Chloe, 28, was born with bilateral profound deafness. She had hearing aids until the age of 18, when she had a cochlear implant fitted. She is the only person in her family who is deaf, and doctors still don’t know the cause. She lives with her husband and her hearing dog Elvis, who helps her on a daily basis.
“I was lucky when I was little. My family were fantastic and learned British Sign Language straight away, so communicating with them was very easy. When I went to primary school though, I became very self-conscious about my deafness. I asked my parents not to sign when we were around school friends, and I always wore my hair down to hide my hearing aids.
“I went to a mainstream primary school with a deaf unit, but teachers felt I was more advanced than the other deaf students, so they put me into a hearing classroom with a sign language interpreter.
“I found this quite difficult. I was the only deaf child in a class of 30 hearing children and it meant I had to sit at the front all the time. I couldn’t sit next to my friends.
“School is usually a child’s first experience of independence, but having an interpreter with me all day meant I didn’t have the same freedom as other children to make friends etc. Wherever I went, my interpreter went with me.”
Chloe’s secondary education at the Mary Hare School for the Deaf in Newbury was a much more positive experience.
“I realised for the first time that I wasn’t the only person who was deaf and that it was okay to be deaf. I felt much more secure in myself - I loved being there. I’m still in touch with all my friends from school – we talk every day - and some of them were my bridesmaids.”
Chloe studied psychology at university, before joining the NHS. She works full-time as a Data and Insight Lead in London and, twice a week, takes the train and then the tube to work.
“I’m comfortable with the train as long as nothing goes wrong. Because people can’t see your deafness, they just assume you can hear them, and I’ve had several experiences on the tube where someone has barged past and glared at me because I haven’t heard them asking me to move.
“One day I was on a packed train platform at rush hour and, all of a sudden, I could see people screaming and pushing. It turned out that someone had fallen onto the track, and they were running around trying to get help, but I didn’t know what was going on. I found the whole experience very upsetting and didn’t want to take the train again for some time afterwards.”
The idea of applying for a hearing dog grew over time for Chloe.
“During the pandemic I started using the Borrow my Doggy app and realised how much I loved getting out and about and walking dogs. I also found it was a great way to connect with other people.
“Another factor in my decision was seeing the way people reacted to a blind colleague with a guide dog. People responded to him very positively - making sure they had his attention before speaking to him, and making sure he was included in meetings - and I think this was because the assistance dog was a visual reminder that he was blind.”
Chloe’s mind was made up when a friend who had been matched with a hearing dog started posting videos on social media showing how their dog was helping them.
Never having owned a dog before, Chloe found the first couple of weeks with Elvis quite a steep learning curve, but eight months later, she says she can’t imagine life without him.
“We’ve just come back from holiday and I really missed him – it felt as though I’d lost a limb!
“At home with Elvis, I feel completely safe. Before I had him, when I was home alone, I wouldn't take my cochlear implant off because it freaked me out hearing sounds and not being able to identify them. Now I can take it off and I know I’m safe.
Elvis practises his favourite alert, the smoke alarm
“When my husband’s working away, I let Elvis sleep on the bed next to me. Just knowing he’s there and will let me know if anything happens, is very reassuring.
“I’ve also been able to go shopping for the first time in ages. Before I had Elvis I used to shop online because I found it hard to approach people for help. I didn’t feel comfortable going into changing rooms because I was worried someone might walk in on me, or that a fire alarm might go off and everyone would leave the building without me knowing.”
Ever since Chloe came out of the cloakroom at work to find her colleagues evacuating the building because the fire alarm had gone off, the thought of not hearing a fire alarm is her biggest fear.
“Now I have Elvis, I’m so much more relaxed, because he will let me know. It’s his favourite sound to alert me to as well!”
Elvis has also given Chloe the confidence to speak to people when she’s out walking and when she goes to church on Sunday.
“Church can be quite a noisy environment with everyone chatting and music in the background, and before I had Elvis I wouldn’t engage with anyone. Now I’ll turn and talk to people and get involved in things. Everyone loves him at church - he’s a bit of a celebrity!
“I would never start conversations with strangers before, but now I’ll say hello to everyone. I recently started talking to a lady in our local park and found out that she was deaf too. It turned out she only lives down the road from me. If I hadn’t had Elvis, I would never have met her.”
“He’s the perfect dog for me and I’m so grateful because I know a lot of people worked very hard in getting him to be the dog that he is now. He’s my best friend!”