Volunteers' Week 2021 - Day 3

Posted by Victoria Leedham


To celebrate #VolunteersWeek we asked a few volunteers to reflect on the past year and let us know what it's been like to volunteer during a pandemic. 
Today's #VolunteerVoice is Volunteer Dog Trainer Joanne Bill. Jo started her volunteer dog trainer journey with Labrador Ellie back in 2018 and has since continued to go above and beyond for the charity, including starring in our first ever podcast feature!

"March 20th 2020 - not a date we are likely to forget. My name is Jo and here is my life since lockdown began...

Being a mum with two children, a ‘helpful’ husband and a pet dog, our life was busy. However, in August 2018 I contacted Hearing Dogs and became a volunteer puppy trainer under the guidance of my Puppy Training Instructor Lorraine. I was entrusted with a beautiful black Labrador called Ellie. By August 2019 I was approached by Lorraine to see if I would be interested in progressing to volunteeer dog training in our home with Ellie. I leapt at the opportunity, as throughout my time socialising Ellie I have been given so much support and met some lovely people and gorgeous dogs, I was thrilled to be continuing Ellie's journey. Everything was going so well, she passed her 4 Star Award and then her mock Hearing Dog Assessment. Her final test was booked for 24th March 2020.

I then received a phone call from Lorraine explaining that, just like the rest of the country, Hearing Dogs operations were being put on temporary hold whilst they assessed what was and wasn't possible under national lockdown restrictions. I took this as a blessing as that meant that I could spend longer with Ellie as I had been preparing myself mentally for her departure.

I must say, despite the uncertainty, Lorraine and her colleagues at Hearing Dogs continued to stay in regualr contact via phone calls, emails, and Microsoft Teams. Someone was always there to offer support, guidance and sometimes just a virtual ear!

In fact, a couple of weeks into lockdown, I received a phone call from Lorraine checking that I was still ok. She also mentioned that some first-time volunteer puppy trainers were understandbly struggling and could I maybe help by having one of the puppies on holiday cover to give his volunteers a break. That is when Wooster a 14-week-old Labrador literally bounced into my life! He was so full of energy and curiosity. I had forgotten how hard it is to keep a puppy entertained, but calm.

At the same time as caring for Ellie and Wooster I embraced home schooling my children with mixed reviews! My husband working from home brought its own challenges, but having at least two happy faces to greet me every morning (albeit dogs) was enough for me to take a deep breath and carry on. I began to really treasure my time out with just the dogs, everything was so quiet except for wonders of nature as we were out walking together.

I had Wooster for three weeks in the end and I’m not sure who got more out of it, me or him! I do not miss the early morning 'hurry up', or my garden being redesigned, but knowing I was able to help someone in these times really gave me a boost. I have made two new friends out of the experience (Wooster's full time volunteer and his mum's fosterer), that I now cherish and look forward to our socially distanced meet-ups.

In place of Wooster I now have my next dog to start doing volunteer dog traning with, a rather beautiful Cocker Spaniel called Ella. It is incredibly early days, but we are beginning to get to know and hopefully trust each other.

On reflection, who would of thought that from one phone call in August 2018 I would have become part of a wonderful charity, full of big-hearted people, who have all experienced this momentous global pandemic together and dealt with such huge changes in everyday life.

I would like to say a really big thank you to Lorraine my puppy training instructor, Ellie my first hearing dog trainee and everyone else that I have crossed paths with thanks to Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. I really appreciate each and every one of you. Please remember in these strange times you all are making a difference, and I for one am enormously proud to be part of the Hearing Dogs family."

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About the author

Victoria Leedham

Hello, I’m Victoria and Head of Volunteering at Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. It’s my privilege to celebrate and share stories about our wonderful volunteer family.

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