Hound & Determined

Chloe and I will be participating in Fidos For Freedom’s 10th annual Stroll ‘n Roll on November 8th. We need people to volunteer to be on our team, and also are looking for donations to reach our goal.

I started training at Fidos For Freedom in Laurel, Maryland on April Fool’s Day in 2006. It was a long thirteen months, but months I needed to learn how my assistance dog would help me to be more independent and confident. Fidos matches dogs with clients “free of charge”, with on site training and follow-up, offering everything a client needs to succeed with a service dog. They match dogs for people with hearing loss like myself, as well as clients with mobility challenges. Every “match” is a life changed.

Chloe and I are looking for local volunteers to walk with us on Nov. 8th, but team members do not even have to participate the day of the walk. You can still join our team and help us reach our goal by simply contacting people you know who might help. I hope you will prayerfully consider supporting us in this way.

We also are looking for people who feel led to provide a small donation to help us reach our goal. Fidos For Freedom serves our community with specially trained dogs from professional trainers FREE to people with disabilities. They can only do that because of the donations of people like you! No amount is “too small”. Every dollar brings us that much closer to making sure another person with a disability is “matched” with a Fidos For Freedom dog. I hope you will stop by our page and join our team, or support us with a small donation today! Thank you in advance!

Hugs and slobbery kisses,
Denise and Chloe

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The “Folly” of Allowing “Deaf” to Define You

Simba (My parent’s pooch!  He’s the smartest little thing and has made a great addition to their retired life in Florida!  He’s a Cock-a-Poo, and doesn’t look like ANY canine movie star!)

The Folly of Hollywood’s Influence

I love my mother.  Mom is one of my best friends.  But being a mom myself now, I can clearly see that my mother was extremely influenced by the canine stars she saw on television as she was growing up.  I can make this assumption with a great deal of confidence, based on the fact that she has had two “look-alike” dogs of her own through the years.  Prior to retiring to Florida, she talked my Dad into buying a boxer that bore an resemblance to “Pete” on “Little Rascals“.  I don’t see the resemblance.  After all, it is fairly obvious the circle around his eye was PAINTED on, and Mom’s boxer had no make-up whatsoever!  But “Pete” was in black & white!  So… who knows?

“Jingles” did not last very long as she was not a well-trained, super-star dog.  On the contrary, she was a rather destructive and ill-mannered dog.  She found a new home on a new farm with a family who had a little more patience.

Prior to “Jingles”, while I was still living at home on the ranch in Colorado, Mom talked Dad into buying a collie.  I guess Mom had a thing for “Lassie“.  I didn’t mind at all, as I thoroughly enjoyed watching not only the current “Lassie” series, but never missed a black and white re-run of the episodes Mom watched as a child.  Mom may have insisted on a pedigreed collie, but Dad insisted on the name.  “Jean’s Folly” was our … erm… COLLIE!  We called her “Folly” for short.  I wish I had a picture of Folly.  She was actually much prettier than Lassie!  She was the most beautiful collie I have EVER seen.

Living up to a Name

It turns out that Folly was aptly named.  It seemed she was incredibly stupid.  At least that is what we thought in the beginning…

In 1982, Folly was accidentally left outside when there were some stray dogs from neighboring ranches running around.  These dogs thought Folly was really beautiful too… at least that’s what I told myself because she ended up pregnant.  Folly was an outside dog; a different type of working dog than the one I have now.  Folly’s job was to keep the on-site livestock safe, keep coyotes from killing our cats, and made sure that snakes stayed out of the yard.  We didn’t interact with Folly as much as we should have.  Had we done so, we would have noticed that she was pregnant PRIOR to her having puppies.  It was at the birth of her puppies that I first began to suspect that Folly wasn’t as dumb as we first thought.  It was October, and we had our first snowfall on the ground.

Folly went under our picnic table which was next to the house, pulled out most of her own hair, and had puppies on the cold, hard ground.  (Pretty pitiful, huh?)  On the insistence of my three siblings and myself, we brought poor Folly and her puppies inside.  Their new make-shift quarters were under the rarely-used pool table downstairs in the game room.  Folly and the puppies did really well for a couple of weeks.

During those weeks, I had the opportunity to really get to know Folly better.  She would look at me with bright, inquisitive eyes, and watched everything I did with intelligence and attentiveness.  She loved for me to “visit” her under the table with she and her puppies.  (It’s fairly difficult for a teenage girl to fit under a pool table with a large collie and a litter of pups!  But I’m talented!)  I dutifully took her outside “when nature called”, and brought her back inside so that she could be with her puppies.  However, the cold snap lifted and the weather warmed up enough, that my Dad said Folly and her pups had to be moved to the barn.

I fixed one of the rooms in the barn up with plywood and bales of hay.  It was cozy and warm.  The first couple of days I locked Folly into the barn with the pups.  I think part of me was beginning to suspect something about Folly.  I started doing “tests” of my own to see if my “feeling” could produce enough evidence to allow me to verbalize my fears.

Not Dumb… Just Deaf

I would sneak up on Folly when she was asleep, and as long as I took the time to move slowly enough that no vibrations were caused by my boots on the ground, I was able to “scare the daylights out of her” 9 out of 10 times!  I would watch her looking out over the alfalfa field directly south of our home.  She seemed eager to continue her vigilance in keeping the coyotes away.  When I was ready to lock her back into the barn, I would call her… nearly screaming her name and she would continue her guard of the yard.  I found, however, that if I walked into her line of sight and called her name with a smile and a pat on my thigh… she would come running with the unadulterated joy of a dog when seeing someone in their family.

My conclusion?  Folly was deaf.  I mentioned it to my dad.  Dad is a quiet man who is at first pessimistic of others viewpoints until he acquires enough evidence to conclude that they may be right.  He would have made a great debater.  At supper several nights later, he announced in a matter-of-fact way that he thought Folly was deaf too.  To this day, I have no idea what kinds of “tests” he ran himself to come to that conclusion.

As we felt Folly was now comfortable in the barn with her puppies, we left the door open for her so that she could come and go as she pleased.  The puppies’ eyes were just beginning to open, and I couldn’t wait to get home from school each day to go visit them in the barn.  It’s a shame we didn’t leave that door open for the first time over a weekend.  I’m certain I would have noticed that the puppies were failing had I been able to spend more time with them.  But as it was, one evening a few days later, I went to visit them and found them all dead.  Every single one of them.  My parents were at work, so I called my grandfather on the phone in near hysterics.  He and my grandmother lived on the ranch a couple of miles east of us.  I don’t know that he completely understood what was wrong, but he certainly arrived quickly!

He determined that the puppies had not been fed.  He could tell that they hadn’t been cared for in a couple of days.  He asked me questions about what kind of mom Folly had been.  I explained to him how great she was with the puppies when inside the house, and that everything was fine when she was locked up in the barn with them.

My dad must have shared with him that she was deaf.  He concluded that if she couldn’t hear them she didn’t know they were hungry.  I was furious and shouted at both my grandfather and Folly.  How could she not know they needed fed? How could something so IMPORTANT escape her notice?  Did hearing the pups trigger true maternal love?  She couldn’t be deaf AND care for the puppies?  My grandfather insisted I was trying to make her out to be more than a dog.  Instincts only went so far.  Sometimes competing instincts were even more dangerous.  Folly’s instinct to be on guard of our yard and farm overrode her maternal instincts.  She was conditioned to SEE what needed done, not HEAR what needed done.  None of this made sense to me.  I’m ashamed to admit that all I felt for Folly after the day her puppies died was HATE.

To me, Folly was back to being “dumb”.  I looked at everything she did after that with the irrational thinking that mistakes she made were just plain stupid.  I conveniently seemed to forget that she was deaf – that she had a disability that for a DOG was almost catastrophic!  I ignored the impact her deafness would mean on how she was measured in value as a working dog on a ranch.  I ignored it all the way up until the day she walked right out in front of a pick-up truck she couldn’t hear, driven by a distraught neighbor who had no chance of stopping in time.

I grieved for Folly for a very long time.  Quiet, yet bitter tears drenched my pillow at night for several weeks.  I remember thinking, that of every bad thing that could possibly happen to someone or something, deafness had to be the equivalent to a death sentence.  It was for Folly’s puppies.  It was for Folly.

Life’s Little Ironies

My husband and I first began to realize I was losing my hearing when I was twenty-five years old.  My… ermm… puppies, were 2 months old and 13 months old.  I have probably thought about Folly every week since that first audiological appointment in 1991.

For me, my deafness does not define me.  It is simply who I am.  A cochlear implant does not negate my deafness.  Certainly, I am indeed “hearing again”, but it is not perfect hearing.  I will never have perfect hearing again this side of Heaven.

To “hear” and communicate well, I take advantage of the latest technology.  I try to eat right and get plenty of sleep.  I attend support groups with other late-deafened individuals.  When I can, I go to workshops and conferences for people with hearing loss in order to educate myself.  Folks?  I try really hard.  But at the end of the day, I’m still a deaf person!  Actually… at the end of the day when I take my cochlear implant off, I am literally a deaf person!  Smile!

And yet, I’m OK with that.  Learning to communicate differently has made communication BETTER for me.  I drop EVERYTHING to talk to people.  I look them in the eye; I process what they are saying.  I acknowledge when I’m not hearing well, nor understanding well.  There is nothing else on my mind when I talk to someone, other than what it is they are saying.  If anything else is on my mind, I immediately stop understanding.  I truly give people my undivided attention!

I realize that Folly was just a dog.  But I recognize the difference having a loving supportive family has meant.  I recognize that God has brought specific individuals, message boards, writers and speakers into my life to “grow me”.  I wish I had thought of ways that Folly could have lived her life in safety.  I wish I had not equated her disability with her intelligence.  It’s actually a surprise she lived as long as she did, when one considers the enormous number of dangerous possibilities for her demise on a working ranch.

I have thought of Folly more than I have any other dog I have ever owned.  It will likely surprise my family to even read this, for my thoughts were private up until now.  Perhaps I am finally coming to terms with what it means to have a disability and still have a productive and meaningful life.

I raised “puppies”, I teach wonderful, eager students, I have friends who are hearing and friends who are culturally Deaf.  I work hard to minister to a group of peers that are late-deafened.  My deafness does not “define” me.  My deafness is a blessing, and enriches my life.  I didn’t discover this quickly.  I had to become an “old dog” first!

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal

Parking Lot Adventure

Mom and I came out of the pet store with two huge dog food bags, a huge bag of litter, and three new litterboxes. It was starting to sprinkle rain, so Mom took her “ears” (her cochlear implant and hearing aid), out and carefully stored them in her purse. We made a plan: she and Chloe would make a break to the van and open it.  I would push the heavy cart to the van. Sounds deceptively simple right?

Mom and Chloe ran out into the rain. I pushed the cart and ran into the parking lot… in front of a car (don’t worry, they had stopped for me).  Suddenly, the three litterboxes fell from my cart, into the exact middle of the road.

Uh oh! MOM! THEY FELL! COME BACK!!!” I yelled, momentarily forgetting Mom couldn’t hear me without her “ears”. She continued to run into the distance. A woman standing on the sidewalk stared after her.

Yeah! YOU GO GET THE CAR, I’LL STAY HERE!!” I yelled, as if that was our plan all along… in case anyone thought my mom had abandoned me… to be hit by a car… as I dragged my litterboxes and cart to the sidewalk.

Well, technically she had!  But… she didn’t mean to. I am a CODA – child of a deaf adult – and I was used to having to say, “Oh, she can’t hear me, I’m on my own for this one.”

Mom turned around when she reached the car and realized what happened. She stored Chloe in the van and raced back to help me.

I was howling with laughter at this point. I have a strange sense of humor.

Mom was laughing too. I probably looked ridiculous trying to drag everything out of the way. And so we laughed  in the rain, as we smiled apologies to cars and people.  We finally dragged our cartload to the van.

“What are you – deaf??” I teased when we reached the van.

Being a CODA has taught me a certain level of independence, learning to think for myself. When household accidents, parking lot accidents, losing someone in a store, etc. happen, I learned to calmly handle the situation myself or to walk to my mom. I can’t always call for my mommy…she can’t hear me. It’s something I learned and accepted.

Just like I know I can’t stand behind my mom and talk to her. Because 99% of the time, after pouring my heart out to her back, she’ll turn around and give a piercing scream, all because she didn’t know I was there!

Having a mom with a hearing loss isn’t a trial, it’s just different. My brother and I adjusted just like my mom had to adjust to her hearing loss. It affects the whole family, but it doesn’t have to be negative. We adapt and change along with her.

And it does give us extremely amusing moments…or extremely scary, because having your mom scream loudly when she turns to see you usually causes you to scream in return. Trust me. Ask Chloe.

Kyersten Portis

18-years-old

Kyersten’s mom lost her hearing when Kyersten was only two-years-old.  Kyersten has only known her “mom” as a person with hearing loss.  Kyersten and her family live in Maryland with a menagerie of animals.

But I’m afraid…

But I’m afraid…

This morning my assistance dog, Chloe, was out on the porch barking her head off.  I’ve never appreciated how she looks without a head, so I found myself hustling outside to see what all the fuss was about.  At first, I couldn’t figure out what she was barking at, but it was very clear that Chloe was afraid.  Each muscle in her 4 legs were trembling with fear and tension, her forehead was wrinkled, and she whined in between high pitch barks!  I had to step closer in order to finally see what she was fixated on… a tiny bird feather.

Now I’m the first to brag that my working dog is a very smart canine!  She loves to learn, loves to work, and loves to train!  But sometimes… her fear keeps her from putting all the pieces together.  Sometimes… she needs help to look past her fear and approach things a little more logically.  I continued to reassure her that everything was fine.  I wanted her to investigate it a little closer with a little more, erm… backbone!  Grin!

Me: “Chloe… it’s OK girl!  It’s just a feather, and it won’t hurt you.  Show me!  What is it?”

Chloe: (Looks at me like, “Don’t you SEE?  Oh my gosh!  LOOK!  Show you?  But I’m afraid…“)

It seems that feathers have a smell… at least they do if you are a dog.  Chloe could smell a recent “alive kind of smell“.  When she would get close enough to sniff the feather, her sniff would MOVE the feather… and much to her dismay TOWARDS HER!!  Therefore, Chloe was convinced it was alive!  What does a hound dog do when they think something is alive?  They bark!  When Chloe would bark at the feather, it would move even MORE, but away from her!  Feathers are so light that they tend to want to follow the natural rules that feathers follow when applying physics… a hound dog’s hot air.

Even holding the feather in my hand, had her cowering in fear!  I sat on the porch and talked to her, all the while holding the feather out towards her.  Finally, she crept up behind me and with head on my shoulder sniffed and huffed at the feather in my hand.  I could feel her trembling, with her fearful “self” pressed up behind me!  Eventually a good, stiff, Maryland-September breeze picked the feather up and flew it up over the railing and out into the yard.

Chloe cocked her head to the side and looked at me like, “Well! What did you do THAT for?”

She was afraid of the feather, but wanted the feather.

But I’m afraid…

Last night I attended our school’s kick-off meeting.  All the teachers were present, and I knew I would face supper, entertainment, games, dessert, announcements and fellowship.  I have to admit it was something I had to make myself attend.  The night before I had even cried all over my husband, trying to find a way to get out of having to go!

When you have a hearing loss, there is just something incredibly intimidating about going to a group function that reverberates with the background noise of a large number of excited and “pumped” teachers!  I planned in advance, and made sure my cochlear implant batteries were fresh so that I wouldn’t “go dead” in the middle of a conversation.  I brought some assistive listening devices that work in conjunction with my t-coils on both my CI and my hearing aid.  Due to some recent rains, I knew I was wobbly enough to need Chloe’s special collar.  I was prepared.  I wanted to go.  I needed to go.  But I was afraid…

I talked to my director via email prior to going.  I’ll admit that I was trying to see if it was something I did indeed have to attend.  I did… and my director knew I needed to for more than the information we received as teachers.  She knew I needed to go in order face my fear.

My fellow teachers are very nice people.  I WANT to get to know them better… to even gain the treasure of a friend or two.  But in year’s past I’ve seen the look of panic when I put a microphone nearer their face in order to hear them better in a crowd.  I’ve seen their faces as they inwardly castigate themselves as they said something behind their napkin and I had to ask, “Pardon?”  (I’m a transplanted Southern gal, what can I say?)  I’m 100% sure that if these teachers knew how afraid I was of them, they would be devastated!

In my HEAD, I know that I have nothing to fear.  And yet, when I go to these things I find myself saying, “But I’m afraid… ”

My consolation, is that it is getting better.  The more functions I attend like this, the more comfortable I become.  The “feather moves”, and I’m a little jumpy about it; however, I’m learning it’s just a “feather”.

I’m thankful I do not seem to have the same illogical fears towards my students.  Young people seem so incredibly natural towards me.  If I have to ask a student for a repeat… seven different times… they cheerfully do so without any visible qualms at all.  Perhaps it’s because my classes are “electives”, (although many take them as alternative foreign language).  I know they CHOOSE to be there, and it doesn’t bother them that their teacher has a hearing loss.  I do not feel disabled around them.

With my peers it is different.  I hope it isn’t always so.

I want to attend meetings like these, but am afraid of meetings like these.

At least with fellow teachers, I am becoming stronger and more confident.  Perhaps I need a good, stiff, Maryland-September breeze to convince myself I’m in a “safe place”.  At least with every one I go to, I’m less “trembly”… and heck!  I quit barking months ago!

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal

Psalm 56:3: “But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.

Helping to Change a Fearful Heart

Kyersten and Tyco at Gambrill State Park, hiking near our home.

The Fearful Heart of a Dog

My family and I recently adopted a beautiful Norwegian Elkhound named Tyco.  Tyco is a year old male and came from a local rescue .  The rescue had picked him up from a shelter in Pennsylvania.  We have a form that his previous family filled out when they took Tyco to the pound to give him up.  All the problems they claimed Tyco had, we have never seen… but then again we don’t have him chained in the yard like they did.

My trainer (and friend) actually “found” Tyco for us, and they as a rescue always do some preliminary testing with a dog they take in for fostering.  She had told us that he was not aggressive nor mean at all.  However, although she didn’t think Tyco had been abused, it was obvious he had been hit.  When we first brought Tyco home, he was very timid around my husband and 17-year-old son.  It may be that he was not treated kindly by the men in his previous home.

Therapy that Works!

Tyco, like most puppies, chews.  When he’d pick up an iPod to chew on, (something my teens have now learned to not leave lying around), I’d say in an authoritative tone, “Tyco…. DROP IT!”  He’d drop it and sit apologetically with his ears down.  I’d come towards him to pick it up and say, “Good boy!  Good ‘drop it!’ “, and he’d cower and look away.

If we were all in the back yard “playing hard” with our canine family members, he’d cower in fear if we ran up to him to tussle over a ball… dropping it and cringing away.  So, I did what any good dog owner would do with a dog with a problem when people ran up to him in play.  I began running at him all the time in the back yard… throwing my arms around his neck and cooing, and praising him like crazy.  I gave instructions for the rest of the family to do the same.  He quickly realized that these boisterous “Tyco interceptions”, only meant lots of belly rubs and scratches behind the ears!

We’ve had Tyco for 6 weeks now, and he is still a little timid when verbally disciplined, but has really come a long way.  We taught him that we can be loud and even authoritative, but that we’d never ever hit him.  When he stops doing what we are fussing at him for, we immediately change our tone and praise him like crazy.  He’s “getting it”.  He wags his tail and “grins” at any family member loudly headed his way in a full sprint!

Denise with Chloe (who is off duty), brave enough to hike miles from home

The Fearful Heart of Someone New to Hearing Loss

Whether you lose your hearing suddenly, or have a progressive loss, it is not easy to go from hearing “fine” – to hearing poorly.  Every individual has their own issues.  These vary from person to person, due to factors which include: gender, age, relationship status, self-esteem, and even “faith history”.

My first reaction to hearing loss?  I dropped out of life. I holed up in my home and “waved a white flag of surrender”.  I felt powerless to fight the self-imposed isolation, and my self-esteem plummeted.  I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, and I’ve always been grateful I wasn’t working outside the home.  I’m sure I would have quit work unprofessionally and with a chip on my shoulder, certain that the hearing people I worked with were out to get me.  As it was my marriage and friendships imploded, and activities in my kid’s school and our church came screeching to a halt!

Therapy that Works!

Patiently and stubbornly my husband helped me see all that I still had to live for… in spite of not hearing well.  Even my audiologist handed me a flier about a support group that met in her offices one Saturday a month.  (Don’t you wish all audiologists cared enough about their patients to give them support information that will help them when they are not an an appointment WITH THEM?)

At the time HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America) was SHHH (Self-help for Hard of Hearing People).  Self help?  My first reaction was that I wanted someone ELSE to help me… I didn’t want to help myself.  I was a whiny, bitter, angry, young woman.  Finally, a friend at church who happened to be the leader of the support group, talked me into attending.  Part of going to a support group is the satisfaction and “growth” one experiences when you reach out to help someone who needs it more than you.  I needed plenty of help… AND FOUND IT.

No organization is perfect, and HLAA has it’s faults as well as benefits.  (On the side-bar of my blog, you will see the links to numerous organizations that help people with hearing loss.  All provide great resources, and serve a purpose).  In a support group, I was able to find people just like me… those who had lost their hearing later in life.  This meant the WORLD to me.

Now I am part of a hearing loss support group in Maryland.  I look for people with a fearful heart.  They are easy to spot!  They look like what I saw in my own mirror every day for a long time.  Sometimes that person needs somebody to catch their eye and then sprint towards them with open arms and praise them like crazy!  Sometimes a “fearful heart person”, needs another peer to quietly listen and empathize.  I’ve even met people that I could tell needed me to gently scold “DROP IT”.  Their fear and pain were destroying who they were meant to be.  They needed help to recognize that.

I see some of those changed people every month at support group meetings.  They don’t wag their tails like crazy, but their smile of welcome is like a beam of sunshine shot straight from what was once a fearful heart.  They hug my neck, but only briefly… someone has just walked into the building with a fearful heart that they recognize needs THEM.

The thing I love about HLAA, is that even if you do not have access to a local chapter that meets physically as a group, they offer support, networking, friends and advice through their online chapter and message boards as well.  You can live ANYWHERE, and find the help your late-deafened fearful heart needs!

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal