Will and Hearing Dog Digby

March 9, 2018

I first met a Hearing Dog when I was in my 50s and thought it was truly amazing, even more so when I learned that just a month later this brave dog led her partner to safety as her house was engulfed in flames. Without this helper, the woman would have died.

My wife and I discussed these events and agreed that a Hearing Dog was in my future. You see, I have worn hearing aids since I was in my 30s. While I do all right in most conversations, it’s another story when I take my hearing aids off. And even with hearing aids, it is tough to tell where sound is coming from, for instance when someone calls my name.

Fast forward a decade, to when my wife of 41 years became gravely ill and could no longer be my “ears” – hearing the alarm clock, the knock at the door, the smoke alarm. Just weeks before she died, she made me promise to get a Hearing Dog. And so began my quest to get a Service Dog to help me and to fulfill the promise I made to her.

I came across NEADS during an online search and was impressed with what I read and the videos I watched. I filled out my application and waited to learn if I would be accepted for an interview.

I did get my interview, and after a long discussion about my life and my lifestyle, Director of Training, Kathy Foreman, told me I would be a good candidate for a Hearing Dog. She had one concern, though. I’m a competitive tennis player, and she needed to find a dog who could sit on a tennis court and not chase the balls. She told me to be patient and that the wait would be worth it.

THE START OF OUR LIFE TOGETHER. Wait I did, and then I got “the call.” I felt like a little kid at Christmas! Thanks to everyone at NEADS and my trainer, Anne, Digby and I bonded and passed our test. I then drove home to Florida with Digby in the back. This was the start of our life together.

Back at home, my neighbor helped me reinforce Digby’s training, ringing my doorbell, knocking at my back door, and testing our smoke detector. Digby demonstrated all the tasks he had learned at NEADS, reacting to the sounds just as he had been taught.

When you are hard of hearing, you are always “listening”, afraid you will miss something. Over time this can cause anxiety. Before I got Digby, having to get up early to go somewhere would have been a recipe for a sleepless night. Not anymore. No matter what time I set my iPhone, he hears that alarm, jumps up on my bed, and awakens me. So not only does he help me with sounds, he also helps with the anxiety I feel about not hearing a knock at the door or the doorbell. I know that Digby will react to these sounds, and I don’t have to give it a second thought.

I am working with my 4-year-old granddaughter to call my name should we ever get separated. She calls out “Will”, and Digby brings me to her. This a fun activity for her, but more importantly, it gives me some peace of mind in case we should ever be separated.

WORTH THE WAIT. I waited for Digby for 2 years. Kathy told me it would be worth the wait, and it was. He has not only made me feel safer in my environment and eased my anxieties but has also helped me be a happier person. The loneliness and loss I felt after losing my wife were at times overwhelming. Now, when Digby looks up at me with his eyes, when I see his ears flapping when we play fetch, I cannot help but smile.

In the months we’ve been a team, we have encountered people who have never heard of Hearing Dogs, and I never tire of telling them about NEADS and my Hearing Dog. I would suggest that anyone who needs a Service Dog consider it. You have to be willing make the commitment to do your part as a partner, to make sure you are providing for your dog’s wellbeing. You must make time each day to exercise him and, of course, take time for his bathroom breaks. For me, the “work” that I do for Digby is a small price to pay for what he does for me.