volunteers. I say ‘us’, because finding the perfect match is not only key to a successful partnership for me, but also, it’s equally important for Irving that my new hearing dog is compatible with him.

“It goes without saying that Irving will always remain a valued member of our family, I simply couldn’t part with him. He has done so much to keep me safe and, while my new hearing dog will eventually take over the listening, Irving ‘the nose’ will continue to be my Lab assistant and number one sniffer dog!”

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About the author

blog hearing dogs

Hi everyone, I'm Matt and I look after the Charity's social media, blog and e-newsletter.

I spend a lot of my day talking about our hearing dog superstars - it's a hard life!

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