"My hearing dog Harris knows when I need him."

Posted by Matt Sadler

For sixteen-year-old Ryan, the emotional support of a hearing dog has made life so much easier, especially in times of stress and anxiety.

Sitting in the exam room about to take his GCSEs, profoundly deaf Ryan can feel the anxiety rising.

In the past this kind of situation would completely overwhelm him. But today it’s different, because lying next to him is hearing dog Harris, a gentle giant of a Golden Retriever, who is so tuned in to the needs of his human partner that he sits up and rests his head reassuringly on Ryan’s arm as if to say: I’m here, you’re safe, don’t worry, everything’s OK.

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Anxiety is something 16-year-old Ryan has battled his whole life since testing positive for Cytomegalovirus, a virus that caused profound hearing loss, complex communication difficulties as well as other health challenges that unfortunately delayed his surgery for a cochlear implant until he was two-and-a-half.

Amy, Ryan’s mum, says: “The implant made a big difference to Ryan’s hearing, but he still needed a lot of support due to his difficulties with processing language and communication. He had a lot of good support both from the NHS and from his school, especially leading up to GCSEs, but he has always struggled to control his anxiety in stressful situations.”

Then, five years ago, aged 11, Ryan was partnered with hearing dog Harris and something amazing happened. Amy explains: “Part of the reason we applied for a hearing dog was because Ryan was really struggling at school. His anxieties were particularly bad at night.

Without his cochlear implants in Ryan was scared to close his eyes because then he couldn’t see or hear. This caused him to struggle at school because he was just so exhausted during the day. Now with Harris right beside him Ryan feels safe and can sleep.

If Ryan is at all anxious about something Harris rests his big soft head on Ryan’s arm until he falls asleep and then he nudges him awake when the alarm clock goes off in the morning.”

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Ryan had Harris for four years when he was first allowed to accompany Ryan to school. Over the past year, Ryan’s teachers have observed a positive change in him since being able to study at home with his best buddy Harris by his side.

With COVID-19 rules and strict social distancing in place it became possible for the school to consider allowing Ryan to take his exams accompanied by Harris. The experience has been so positive that it’s paving the way for other deaf children with hearing dogs at the school to do the same.

Of course, for hearing dog Harris it’s all just another day doing his thing, listening out for important alarm sounds and helping Ryan stay in control of his anxieties. Amy, Ryan’s mum, says it’s been life-changing and they haven’t looked back.

It was this comforting presence that also made the world of difference to Ryan when he needed to go for surgery in the summer.

Amy explains: “Ryan has a long-standing fear of cannulas and needles and so his anxiety can be overwhelming prior to receiving an anaesthetic. Harris helps Ryan to stay in control of his anxieties during hospital appointments but the thought of having an anaesthetic without Harris by his side was terrifying him.”

Ryan says: “Since Harris has been allowed to stay next to me for blood tests, I’ve coped much better. He knows when I need him and sits really close.

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“It makes me feel safe because he’s calm. Everything about an anaesthetic makes me scared, the needles, the people because I can’t understand what they’re saying, and making me close my eyes without feeling Harris next to me.

“I begged them to let Harris stay with me for the anaesthetic. They can understand how upset I am so after asking lots of questions about how Harris helps me, they said yes! It was so different having him there. Everyone said so. I felt safe and it was a better experience for everyone. They were amazed to see Harris rest his head on my arm.”

So impressed was the hospital team that they now want to offer this support to other people with assistance dogs. They have even written an open letter to their medical journal about it.

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Harris makes things so much easier for Ryan, and thanks to Harris being able to join Ryan during his exams, he will be sharing the credit for his results with his four-legged best friend.

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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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