Hearing Dogs

Susan Bloomfield, who went deaf at the age of five, tells of the difference her Hearing Dog, Heidi, makes to her life, not only by alerting her to things like the doorbell and the telephone, but as a companion and in her ministry as a Church Army sister.

This article was first published in the Spring 2004 issue of Chrism. The author's profile below is from the same date

Susan was born in a small Suffolk village in 1965, where her father was a dairy herdsman, and has lived most of her life in the country. After obtaining A levels at school, Susan went into laboratory work in a hospital for six years. Susan then pursued a calling to become an evangelist with the Church Army. She was admitted to the Office of Evangelist and commissioned as a Church Army Officer ten years ago. Her first post was at Newport Pagnell, where she was Parish Evangelist for three years. From there she moved on to become part-time Chaplain among Deaf People in the Bath and Wells Diocese and part-time with a rural parish. Two years ago the Diocese made her a full-time Chaplain among Deaf People, a job to which she is particularly suited, since she has been deaf since the age of five.

© Guild of St Raphael

Heidi and Me

Heidi has been with me for five and a half years now. I canít believe we have been together so long. It seems only yesterday that I made the trip to the training centre just off the M40 J6. I first met Heidi a month or so before that and on my part at least it was love at first sight. I wanted to take her home there and then but I had to come back to do some training with Heidi before I could take her home. Heidi is very laid back and easy going, a characteristic that certainly endears her to people even those who are not particularly fond of dogs! Heidi is quite different from ĎCupidí my first hearing dog. Unfortunately Cupid had to be retired due to an undesirable trait, which revealed itself and made her unsuitable for her task. I wept buckets and was still grieving for her when I received Heidi.

So what does Heidi do for me? Her ears are an important part of her job since she hears the doorbell and phone ringing and the alarm clock and cooker timer going off. These sounds she is specifically trained to tell me about by coming and putting a paw or two on my leg and waiting for me to ask, ĎWhat is it?í Then she takes me to the source of the sound. The smoke alarm is slightly different in that when I ask, ĎWhat is it?í she lays down. She also hears when people are about outside and although she doesnít tell me directly about these sounds by touch and tell, her body language and bark are revealing enough if I can see her. It helps me to feel safer with her around. She has certainly averted a burglary just by being there, since a man had rung the doorbell and had disappeared by the time I got there. But my neighbour came round half an hour later and warned me that sheíd seen someone looking through her windows.

My companion

Heidiís ears are not the only things about her that are important. Heidiís company is as important to me, if not more so. than the sound work she does for me. Since she is a qualified Hearing Dog she is allowed to accompany me in all sorts of places, and I find it an advantage that most people are aware of my deafness without me needing to explain. Some people would say this might be a disadvantage because of the fear of being followed and this may be true in certain areas.

Restoring confidence

When we are out and about people often stop and say Ďhelloí to Heidi and this provides a point of contact for me. I donít have the advantage of being able to join in conversation that is going on around me because I canít follow and often donít hear it. I know that being restored to community is important and I have known a profoundly deaf man who had a collie cross hearing dog called Lassie. She was his link and someone told me that, whereas initially they thought Hearing Dogs were a waste of time, they came to change their tune when they realised that this man, whom they had known since he was a boy, had suddenly become much more outgoing. Lassie had provided him with the link to other peopleóa restoration to community. I know that this man taught one vicar a lot about deaf awareness and she was later to become a much needed support person in my work, thanks to Lassie who gave him the confidence.

Sharing in my ministry

Heidi has been helpful when accompanying me as I have taken funerals. Sometimes people have come out of the service and found it helpful to stroke her, when they donít know what else to say. Animals can assist in reducing the uncomfortable or stressful feelings that might be around. Heidi has also been a talking point for school children in schools we have visited. Most children can relate to a dog, especially a friendly one, and even some children, who are normally scared of dogs, will allow Heidi close to them. Hospitals are also a place where both staff and patients usually welcome Heidi.

Godís blessing and concern

Heidi accompanies me to church and I am grateful to those bishops and priests who have recognised the importance of my companion and have prayed for her and asked Godís blessing on her. I believe that God is just as concerned for animals and their welfare as us, though we often take them for granted. Jesus reminded us that God feeds the sparrows, how much more will he care for us? Some of that caring and healing is through his creation and through animals in particular. When we read the gospels we discover that Jesusí ministry was very much about restoring people to community in different ways and a hearing dog helps itís owner to be restored to community.

Speaking to me of God

Heidi provides me with illustrations of Christian living. The importance of our two-way relationship, I look after her and she looks after me. This can be an example of our relationship with God and with others. Heidiís attentiveness to me and our attentiveness to GodóI have to say Heidi seems much more focused than me. If I leave her with someone whilst I go and do a task, she is eagerly watching for me to come back. Heidiís obedience and attentiveness is important not only for my safety but hers, since I can sometimes see the dangers she canít, and this speaks of the importance of our obedience and attentiveness to God. Heidi accepts people whoever they, a good example for us not to judge people by their abilities, creed, colour, sexuality, religion, or beliefs.

The light in the darkness

As someone who went deaf at the age of five and who had learnt to speak before becoming deaf, there are times when I very much wish I could hear again. I donít know why I am deaf, but I do know that God has been able to use me in ways that he would not have been able to if I had been hearing. This doesnít take away the pain of being deaf in a hearing world, where I find myself excluded. Things are improving all the time and technology has moved on, but the daily contact with people is sometimes a stressful one for me. Heidi helps to reduce that stress just by being there, eagerly wagging her tail and occasionally being the much needed point of contact with others.

About Hearing Dogs

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People is a registered charity that trains dogs to alert severely and profoundly deaf people to sounds they cannot hear such as the alarm clock, baby cry, smoke alarm and many others.

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People was launched at the world famous Crufts Dog Show in 1982. It has continued to train dogs to alert deaf people to specific sounds, whether in the home, workplace or public buildings.

To date the charity has placed nearly 1,000 hearing dogs throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

To find out more, why not log on to the Hearing Dogs website:
or contact them at:
Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, The Grange, Wycombe Road, Saunderton, Princess Risborough, Buckinghamshire HP27 9NS
Tel: 01844 348 100

E mail: info@hearing-dogs.co.uk

© Guild of St Raphael