“Before Harley, I felt so terribly isolated, cocooned in silence”

When Mary Gosling suddenly lost her hearing, she couldn’t see a future. Depression followed, but with hearing dog Harley’s help, she’s gained the strength to co-found the British Cockapoo Society and help publish a book.

Mary and hearing dog Harley

I lost my hearing twelve years ago. Nobody knows why. One night I was watching TV; the next morning almost all my hearing had gone. Today, I’m profoundly deaf, with tinnitus.

It was devastating. I used to love music – all music, from rock to punk through to classical. When I was young, I went to see the Boomtown Rats in my pyjamas, because that was the pianist’s gimmic. I’d shaved my head too (my dad wasn’t very happy about that!). I’ve seen Madonna, Stevie Wonder, even Meatloaf in concert. Music reminded me of good times. Suddenly this essential part of my life had gone.

I tried hearing aids but they stopped working as my hearing deteriorated. I tried to be sociable, but even though I can lip read, I couldn’t follow conversations, so I would have to give up. I tried to work, but I had other health problems that kept me off sick.

I felt so terribly isolated, cocooned in silence, except for relentless tinnitus which causes strange sensations and sounds. I couldn’t put on any music for relief. I couldn’t pick up the phone and chat to friends, or do simple things like pay bills or arrange appointments.

I lived in constant fear and anxiety. What if there was a break-in? Or a fire? None of these things had bothered me when I could hear. They all become horribly real when you lose your hearing.

I had bad experiences. The worst was in a coffee shop: the barista mumbled something with his head down. I told him I was deaf and asked him to repeat it, so he shouted the question at me. Everyone looked. I was so embarrassed. I paid, and stumbled out, swallowing my tears.

After a while, I didn’t go out. In the end, I couldn’t go out. When I reached the bottom of a very deep hole, I’m ashamed to say that I tried to end it all.

However, I’ve always loved dogs, having grown up on a farm, and when I found out about Hearing Dogs, I decided to start fundraising for the Charity. I lodged people’s pet dogs while they went on holiday, and donated the earnings. It was through this contact with Hearing Dogs that I realised I would benefit from having one myself. And that’s how I came to have my very own hearing dog called Harley.

Quite simply, without Harley, I wouldn’t be here today.

Mary and hearing dog Harley on a motorised scooter

Harley takes away the loneliness and fear, and makes life easier in a million practical ways. I feel safe knowing he’ll tell me if the fire alarm goes. He also tells me about other sounds such as the doorbell and alarm clock.

However, he has really helped me escape my silent bubble. At first, I had no choice: I couldn’t shut myself away or lie in bed all day because I had to take him out for exercise. But then I started to feel better about life. I would bump into people while walking Harley, and have a chat with them.

Thanks to Harley, I’ve managed to climb out of my depression and do things above just surviving. I co-founded the British Cockapoo Society, which has over 12,000 members. I have also helped publish a book, ‘Cockapoo World’, written by Diana Hoskins and available through Amazon. We’ve raised thousands of pounds for Hearing Dogs, which I’m extremely proud of. I'm even thinking of writing a series of children's books with Harley as the star!

Hearing dog Harley

I do still get down sometimes. Harley senses it. He’ll want a cuddle, or drop a ball in front of me, so we’ll have a play together. He’s a loving, playful friend, and when he has his burgundy Hearing Dogs coat on, it’s all ‘focus, focus, focus, look at mum and make sure she’s OK’.

During lockdown, unable just to meet people, I was reminded of my old life. It occurred to me that, before Harley, I lived in permanent, personal lockdown. Being part of the Hearing Dogs community has helped me too. I’ve met some fantastic people. The difference is huge.

How would I describe Harley? He’s loyal, focused, cheeky… there are so many words I could use. I think I’ll settle with: ‘He’s a very special dog – my soulmate’.