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

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3 thoughts on “The “Folly” of Allowing “Deaf” to Define You

  1. Denice, I had a good cry over this one. Not sure why it “got to me” so much, apart from my great love for dogs and my personalizing what life must have been like for Folly. Thank you for sharing – – – God uses all of our experiences to grow us.

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