“Jovi is a cheeky rock star - I can’t imagine my life without him."
Posted by Matt Sadler
Graham Sage, 29, is a Year 4 teacher at Moulsford Preparatory School in Oxfordshire. He also plays for the England Deaf Rugby Union side and is their assistant coach. Graham’s hearing dog, a cocker spaniel called Jovi, has not only changed his life but has spread awareness of deafness and has helped to raise around £20,000 for Hearing Dogs.
Here is Graham’s story:
“Jovi is a cheeky little rock star and I can’t imagine my life without him.
“I began to lose my hearing at around 15 years old. At first, my hearing loss wasn’t noticeable as the environments I found myself in were relatively close quarters – small classrooms and the family home. It became more noticeable as I got older and my hearing deteriorated further.
“It wasn’t until I started university at 19 that I realised I couldn’t hear any of the lecturers in the larger rooms, particularly if I wasn’t close enough to lip-read. Upon realising that I could no longer hear or understand what the lecturer was saying, I went to get my hearing properly tested.
“My hearing loss is due to Meniere’s disease and is progressive. I also have constant pulsating tinnitus which makes things more difficult. Over the past five years my hearing loss has progressed quickly from moderate loss to being severe to profound. My grandfather had almost identical symptoms to me around the same age before going on to become completely deaf by the age of 40.
“Having grown up only ever knowing my grandfather as deaf and wearing hearing aids, the idea of me – a 20 year old at the time – wearing them was quite (and I’m ashamed to say it now) embarrassing.
“Having hearing loss can be pretty scary. I have always had a fear that if the house was being broken into, I wouldn’t hear it. I would be quite on edge and had to keep checking that the doors were locked.
“I would not hear doorbells or the smoke alarm when I was cooking. I would always have difficulties with alarm clocks in the morning, despite trying various aids. I would sleep badly in anticipation that I might miss the alarm and be late.
“I never really used to think that my hearing loss affected me socially but looking back now I can see that I became more introverted. The main reason being that I lip read a lot so in a social environment there were often lots of people talking or lots of different conversations going on at once. This requires a lot of concentration and as social activities tended to happen in an evening, after a long day, it became exhausting and I would end up zoning out. This wasn’t because I wasn’t interested or being grumpy; it was just difficult to keep up.
“My hearing dog Jovi has changed my life in so many ways. He has helped me to overcome some of my anxieties around interacting with other people, and his presence actually encourages interaction. I have had so many people come up to me and ask questions about him. When people find out he is my hearing dog they start to ask more questions. This has made me far more accepting and even proud of my hearing loss.
“I’m far more confident to go out and be approached by people when I’m with Jovi as they tend to be far more deaf-aware and try to make allowances for me. I also feel more confident when asking someone to repeat something, as I feel they will be more understanding and not think I’m being rude or haven’t been listening.
“Jovi gives me a greater feeling of safety. His presence when I’m home alone or out and about makes me feel more comfortable. This allows me to go upstairs or into the kitchen without worrying about missing a delivery or being broken into. I also sleep better knowing that Jovi will eagerly alert me to my alarm clock each morning. Before, I would have to rely on my wife Anna to wake me up. If she was away, I’d have to rely on multiple alarms and even a phone call from her. These may seem like small issues to some, but collectively they had a real impact on my daily life.
“Jovi’s non-contact alerts also make me aware of other sounds he may hear just by looking in their direction, such as traffic or people walking behind me in a street.
“Communication in our house used to be quite difficult at times, as Anna could struggle to get my attention. Now, thanks to Jovi’s amazing abilities, Anna can call him and ask him to ‘Go get Graham!’ and he’ll come and alert me and take me to her. This makes a far more peaceful and relaxing household.
“Looking to the future, if my wife and I were to start a family, it is comforting to know that Jovi can be trained to alert me to a baby’s cry and will add to the safety and security of the household.
“I work as a Year 4 teacher at an all-boys school and Jovi comes with me every day.
“When I first decided I wanted to become a teacher I found it really daunting, as I feared I wouldn’t be able to hear the children and other sounds I’d need to hear during the school day, such as fire alarms and school bells. I don’t need to worry about that now that I have Jovi.
“When I’m teaching, Jovi helps me by alerting me to a timer I set to give my pupils a specific time to complete work by. He also alerts me to the fire alarm, which is amazing. Before I had Jovi, a fire alarm went off when no one was in the classroom and I didn’t evacuate because I didn’t hear it.
“His sound alerts are fantastic. While we were walking on the back fields at school one day Jovi nudged me and lay down on the ground. I was so confused because he was acting really strangely. It was only when I got back to school and was told that I’d missed a fire alarm that I realised Jovi had been alerting me. Laying down is what hearing dogs are taught to do when they hear a fire alarm. We are around 1km from the school so I was amazed that he could still do his job that far away!
“Deaf awareness is important to me. Each new academic year I start off by teaching the children in my class to be more deaf aware. I try to give them a sense of what it is like to have a significant hearing loss. This helps them to pick up tips on what they need to do to communicate with me effectively, such as turning to talk to me so that I can lip read and not covering their mouths when they talk. These are skills that aren’t the easiest for eight and nine year olds!
“I’m very lucky because my employer and colleagues are all fantastically supportive, and Jovi’s presence has greatly increased everyone’s awareness of my deafness. The boys are great in class and have learnt to be clearer in their communication.
“The whole school has really got behind Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. We’ve managed to raise around £20,000 to help their work. One of my wonderful colleagues even ran the London Marathon in 2018 dressed as a dog to raise money and ended up breaking the Guinness World Record as the fastest female to run the London Marathon in a full body animal costume!
“The money we’ve raised also includes a big chunk brought in by one of our pupils choosing Hearing Dogs as the charity to benefit from an auction by the well-known band Belle & Sebastian. His mother was on the cover of one of the band’s albums, and they kindly asked her to ask her son which charity he wanted the proceeds to go. This raised over £14,000.
“None of this would be possible without Jovi.
“Outside of work, I love rugby. I got involved with England Deaf Rugby Union (EDRU) through playing touch rugby with a friend who plays for Wales Deaf Rugby. I told him I was losing my hearing and he said to get in touch with the coach at EDRU and send them my audiogram.
“I went to an open training session in 2011 and debuted against Wales a couple of months later, and we beat them for the first time in seven years. I was awarded man of the match. I was then offered the captaincy for the next international and when I stopped playing, due to a few serious injuries, I passed the armband over to my vice-captain, I am now backs coach and assistant coach.
“Jovi has been to training with me a number of times and loves watching from the side line. I’ve also recently been given the all-clear to play again and played, as well as coached, the England Deaf Rugby Union team in our most recent win over Wales Deaf Rugby.
“Deafness can cause barriers, but it shouldn’t have to hold people back if they have the right support. I would say to anyone who has any level of hearing loss and is struggling - try and seek help, even if it’s just talking to someone.
“Jovi helps me to lead a ‘normal’ life and I’m so thankful to him for that.”
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