"Having Larry has totally changed my life"
Posted by Matt Sadler
Ruth, a 32 year old from Derbyshire, and two year old cocker spaniel Larry, who was trained by Hearing Dogs as a Confidence and Companion dog, have something very special in common – they are both deaf.
Larry was going to become a hearing dog, trained to alert deaf people to important and life-saving sounds. At 10 weeks old however, it was discovered that Larry was deaf.
While Larry was not able to hear sounds, he responded well to being trained using hand signals, and it was decided that he would make a wonderful companion for a deaf person who needed the emotional support and companionship of a dog.
After being trained incredibly well by his volunteer puppy trainer with the support of Hearing Dogs staff, Larry was matched with Ruth, who had applied to Hearing Dogs for a confidence and companion dog. Ruth has been deaf since birth. She now has cochlear implants but still struggles to hear.
Here, Ruth tells her story:
“Having Larry has totally changed my life. My husband has commented on how much happier I am since we got him.
“I work long days during the week, and I used to be exhausted in the evenings from the effort of listening and communicating at work, typically falling asleep on the sofa by 9pm.
“Now, I take Larry out for a walk in the evenings and can manage to stay awake through a TV programme – usually with Larry asleep on my lap instead.
“I can relate to Larry on a very fundamental level because we are both deaf. He brings me solace and takes me out of myself. If I’ve had a bad day, or I’m worrying about my hearing, he comes to greet me as soon as I get home which makes things better.
“Larry is the other man in my life, alongside my husband, Jonathan.
“I remember the first morning we had together I was just cuddling him for hours - I felt so protective of him because of his disability.
“He's a bit like me; we're both very visual, he's always looking at people's faces to see how they'll react or what they want.
“He's the softest dog you'll ever meet, he loves everyone and is absolutely fearless.”
Ruth has been deaf since birth. On her experiences with deafness throughout her life, Ruth says:
“I tried my best to not let my disability hold me back, I've always tried to lead a normal life.
“I've always felt though like I was playing catch up and was behind.
“I found it quite hard to make friends at school. I was bullied because of my disability and was quite lonely, it was only at university that I was more accepting of my deafness and I met more people who were deaf.
“I'm proud of who I am and that I'm deaf, and of everything I've achieved.
“Larry is a very good stigma-buster when it comes to perceptions of deafness. He goes out into the world with an endlessly happy and positive attitude. In a strange sort of way, I suppose I find him very inspiring.
“I don’t have to use my voice with Larry, although naturally I do speak to him.
“If I’ve had a long day of communicating and using my voice, and I’m tired, we’ll go for a walk and communicate only using hand signals and facial expressions - I find this unspoken connection deeply therapeutic.”
What is a Confidence and Companion Dog?
A few of our dogs grow up to be very well behaved, but perhaps a little too shy for the proactive soundwork role. These dogs can be matched in a confidence and companionship role to deaf or hard of hearing people.
The partners of these dogs may not need a dog who is skilled at alerting to sounds, but a well-trained dog can bring them substantial confidence and companionship - helping them to feel less isolated. After a period of time in the their deaf partners' homes with staff support to ensure the match is successful, these dogs are permanently adopted by their recipient.
A confidence and companion dog is occasionally placed in a residential home or with a carer where they can bring the therapeutic benefits of their friendship to relieve clinical conditions such as dementia or depression. These dogs can also provide therapy alongside a carer who visits patients in hospitals and hospices.
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