“Hearing dog Travis saved our Christmas”

Alison Stock's son Joe didn't sleep properly for the first 12 years of his life. After a difficult Christmas, with Joe finding it hard to focus or interact with the family because of his fatigue, she knew something had to change. With hearing dog Travis around, the next Christmas was 'beautiful'...

Joe Stock with hearing dog Travis

"Have you ever had an ill child? Have you ever felt like you’re holding your family together – and failing? Have you ever woken up on Christmas Day exhausted – and gone to bed that same day in tears?

"My name’s Alison. My son Joe has had three cancers during his young life. As a result of the chemotherapy for his first cancer, he lost his hearing.

"Joe’s deafness isolates him. He can’t follow conversations – the little plans for the day over breakfast, the silly comments over dinner, those small details that make a life complete. It also exhausts him. He doesn’t sleep at all well because the dark and silence conspire to terrify him, so he’s always tired.

"Combine this with his cancers, which have meant being in hospital for months at a time, and you can see that Joe’s had it tough. So has the whole family. Our worries about Joe, the seemingly endless stays at hospital, the difficulties sleeping… it’s been hard for us all.

"But it all came to a head one Christmas Day.

"Joe was tired, yet again. My children were tired. My husband Jon and I were exhausted after virtually living in hospital with Joe for so long. We were completely burned out.

"There were a lot of people in the house, so a lot of background noise, which puts Joe off. Joe wasn’t following the conversations and kept wanting to take himself off to another room. We half-heartedly pulled the Christmas crackers, but when we told the jokes, Joe couldn’t hear them. We played a game at the table, but Joe couldn’t follow what was happening and started getting upset.

"And so the day continued. From the initial joy of unwrapping presents, Joe’s deafness meant he became more and more frustrated.

From the initial joy of unwrapping presents, Joe’s deafness meant he became more and more frustrated

"At the end of that day I sat down, shattered, with my husband Jon. We were so sad. We’d put so much into Christmas Day, but we couldn’t even make that one day special.

"As a parent, you just want the best for your family. It was becoming clear to me that, like every parent, I was trying to make Christmas Day lovely and perfect. But that wasn’t our reality. It was wishful thinking to believe that a single day could make everything better. We needed something to change that would help Joe, help us, help everyone.

"We had already contacted Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, and we knew Joe would one day get a hearing dog. After that Christmas, my hopes and prayers that this would happen became even more heartfelt. Later that year, when hearing dog Travis eventually walked through the door, the house suddenly felt calm. Everything seemed to slow down. It was incredible.

When hearing dog Travis eventually walked through the door, the house suddenly felt calm"That night, Joe slept. He actually slept. It made such a difference, because it meant we all slept too. Since then, Joe’s been able to sleep most nights. If he wakes up, Travis his superhero dog is by his side. Just by being there for him, Travis helps Joe go back to sleep.

"It’s fair to say Travis has transformed Joe’s life. He alerts Joe to important sounds, such as the alarm clock or doorbell. I can tell Travis to ‘fetch Joe’, and off he goes, finds Joe in the house, gives him a nose nudge, and leads Joe back to me. So it’s practical, day-to-day help but, as importantly, he’s a constant, faithful friend, and that’s what Joe really needed.

"So how was the next Christmas? It was beautiful.

"Joe slept. When the grandparents arrived, Joe answered the door because Travis alerted him to the doorbell. We moved Travis’s bed into the lounge so he could be with the family. We told jokes, we played games, and Joe felt alert enough to follow it all. Then we went for a lovely, refreshing walk, Joe proudly leading the way with Travis.

"I’m really looking forward to this Christmas. I’ve bought Travis a doggy Advent calendar and will make him a tasty livercake pudding. I will welcome friends and family to our happy home – our happy, calm, relaxed home.

I will welcome friends and family to our happy home – our happy, calm, relaxed home

"I wish you a peaceful, relaxed, loving Christmas. That’s what we got for Christmas last year. This year Joe wants another deaf person to have the gift of a superhero hearing dog."

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