"Clay's the one who put me back together"
When Philip’s 20-year marriage ended it shattered his world. Feeling broken and lonely, he realised for the first time just how much he relied on the support of someone else.
“There were so many things I just took for granted during my marriage. My wife had been my ears, she’d help with communication, those little things day to day that you don’t appreciate until they’re gone. When you’re deaf and there’s no one beside you to help you overcome the everyday challenges of hearing loss, you feel invisible. I was 48 years old when my marriage ended. I felt broken. I didn’t know how I would cope.
“I’ve been deaf since I was six. I had mumps and it affected my nerves. I went from hearing to deaf almost overnight. It was a tremendous shock. I struggled to cope with it.
“I became a terrible teenager. My mum did her best, but I left school with no qualifications to get a decent job. I bumped along at the bottom until I discovered horticulture and went to college. The college was brilliant. I loved it. They believed in me, and that made all the difference. I worked hard and became Student of the Year. I’m so grateful for that.
“Despite getting a qualification in horticulture, hearing loss continued to hold me back. It restricted everything I did, every course, every application, every interview, every job. Often they’d cite health and safety reasons as I couldn’t hear warning bleeps, and once I lost my job because I’d failed to hear the burglar alarm. When my marriage fell apart, I felt broken. Shattered.
“But then my hearing dog Clay came into my life, and he put me back together again. Where deafness pulled me down, Clay pulled me right back up.
“From the moment I met Clay I knew straight away he was meant for me. I love dogs. We had one when I was a child, around the time I lost my hearing, and he was the greatest comfort to me – especially when my father died. I feel like he has come back to me in a different life through Clay.
“Having Clay has made a huge difference to people’s awareness of my deafness and I can’t put into words the value of that to me. Yes, Clay alerts me to important sounds like the smoke alarm and does all the things that hearing dogs are trained to do, but there’s so much more. The biggest thing, the most reassuring thing I find, is the awareness he offers.
“I felt alone, inside a silent bubble”
“Having Clay beside me with his official Hearing Dogs coat on is a constant reminder to people that I’m deaf. I was in hospital outpatients recently, waiting for my turn, and realised I don’t feel on edge anymore wondering if I have missed them calling my name. Clay makes my deafness visible but in the most reassuring way.
“People know me now because of my hearing dog. They see him and are more considerate. He makes it easier for me to do everything and I really value him for this.
“Clay also makes life more enjoyable. I was in quite a dark place before. You are when you have depression. I’d walk around with a smile on my face, but people didn’t realise the emotions going on behind my smile. I felt very fragile. I’d have panic attacks, lack of sleep. I felt on the edge. I was also very lonely.
“I didn’t want to go out because it always ended up being awkward and with people thinking I was strange. I just wanted to hide myself away and it was affecting my whole life. It’s a dark and lonely world on your own with only 20 per cent hearing. You’re alone inside this silent bubble. A hearing dog breaks that bubble and changes people. Clay changed me. I’m a different person, a better person for Clay.
“Clay has been with me for five years now and, despite the pandemic, he makes the whole world seem more rosy. Lockdowns would have been horrendous without Clay. I would have found it very, very stressful and I’m not sure I’d have got through it without him. Clay makes everything in life more enjoyable and more bearable.
“A lot of us are under stress at the moment. As a deaf person that feeling of isolation is familiar, but mask wearing makes it harder than ever to connect with people. I rely on lipreading and because of that I’m used to looking at the bottom part of the face. When someone’s nose and mouth are covered by a mask it means you can’t lipread, but also I just don’t recognise them anymore. It makes the isolation worse.
“Clay transforms my world and my ability to cope with life. I’d be like a hermit without him. He allows me to live more than a normal life and that’s magic. Before Clay I felt fragile. My life was shattered, and it was hard to hold the pieces together. Clay has helped me function again, to feel strong. Life without a hearing dog by my side? Well, I don’t know how I’d cope to be honest. Clay’s the one who put me back together and I can’t imagine life without him.”
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Our hearing dogs help deaf people overcome feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression and isolation. They also become a deaf person's best friend.