Few Understand INVESTMENT like a Trainer

I’ve written a couple of posts about both “Sponsors” and “Puppy Raisers“. I wouldn’t be able to really complete my explanation of how Fidos For Freedom has helped me if I didn’t mention the trainers.

I suppose the most amazing thing about the trainers at Fidos, is that they all volunteer. They Chloe at work with me

don’t get paid for what they do, and yet what they do certainly takes a great deal more time than what most of us consider a “community service”. The trainers volunteer so much time to Fidos, that for many it is like a part-time job without pay! For some it is likely a 2nd full-time job… only without pay.

When a Fidos dog is ready for their final phase of training, the trainer has already very likely been involved with this dog to some degree! The Puppy Raisers stay in close contact with the trainers about any questions or training tips they may have for the puppy they are raising. Two of the trainers at Fidos actually have “puppy classes” every week. They work one-on-one with with the Puppy Raisers. They help with mundane things like potty training, and the important teaching of basic commands, plus ways to expose the puppy to many different things and environments. My daughter attended some of the classes for awhile to socialize her own puppy, and was very impressed with the fun and innovative ways the trainers encouraged and equipped the Puppy Raisers and their Fido’s puppy.

In most states (if not all) the trainer is granted the same rights of access as a person with a disability. This is important, as they need to train with the dog in public. They go to the grocery store, on trips, restaurants, etc., with the dog during this phase of their training. At home, they practice the alerts and/or service commands with the dog. Most of the trainers have jobs, families, responsibilities and “a life”, prior to ever agreeing to this special investment of time.

I’ve been with Fidos for almost 2 years now. I have observed the trainers a great deal… mostly in “work mode” at the training facility, but also on “field trips” and outings with the clients. At first I thought that they must be motivated to do this because they love dogs so much. Dogs are easy to love, eager to please and they enjoy learning. Fidos dogs also love to work and are motivated to “do it right”. Although I still think the trainers all love dogs… I also know now that really deep down… they also love people with disabilities.

As a person with a disability, I can say that sometimes I can be a pain in the neck! Grin! Folks with hearing loss sometimes talk loudly, interrupt (as they fail to see that who they are talking to is ALREADY talking), and misinterpret what is said a great deal. We get tired, frustrated and impatient. The trainers have seen it all I’m sure! However, the trainers see the “big picture” that a client in training fails to see in their inexperience with assistance dogs. Sometimes the trainers have to use a little reality therapy (smile), and sometimes they just sit and listen. I think it helps them to get to know the clients as they learn what ways a dog might best help them simply by paying attention to what the client says. I’ve seen trainers “hug the neck” (as we say in the South), of a client that really needed it, and I’ve seen them take the time to really “hear” the heart of a person with a disability. They don’t hold clients at arm’s length… it’s quite the opposite really! They know that to really help the match succeed they need to know WHO this client really is, and what their needs are.

I have some balance issues, but depending on whatever weather fronts may have come into the area, I do have good days! My own trainer has really mastered observation. She has picked up little things that even I have not been aware of as it is simply the way I live life. For example, on my “good days”, I feel like I can move with relative ease without any wobbles. Yet as I was training with Chloe in the beginning, she continued to sense something and break a “heel” command. Pat didn’t even have to think about what the problem was, as she had already been observing us working together for some time. It seems even when I’m standing still, I “adjust” using the balls of my feet and my toes. She suggested standing with one foot slightly forward for better balance, and said that Chloe very likely could feel in the leash my “movement”. Now that Chloe is accustomed to my “moving while standing STILL” (tongue in cheek…) she stays in heel without any problem.

The trainers see the “end picture” that clients in training do not. They know and understand that a client in training, or a newly matched team will need to make adjustments for some time. Yet they know that in the end, the team will really KNOW each other and will work very effectively together.

My guess is that the dogs are easier to work with than the clients! SMILE! I’m a client, so I’m allowed to say that! However, I know these trainers MUST love people with disabilities as well as loving dogs. It must thrill their hearts to see a team graduating at the annual Fidos Tux and Tails Gala each year!

It must be this end result, and yet knowing these teams continue to evolve… that motivates the trainers to invest their lives to such a degree.

So on New Year’s Eve, I do pray a special blessing to those who have invested their lives, time and energy to Fidos as a trainer! May God richly bless you in the year to come!

From an appreciative client,

Denise Portis

P.S. If you are a reader in my area, Fidos welcomes “trainer apprentices” and works hard to “train new trainers”. If you are interested, please contact me offsite and I will put you in touch with the training department at Fidos.

If you live in another area of the country and would like more information about assistance dogs, please check out Assistance Dogs International for a training facility near you!

Line Of Sight

My husband and I figured something out driving home from church today. At a certain stoplight that seems to always be RED when we get to it, Chloe begins growling and barking. Up until today, I had not figured out what it was that had her so rattled.

Normally, I would ask one of my teens in the backseat, “What is she looking at?” However, they drive to church by themselves as they have to get there earlier than we do as they are “greeters” for the 2nd service. (It’s wonderful to have teens who can drive and choose to be involved in things that mom and dad are NOT. It shows they are as comfortable with “growing up”, as I am with their doing so!)

I happened to look back right at the right time “mid-growl” of Chloe, and realized she was angry at the big red horse that stood on top of Red Horse Inn and Restaurant. As you can see from this picture, it’s hard to miss!

Yet, as I never could get in the same line of sight of Chloe, I could not figure out what it was she was barking at prior to today. Understanding is much more clear when you have the same line of sight.

One of the first things I learned from my trainer, Pat, was to pay attention to your hearing assistance dog. Trust your dog. Chloe has much better hearing than I do. (Chloe has much better hearing than a person with normal hearing too!) If I pay attention to where her attention is suddenly drawn, I’m sure to be more aware of my environment and “things that make sound”. Chloe is actually really easy to watch for cues… even from behind. Her forehead and eyebrows get all wrinkled up, and she has that cute “one of a kind” canine characteristic of cocking her head to the side. However, sometimes I cannot tell what has her attention. Sometimes I must get down on her level so that our line of sight is the same. Only then can I see what has caught her and those incredible ears, attention.

It reminded me about how we often fail to understand others if we do not have the same “line of sight“. Sometimes it is difficult for me, a forty-one year old woman, to understand a teenage girl. I was one once… long, long ago in a land far, far away! (Hey! Walsh, Colorado… a ranching/farming community in SE Colorado is a world away from the DC area in which I now live!) Yet much has changed and I have changed. Time has changed all of that for me!

It is difficult to understand a disability unless you have the disability yourself, or are close to a person with that disability. I have two deaf/blind friends living in Florida of whom I love and respect. I cannot completely understand their frustrations and struggles as my disability although similar, is not exactly the same. One of my friends… although not as blind/deaf as their spouse, understands more clearly than I. They have a closer relationship to that person than I do. Our line of sight is not exactly the same.

I am convicted in the knowing that one doesn’t have to have the same line of sight to feel compassion for someone else.

So I feel like I learned something about line of sight today. It’s important to put yourself in a position if at all possible, to share the same line of sight as someone else. When you have the same line of sight as another, be willing to commiserate with them and encourage them… you know what it is they live. If your line of sight is completely different than another, we are still responsible to reach out in love, compassion and PRAY.

One day, our line of sight will be the same as Christ’s. Won’t it be wonderful to have Heaven’s line of sight?

Denise Portis
©2007 Hearing Loss Diary

Can You Imagine?

Wednesday night my family and I accompanied two dear friends of the family to Eyler’s Valley Chapel for Christmas services.

No electricity, no bathrooms, nada! Candles were put in a type of pulley chandelier get-up, and candles were in every window, as well. So in spite of the fact there were only candles, there did seem to be enough light to look at the bulletin with the order of service, song lyrics, etc. My daughter, a true city girl, begged me to accompany her to the outhouse, if for no other reason than to take her picture. Someone had lit kerosene lanterns along the path to the the rustic wooden bridge that one had to cross in order to get to the other side of the creek. No small task for someone with balance problems who also has night vision problems with no handrails! Geesh! The “bridge”comprised of simple wooden planks across some logs! What a mother will do for a daughter who’s intent on seeing an

As I sat there with my family and two friends listening to the simple yet beautiful Christmas story, I couldn’t help but think what would be different if I was sitting in the chapel during the first decade it had opened. In 1895-1905, there were not any cochlear implants. My friend Faith, sat to my left. Her cochlear implant is on her right side, mine is on my left. It’s a perfect situation because we “hear best” on the side of our implants. So with she on my left, and I on her right, we communicate very well! But we would have not been able to hear anything had we not been sitting in the chapel in the 21st century. I think we would have still been present at the service. We both have supportive families, and we both love the Lord. I like to believe that we would have both been present anyway, in spite of not being able to hear. One doesn’t have to hear, to desire to worship and celebrate Christ’s birth.

But as I sat there, my heart just welled up with emotion as I realized how blessed I am to be living in 2007. I went from almost total deafness, to being able to hear a Christmas service without microphones. I heard the little church bell ring in the bell tower right as the service began. I could hear people turning the pages of their bulletins. I heard the “clunk” of change in the offering baskets as they passed.

Yes! Hearing aids (a.k.a. hearing “trumpets”) were used as early as 1772. Beethoven had one made for him! (Check this link out for hearing aid history). But the general public did not have access too, nor the money to spend on “luxury items” such as these. I would have gone through my late 20’s and early 30’s, saying “beg your pardon?” a great deal. Likely my speech reading skills would have been much better due to the fact that I had little choice. However, my own speech would have likely deteriorated much quicker as well. I was “aided” from about the age of 30 to present. So although my speech was beginning to suffer prior to my implant, it would have likely been much worse without the access I’ve had to technology.

So this Christmas, I am thankful for the day in which I live. It took one small and quaint little chapel service to “bring it all home” for me.

Denise Portis
©2007 Hearing Loss Diary

It Makes a Difference

I recently attended a dog show with my daughter, Kyersten. She was showing her Chinese Crested at the Turkey Cluster Dog Shows over Thanksgiving.

I consider myself a “high achiever” in that according to my hearing tests at Johns Hopkins, I’m a “star pupil” in hearing again.

In spite of how well I hear, I do recognize that there are still things that are difficult for me. Case in point? Dog shows.

Not only is there a great deal of barking going on (which is a percussion type of sound), but it is impossible to understand what the judges are saying. I don’t often admit this… but there are some things a person with hearing loss cannot do. I believe participating in dog shows is one of them. I just don’t know HOW you would know what the judge is wanting you to do if you are struggling to hear. I can enjoy going and watching… but I don’t know how a person with hearing loss could ever actually participate in a dog show!

My cochlear implant makes a big difference in what I am hearing, and even in how I communicate. Some things won’t change though. There will be situations where I still will not be able to hear well.

I hate social functions. You know the kind where the church is having potluck, and everyone comes to fellowship and eat, etc.? I do great at home with my own family now during dinner… no more food getting cold while trying to eat and listen at the same time. But in a more crowded atmosphere, I still have trouble eating and talking at the same time!

Candlelight dinners? (shudder) That’s an activity scary enough to make me feel slightly ill. There is nothing worse than trying to listen with low light!

But you know? There’s not a thing wrong with recognizing what your weaknesses are! We all have them. Sometimes, we are blessed in that the things we struggle to do as a result of an acquired disability, can be done if one “thinks outside the box”. Perhaps an assistive listening device will help. Maybe that staircase is not so terrifying with a hearing/balance dog by your side.

Sunday, I needed to talk with someone in my church. The auditorium has hardwood floors (another acoustic nightmare), so I simply asked the lady if we could find someplace quiet to talk. The coat closet was a perfect location! How simple a “fix” was that?

Yet sometimes there is no solution. It’s OK to recognize that too, as long as you aren’t all bent out of shape about it!

Even people with normal hearing don’t do everything well when it comes to communication. My husband tells me constantly, “Denise! Not even hearing people are hearing well right now!” Said outside a store with a girl scout troop selling items on one corner, and the salvation army ringing a bell on the other!

One person may be extremely gifted in the arts. Another person… maybe in the same family… can’t even color inside the lines of a coloring book! No person does every thing well. A person with added difficulties of a disability should not expect to do everything well.

Me? Well I love to teach. I can only hope that love rubs off on my students, whom I also love. But don’t ask me to bowl. Don’t ask me to dance! Don’t ask me to handle your dog at a dog show.

And that’s OK by me!

Denise Portis
©2007 Hearing Loss Diary

Puppy Raiser – Why?

Chloe as a puppy at her Puppy Raiser's home 

Fidos For Freedom is currently in need of Puppy Raisers.

Everything a Puppy Raiser would need to raise a puppy is provided by Fidos For Freedom, thanks to the generous support of sponsors! Food, vet appointments, medicines, supplies and training classes are all free to Puppy Raiser volunteers. The only thing required of a puppy raiser is really that they love puppies, and are willing to invest themselves by providing a loving home for these puppies. The training classes are to provide encouragement, as well as provide instruction from house training to the basic obedience commands.

I have so many say to me, “I could just never love and raise a little puppy for a whole year, and then have to give them up!”

If I could just get every person who said that to visit one Saturday training session for the clients at Fidos! (If you contact the office in advance, you can actually come watch!) If only you could see the special bond between those who have been matched with a service dog or hearing dog! If only you could see the dogs trained to help a service client pick up dropped objects, remove hard-to-remove clothing like shoes or jackets, tug on cabinet drawers, open and close doors, etc.! If you could see the hearing dogs pick up dropped objects that their partner did not even know had fallen (like keys! Do you know how many times I lost my keys each year prior to Chloe?), and alert them to phones, alarm clocks, doorbells, timers, their name being called, etc.

I guess I am trying (probably ineffectively) to say, is that if you could only get a glimpse of what these dogs do for their partners, you’d not only be willing to raise a puppy, but would joyfully acknowledge the important role you play in the eventual partnership of a dog and partner with a disability! For ultimately, I hope that every Puppy Raiser volunteers to raise a puppy because they love PEOPLE.

A puppy never forgets their Puppy Raiser! Every time Chloe sees her Puppy Raiser, Linda, she goes “all a-wiggle”. She whines (in a semi-controlled and barely proper “sit”) and anxiously awaits me to acknowledge that I see Linda. There are days I know Chloe simply will not train or work until she’s gone to say hello to her beloved puppy raiser! I’ve had some other clients tell me, “Now Denise! Don’t let that hurt your feelings that she is so excited to see Linda!” I have to grin at that! Chloe’s excitement about seeing her Puppy Raiser speaks volumes. She was loved, she was allowed to be a puppy in a super home, and she is loyal to those who love her! I’d be worried if she was NOT happy to see her Puppy Raiser!

Linda has been raising another puppy. Want to know why? She loves Fidos; yes. She loves puppies; yes. But ultimately Linda loves people and knows the valuable part she plays in the eventual partnership of a dog and person with disabilities. What’s not to love about that?

Denise Portis
©2007 Hearing Loss Diary