Yup, I talk to My Dog. Don’t You?

I’ve embarrassed myself a couple of times in Wal-mart recently. I’ve caught the HUGE smiles of people passing by or catch the gleam in their eye as I look up and around. You see? I talk to my dog. It’s not just because she’s an assistance dog either. I talk to all of our dogs. But Chloe is the only one I talk to in the middle of Wal-mart, for obvious reasons.

People have heard me ask, “Chloe do you think the guys will want french-style green beans this week or do you think I can sneak some fresh green beans into the menu?” Chloe cocks her head and wags her tail. For some reason I’m able to make a decision. It’s not that I interpreted her body language to mean, “I’d go with the French-style, Denise”, but it helps to talk to her.

I caught an actual chuckle when I exclaimed to Chloe, “Chloe! Look! Can you believe it? It’s an Elmo Christmas SNOW GLOBE! Hope Santa knows I’ve been very good!” Chloe bumps my hand and wags her tail again. She thinks I’ve been very good.

Paying Attention

You might think I’m crazy. But actually… I’m helping Chloe keep her attention on me. If you look at a dog’s eye-level at Wal-mart, you will see things that aren’t as readily apparent to those who are taller than 3 feet. Stuffed animals, “Roll Back the Prices” price tags that Chloe thinks she really should swipe off the shelf and hand to me… all kinds of tempting things. By talking to Chloe, she pays attention to me. When I have a dizzy moment, I say, “Whoa….” and Chloe knows to take a step out of heel to make sure she can move if I actually fall. It’s important for Chloe to pay attention to me.

That’s why it is really not a great idea for people to “ooo and ahhh” over an assistance dog/service dog in public. You are getting the dog’s attention. They can’t help it. They KNOW they are beautiful/handsome and wonderful. Chloe’s vest actually has a tag on it that says, “Do not distract”. I realize people mean well, but if I’m having a bad balance day AND I don’t hear your “oh what a pretty dog” remark, I could fall just because Chloe wants to go and greet you.

What Distractions Can Do

I had this happen in Best Buy once. I was on my knee, balancing to see something lower, and someone got Chloe’s attention. She broke her heel to stand and WAG at them, and I fell right over. I laid there blinking up at the man whose eyes had widened in horror. “Gee, I’m sorry Miss. I can’t read, obviously”.

“Oh, that’s OK. I just wasn’t prepared”, I replied cheerfully from the FLOOR. I waved his hand away and said, “Actually she needs the brace practice, so no problem”. I had Chloe help me up, and the man again apologized. He even had tears in his eyes. I laid my hand on his arm and said, “Honestly, it’s no big deal. I sprawl at least once a day!” He wandered away unconvinced.

I do understand that seeing a well-behaved, dog identified as a “helper dog” can be really hard to just walk by for those of you who love dogs. I actually do not mind being stopped and asked about Chloe. However, it is really helpful if you talk to ME and not Chloe. Feel free to ask people with assistance dogs if you can pet their dog – because some people do not mind at all. I’m not those “some people” (grin). I will always (pleasantly) say, “I’m sorry she’s working and I’m trying to keep her from being distracted”. Be prepared for some people to say “no, I’m sorry”. They appreciate that you think their dog is “swell”, but it really doesn’t do the dog or the owner any good to constantly allow people to pet them in public. Many people use service dogs for disabilities that are invisible. It may not be easy to pick that up and asking to pet the dog might put the owner at risk.

If we meet someone we know real well, I actually do allow Chloe to say a quick “hello”. She is very good about giving quick kisses and then stepping back into heel. To do so is my choice though. Those who know me well, actually know not to ask on rainy days when they know my balance is going to be really bad. When Chloe sees someone she knows in public (usually folks from our small church, or close friends), she will do better to say a quick “hello”, so that she can get back to work. It is like identifying someone she knows from her “pack”.

Chloe’s Safety

By talking to Chloe in public, I let other people know she is there. Now that I’m completely independent and don’t have to worry about what I’m not hearing or dropping things I can’t pick up, I even head out on really busy shopping days. Not on purpose mind you! I’m not completely nuts! (grin) But I’ve been in a “crush” of people and talked to Chloe non-stop so that people would know she was there.

We made the mistake of going to Hershey’s Chocolate World the weekend after Thanksgiving this year. We go there a lot, but this was the first time it was literally wall-to-wall people. I couldn’t have fallen down if I had wanted too! I was completely surrounded by people! I talked to Chloe non-stop so that people would know she was down there. It’s hard to see someone 3 feet tall! I would even stick out my hand in a real “crush” and say rather loudly, “Excuse me… service dog coming through!” I was so intent on keeping Chloe safe by talking to her and watching where we were going that I mis-placed my daughter. I looked up and could see my husband in the distance, and my 6’3″ son was easy to spot… but where was Kyersten?

My heart was pounding and I held my arm out and just kind of plowed through to the nearest wall. I frantically searched for her little 5’3″ self and could not see her anywhere. I was scared spitless! I reached for my phone to see if I could send an S.O.S. text to her. Just then I felt a hand on my elbow. I whipped my head up and stared right into the smiling eyes of my daughter.

“Kyersten! I lost you!” I managed to sputter out. (It was hard, because I was spitless, remember?)

She rolled her eyes, and gave my shoulder a squeeze. “Mom. I’m 20-years-old. It’s not like I’m lost. If I lose track of you guys I’ll call. You are kind of hard to lose track of” and she gestured down to the red assistance dog complete with holiday jingle bell.

Freedom

You may run into me in a store, restaurant, movie theater, post office, pharmacy or doctor’s office with Chloe. You may HEAR me before you see me. I talk to my dog. But you know something? It’s not ONLY because it helps her pay attention. For you see… Chloe is the reason I’m alone in a store, restaurant, movie theater, post office, pharmacy, or doctor’s office. Before being matched with Chloe, I rarely went out alone. Talking to Chloe is a reminder to me… I’m in public, enjoying life, and yup! I’m talking to my dog. Don’t you?

Denise Portis

© 2010 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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Sex and Hearing Loss

When preparing to write this post, I went back and forth about providing “hard and fast” FACTS about gender differences in hearing loss and writing about personal observations. Because I can easily provide links to documents, research and scholarly articles about the topic, I decided to write about personal observations. Before I do that, let me provide those links!

A wonderful article about gender and race differences can be accessed HERE.

How hormones can have a part in the way hearing loss manifests in individuals can be read about HERE.

An article about why men are more likely to experience hearing loss can be accessed HERE.

An article by ASHA and Cochlear Americas can be accessed HERE.

Personal Observations

I realize that personal observations are somewhat limited by the experiences of the individual themselves. However, as I have had the opportunity to be a part of a number of hearing loss organizations, and have had the privilege of speaking to groups of my peers and professionals across the United States, I have a lot of faith in my own personal observations about gender differences. Sometimes new information was gleaned as the result of attending workshops, conferences and meetings; listening to experts on hearing loss discuss gender differences was very informative. However, I also happen to be a terrific “listener” in spite of my own profound hearing loss. Corresponding with people from across the United States that I may have met in my travels, or are frequently visiting “Hearing Elmo”, I have drawn some conclusions about how hearing loss affects the different sexes. Please allow me to share my observations with you!

Men with Hearing Loss

1. Men are more apt to be pushed into getting help. Perhaps men stay in a stage of denial longer than women do, but men are usually encouraged to do something about their hearing loss as opposed to taking the initiative to doing it themselves. I don’t think it is because they are unable to make decisions about their hearing health; rather, men are more likely to “fake” their way through life pretending they don’t really have a hearing problem. This does not mean that women do not “fake it”, nor does it mean that women are not ever pestered to visit an audiologist. I just believe that men are more likely to be badgered into going to a hearing health professional than women are.

2. Men do not usually seek support from peers until hearing loss has reached a critical point. I believe that men are more likely to “go on about their life” and “making do” after getting that first hearing aid than women are. If assistive technology allows a man to continue working, interacting, and living life, they will be unlikely to join support groups or advocacy groups compared to women with hearing loss. If hearing loss is progressive, men will also begin to seek out information, support, and peers once hearing loss interferes with communication and relationships. On the positive side, men with a stable, mild to moderate level of hearing loss are more likely to not let hearing loss define who they are. Hearing aids and assistive devices are merely tools. I think men may equate support groups with “talking about your feelings”, and as a result miss opportunities such as learning more about advances in technology, discovering legislation that may have an effect on hearing loss populations, and learning valuable communication strategies.

3. At the severe to profound level, men are more likely to shut people out. I can’t tell you the number of times men have told me that they alienated everyone that cared about them when their hearing loss really began to affect their lives. Perhaps it is a coping mechanism? One man wrote to me and shared, “I filed for divorce from my wife of 11 years. I felt in a panic to do it before she filed for divorce from me because I wasn’t the man she married”. One man came up to me after a workshop and said, “It’s easier to be be cranky and belligerent than to discuss with my family how my hearing loss makes me feel”. Still another shared, “I’d rather be accused of being distant than to talk about my hearing loss with her”.

4. Men are less likely to use hearing assistance dogs. Of all the people I know who chose to be partnered with a hearing assistance dog… most are women. Yes – there are some men… but my experience is that they are the minority. I believe if you are partnered with a hearing assistance dog, you have shouldered the responsibility of knowing that by doing so you will be making a potentially invisible disability very visible. Perhaps men are less likely to place their safety and trust in a canine partner? That doesn’t mean they are less likely to like dogs. (On the contrary, I am asked by more men to pet Chloe or field questions about what she does for me). The budding psychology student in me believes that men are more likely to strive to be independent of help from any avenue compared to women. What I find ironic, is that my own hearing assistance dog actually PROVIDES independence to me rather than a new dependent relationship. I think men and women simply view this very visible “assistance” in different ways.

Men in the Supportive Role

I believe men are supportive of those they care about that may have hearing loss. Many husbands attend HLAA, ALDA or AGBell meetings, conferences and conventions in support of someone they care about. However, I have heard women make complaints such as:

“He gets so frustrated that I’m still so SAD about my hearing loss!”

“He is supportive of MY problem, but does not acknowledge it is OUR problem.”

“He doesn’t mind making phone calls for me, but I can tell it frustrates him sometimes”

Women usually welcome a “helping hand” with something as intensely personal as hearing loss. They normally welcome a shared role in learning to live with the acquired disability.

Women with Hearing Loss

1. Women are more likely to “grieve” hearing loss. I think both males and females go through stages of grief when they experience hearing loss. However, I think women tend to get bogged down in depression and experiencing feelings of grief than men do. Perhaps it is because women are usually living more with their “feeler” than men do? I just know that I have heard countless testimonies of women who experienced real grief about their hearing loss. Maybe women are more likely to admit they feel sad about their hearing loss in comparison to men.

2. Women seem to need peer support groups even early in hearing loss. Not all hearing loss is progressive. However, I have been a part of a number of hearing loss support groups and traveled to visit groups across the country. Many hearing loss support groups have women who attend that have a moderate to severe hearing loss. Most of the time, the men I meet who attend these groups have a more significant loss. I think women rely on communication more than men do as a part of what holds their relationships together. When women see a threat to their relationships, they are spurred to action to seek out assistance from their peers. Women tend to flood the workshops on communication tips and will be the attendees who are taking copious notes.

3. Women tend to care about how their hearing loss affects others more than men do. Yikes. I may get “grief” for this one. Fellas? Before you send a barrage of emails to my INBOX, please note that I am not saying men do not care about how hearing loss affects the “others” in their lives. It has been my experience that women seem to be more concerned about how their hearing loss affects others… to a fault. Women can actually become bogged down in worrying about how their hearing loss is changing the lives of those around them. They may worry more about being a burden and how others “feel about them now”. A positive reaction, however, is that women are more likely to actively discover how the “others” in their lives are doing, and in the process adopt or modify communication strategies.

Women in the Supportive Role

I think communication is so important to women, that they may become NAGS to the men in their lives who have hearing loss. It is important to learn “HOW” to encourage the male in your life to seek help. Women may resort to desperate and negative measures if they see that communication has been influenced by hearing loss.

Men may attend support groups with their significant other with hearing loss as an ongoing part of their “protective/provider” role. When the male is the one with hearing loss, however, women should understand that the men in their lives may not necessarily welcome a partnership view of hearing loss. Men (especially at first) may prefer attending support groups alone so that they may continue in what they view as being independent in their role. Women should carefully choose how to discuss that support groups provide them with important information and tools as well as peer support from others who love someone with hearing loss.

As always, I welcome your input and own experiences as they relate to sex and hearing loss!

Now… for all those that saw the title of this post and thought I was going to write about something much different? You have an assignment:

Denise Portis

© 2010 Personal Hearing Loss Journal