“There is nothing worse than seeing your child sad and alone”
Ask my daughter Pip about her childhood, and she remembers some really tough times: pain, confusion, tears, sadness, loneliness and isolation.
She was born deaf, with a separate, complex language disorder. She used to sit in the corner on her own and play with her dolls and toy horses. She seemed so sad and lonely, and lived in her own imaginary world. She hardly talked until she was ten, but even after that she had no real friends.
For her, the world was a very bewildering place. She didn’t understand what was going on around her. She didn’t even really understand herself. So, she retreated into herself, shy and quiet. She always seemed so lost.
“All parents want the best for their children. I just wanted Pip to be happy.”
I wanted her to have friends, and feel part of the world. It was heartbreaking to see her so isolated. I just wanted to make her life better. Like any parent, I so much wanted to see her grow in confidence, in personality, to feel that she could be her own person.
She was offered her first bone-anchored hearing aid (known as a ‘BAHA’) when she was nine, and then a second aged 13. While they helped with her hearing, sadly they also became a focus for other children to bully her.
Due to her profound language disorder, we got her into a place at a specialist school, but people still didn’t seem to understand fully how to help her with her hearing loss. Her BAHAs seemed to make people feel ‘well, we’ve sorted out the hearing, so that’s it’.
But that wasn’t ‘it’, because people with hearing loss can have many issues that prevent them from living full lives. They can lose confidence in their ability to be around people. They might not be able just to ‘fit in’ easily – have a chat, have a laugh, share thoughts and feelings. Everyday life for Pip was so hard, and so tiring. She might not hear what was said to her, and if she did, she might not understand it correctly. This left her anxious and confused, every day.
At that time, the thing that seemed to help Pip the most was animals, especially horses. She has an amazing ability to understand them, very deeply. She loved riding and visiting the local stables. She could often see when horses were frustrated or ill or tense, and would explain this to their owners. Sadly they often didn’t listen as Pip was considered ‘disabled’ and her abilities were not recognised. And, of course, Pip was often later proven right! Which is why she would say that animals are better at equality than humans.
Right there lay the seeds of what might help Pip to grow. One day, Pip was browsing online, and came across Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. It seemed perfect: people like you who, through their generosity, donated to help train clever dogs that supported people with hearing loss. She’d been exhausted because her anxiety had been getting worse. She loved animals. She’d always wanted a dog. She needed a friend. So much more might be possible for her with a hearing dog by her side. And so, we applied.
I was so touched by the care and attention that the Hearing Dogs staff took in getting to know Pip, and how perfectly they matched her to the right dog.
She needed a perceptive companion, one that could tune in to her thoughts and feelings. She also needed a dog that could happily fit in with her lifestyle around horses. So, along came Gino, the kindest, most loving and sensitive soul you could imagine: the match was perfect.
Since then something magical has happened. Pip even describes it as Gino’s ‘invisible magic’, or a ‘magical relief’. I can really only describe it as seeing Pip blossom before our eyes. She has been transformed.
Practically, Gino is amazing. His soundwork is so great. His favourite cue is ‘the call’, when I ask Gino to fetch Pip if she’s somewhere else in the home. I say to Gino ‘Find Pip’, and off he trots, tongue out, tail wagging. When he’s found her, he gives her a nudge on the thigh with his nose. Pip says ‘What is it?’ and holds her hands out. This is Gino’s cue to trot happily back to me with Pip close behind. He always waits for her to make sure she is really following. And why is it Gino’s favourite?
Double treats, of course! He gets a treat from Pip when he finds her, and a treat from me when he brings her to me. He is always so proud of himself when he arrives with Pip close on his heels. Clever Gino!
Gino also helps Pip to sleep better at night. In the dark and the silence, she starts to struggle with the ‘what ifs’ familiar to many deaf people – what if there’s a fire, what if there’s a burglar, how will I know? She feels terribly unsafe and anxious, making it hard to sleep well. Now she can get a good night’s sleep knowing that Gino is always by her side, looking after her.
There are other direct, practical ways in which he helps too. Just seeing Gino with his burgundy coat tells people that Pip has hearing loss. As a result, they’ve been much more understanding, especially during the pandemic, when lipreading is incredibly difficult with so many people wearing facial coverings.
But it’s Gino’s companionship that has helped Pip blossom, to reveal this wonderful vibrant, unique and independent person who had felt so lost for 28 years.
For example, before Gino, hospital visits were really hard for her. Pip has conditions apart from her deafness that require frequent appointments and these always made her very anxious. I had to do all the talking, all the arranging, all the explaining, on her behalf.
Now, with Gino by her side, Pip’s the one who takes the lead. She asks the questions, does her own explaining and tells people what she needs. She politely disagrees if she wants to make a point, whereas before, she would have just gone along with everything. Meanwhile Gino is helping her to stay calm, while looking very interested in everything that’s going on. I sit in the background and help if she misses things. It’s a complete transformation, and a joy to witness.
She’s become such a confident person. She’s going back to her old equine therapy college as a volunteer, working with the horses and helping the current students. Gino goes too and helps. He’s been used to horses from an early age. Pip just has to be careful that he doesn’t get too much fussing, cuddling and treats from everyone!
Pip has blossomed with her art too, which she also finds very calming. She expresses her love for Gino by drawing him. When Hearing Dogs held its ’28 Challenge’ in February, a fundraising event in which they asked people to do a challenge based on the number 28, she drew him every day of the month using different mediums and styles. She was overwhelmed by all the generous donations.
Gino, her “little fusspot", has become an amazing member of our family. Whether it’s visiting the hospital, going to the stables or helping Pip work on her latest art project, Gino has utterly transformed Pip’s life.
Ask Pip today how she feels, and she’ll tell you, directly and openly: “I’m super-proud of myself. There are challenges, but for me, personally, it’s all about enjoying life, feeling good, feeling positive and motivated. I want to learn and be independent.”
There is nothing worse than seeing your child sad and alone. There is nothing better than seeing them finally able to grow into their own person – to see them happy. This is because Pip is an amazing person, it’s true. But it’s also very much thanks to Gino, her amazing hearing dog, and your kindness in helping hearing dogs throughout their training and beyond.
Now, Pip wants to help other deaf people to have their very own hearing dog. She’s so confident nowadays that she’s gone beyond just helping herself: she wants to help others too. I think she’s incredibly inspiring.
If you think so too, then perhaps you might consider donating, and helping more deaf people like Pip find happiness and simply… blossom.
Thank you for reading my story.
Lucy, Pip’s mum