As many of you are aware, my sweet dear Hearing Ear Dog Amie passed away on June 13 of this year. Initially, I did not even want to think about getting another dog. As a family, we all needed time to grieve the loss of such a special friend.
Are we over the loss of Amie yet? Absolutely not. But I think I can now start to think about getting another Hearing Ear Dog. This is of course not about replacing Amie. That is impossible. But our hearts are certainly big enough to make room for a new dog to become part of our family.
One interesting thing that has happened to me over the few months is other people have also enquired as to whether I will get another hearing ear dog. Interestingly, the question is not always posed the same. In fact, they can be classified into three categories.
First, are the “Genuinely Curious”. These people are truly just asking out of interest. They do not hold any biases or preconceptions. They are not fully aware of the impact of hearing loss in general, nor do they fully understand my particular details. To these people, I do not mind explaining both my situation, the nature of deafness, and the role of hearing ear dogs.
The second group I call the “Erroneously Positive”. These people may make comments like “I really do not see you as deafened” or “You seem to be doing just fine”. Generally, I do not sense any animosity or ill will. Instead, I believe these people are actually complimenting me. They judge my degree of disability (or rather lack of disability) on my functional abilities in a one on one conversation, rather than the results of my audiogram. Interestingly, this flies in the face of the so-called ‘hearing aid effect” in which people with larger hearing aids are judged less positively than those with smaller devices. These studies were done with photos. I believe that showing static photos bears no relationship to the real world of communication. Here I am with a cochlear implant, bigger than the biggest BTE hearing aid from 25 years ago, a hearing aid in the other ear and an FM system in my hand and yet folks don’t think I have that much of a hearing loss at all. Its quite remarkable really.
The third and last group are what I call the “Ignorantly Hostile”. Sadly there are quite a few of these people. They make judgmental comments laced with suspicion and almost hostility. They make comments like “Yeah, but you don’t really need a hearing ear dog…you just want a pet”. Some comments are just ignorant, not so much hostile but annoying nonetheless. Example “Now that you have your cochlear implant, you don’t need Amie anymore, right?” I am not alone…I have read similar stories from other CI users. For example, a CI user named Denise wrote “So? If you have a cochlear implant now, why do you need a dog? Didn’t that (as she gestured towards my CI and bling) fix you?”
One thing that many CI users would like others to know is that the cochlear implant is not a cure for deafness. We have artificial battery operated ears that does not sound like normal hearing (See What Does a Cochlear Implant Sound Like). It has an electronic microphone that does not have the same sensitivity as the normal ear. Hearing aid and cochlear implant microphones work best in a 3-5 foot range. Moreover, the CI or hearing aid does not have the same capacity to filter out noise like the normal cochlea. Lastly, we cannot wear these devices 24-7. When we sleep at night we are even more deaf than we were before we got our implants!
To illustrate the limitations of microphones, try this experiment. Stand about 20 feet (6 meters) from another person. Have a recording device in your hand. Most mobile phones have a voice recorder. Now have the other person speak to you and record their voice. Did you hear and understand ok? I am sure you did fine. Now play it back the recorded version. Listen to how thin it sounds and how much background noise there is. Now do it again, but add some additional background noise from say a stereo or TV. Listen again to how much harder it is to understand the recorded version.
Welcome to the world of people with hearing aids or CI’s. This little experiment only shows the limitations of electronic microphones. It does not even address the lack of noise filtering of our impaired auditory systems.
In short, here is tonight’s Top Ten List entitled “Reasons Why I Still Need a Hearing Ear Dog”
1. When I sleep at night, I take my CI off and I hear absolutely nothing. I need to wake up to get to work in the morning and a regular alarm clock will not work. Vibrating alarms are not bad…but read on.
2. Similarly, most fires occur at night when people are asleep. Studies show that visual fire alarms do not work effectively in waking people up (see this article on Waking effectiveness of visual alerting systems ). A hearing ear dog will physically wake me up.
3. I travel extensively for my work and I cannot take a suitcase full of technical devices with me everywhere I go. I am not sure how I can hook up these devices to the main fire alarm of a hotel anyway.
4. I have had hotel staff march into my room while I was in my birthday suit. I did not hear them knock.
5. Hearing aid and CI microphones are not as sensitive as natural hearing. So I am hit and miss with sounds. The hearing ear dog will ensure consistency.
6. Many times the sounds I need to hear (doorbell, phone, microwave etc) are not at an adequate signal to noise ratio for a person with hearing loss. It is buried under noise making it impossible for our damaged cochlea to detect.
7. If I know someone is coming to my house and I am alone, I must sit and wait on the main floor in order to hear them knock or ring the doorbell. I can’t reliably hear these sounds from another floor of the house.
8. I sleep better at night knowing someone is there listening for me.
9. Traveling is actually easier with a working dog, at least to the countries I go to. It reminds airline staff I cannot hear the announcements to board so they come get me ahead of time for pre-boarding.
10. Hearing ear dogs help to filter out the assholes of the world. If you don’t like dogs, I won’t like you. So I get to find out a serious flaw in someone’s personality a lot faster.
For more information on Hearing Ear Dogs see the links below:
Lions Foundation of Canada
Pacific Assistance Dogs Society