What’s Mine is Yours – What’s Yours is Yours (Most of the Time!)

Sharing some things is not difficult for Chloe
Sharing some things is not difficult for Chloe

Sharing “Stuff”

Having an assistance dog, means that I should strive to understand the “pack” in which I’ve brought Chloe to live. An assistance dog is not ever suppose to be “pack leader”. That’s my job, and the hierarchy trickles down through various family members until the canine members of the pack are finally represented. I’m not sure an assistance dog should be “head honcho” of the canine crew, but frankly the dogs in our family could never be “leader”.

Tyco, our Elkhound adolescent and family dog, is a major pushover and adores the ground on which Chloe treads. He follows her around with major PUPPY LOVE written all over his face. It practically oozes from ever pore of his wiggle, curly-tailed body. He’d let her eat his food, and sleep in his bed and simply lick her with infatuation while stepping aside to let her do so. I have to keep an “eye on it”, as she would take advantage if I let her!

Gingery’s Baby Pegasus (or Peg for short) is a naked juvenile ex-show dog with a shock of flashy white hair in all the right places. Frankly… I don’t think Chloe is completely certain he even IS a dog. When he barks, all the dogs stop dead in their tracks to turn and observe. Chloe will share her bed with Pegasus; after all, who can say no to a shivering “ain’t got no hair”, pack member?

Ebony is an ancient, black Pomeranian who sleeps 22 hours a day. When she walks I can hear her bones creak, and folks? I’m deaf. She has an enlarged heart, cancer “somewhere”, collapsing trachea, alopecia, kidney disease, and she’s deaf and blind. One drops like a rock if the “little bit” should happen to breathe on you. Chloe doesn’t have any problem sharing with her, for frankly she rarely sees her.

Chloe shares with the other dogs very well, and she shares with one of the three cats like Kiki is her best friend come over for “milk and cookies” and girly talk.

One thing Chloe will not share is the loveseat in the family room, and her walks with me. The latter I don’t mind, for honestly I haven’t a clue how I’d walk yet one more dog as I have enough problems walking with just Chloe on really bad balance days. The “MY LOVESEAT” in the family room gets a little old sometimes. I watch television (thanks to TIVO’d programing) about twice a week. When we go to the family room, Chloe knows I’m there for an hour or two and I give her a major “love on” scratch, massage, and belly rub the entire time we share that seat. It’s a wonder I don’t have carpal tunnel. If any dog even comes close to the loveseat she growls a threat and a row of hair stands up along her spine that has my daughter convinced she’s part Rhodesian Ridgeback. I let her know that growling is simply not allowed. I can’t very well fuss at her for giving a “look” if any dog creeps too close, but by golly they have sure learned to respect that knowing LOOK. As there are plenty of comfy and warm places to curl up all over our family room, I don’t worry to much that anyone is being neglected.

People normally have a fairly good idea what can be shared. It normally begins long before kindergarten, and we learn that sharing is “nice” and it makes mama happy. As we get older, sharing is still one of those ingrained rules but we do draw the line at items regarding hygiene, or perhaps requested Double-Stuffed Oreos when one is responsibile enough to write it on the list. (I added that last part for a 19-year-old daughter that rarely requests anything, and even more rarely writes it on the list to be purchased and then practically HIDES her stash!) People who share are defined as “giving, generous, considerate, charitable, unselfish and magnanimous”. (Actually, that last word has never actually crossed my lips, but it certainly looks appropriate!)

Sharing Feelings

Dogs just do not seem to have any trouble sharing feelings. If their entire body has gone “all a-wag”, you know they are happy. If they avoid eye contact and look away, they are feeling nervous and uneasy. If they stick their hind end in the air they want to play. If they bring you their leash and sit and stare at you until you “notice”, they may be trying to share their joy of exercise. Dogs rarely have trouble opening up, and if you are really good at it, canine body language can really help you get to know your dog. (Thanks to trainer Tracy at Fidos For Freedom, I’m a big fan of Canine Body Language – A Photographic Guide by Brenda Aloff).

People are more difficult to read, and often have trouble sharing feelings. People have to practice being vulnerable and readable. I’ve been reading the daily journal at Caring Bridge from a fellow mom who was recently diagnosed with cancer. She doesn’t have any trouble sharing her feelings, and frankly I’m often compelled to sit and reflect after reading what she views as most important on any given day.

I’ve a friend whom I’ve knitted my heart too for simply experiencing disability and life much as I do. (Small wonder THAT being that I cannot knit, but only crochet). She shares her feelings in two different blogs, and for a moment in time I’m sitting along side her seeing, hearing, tasting, and experiencing everything that she is. She’s THAT good at writing.

If you’ve lived enough of life, you know that it isn’t always safe to share your feelings. Tragic that we live in the kind of world that we do where there are situations that warrants keeping your feelings hidden. All of us know someone who is “toxic” to our lives. They’ve burned us so many times, we have scar tissue. When they are around we don a hazmat suit and deliberately hide who we are to them in hopes they’ll simply leave as quickly as possible. If we were a dog, we’d yawn and look away and pant nervously. Since we are people we smile and “play nice”, collapsing against the door in relief after we’ve seen them off.

Yes, we all have people like this in our lives, but something we should stop and think about is, “Are you this person to another?” May it never be said that someone waits anxiously for me to leave because I’m dangerous to their well being.

Sharing Faith

Why is it so difficult to share something that is so important? My faith is the single most important area of my life. Why? It SAVED my life. I don’t use religion as a crutch, for the truth of the matter is my faith freed me from a lot of negative things. I don’t think being a person of faith makes me a weak person, for people who have REAL faith are normally very strong. (Not that I don’t have my weak moments!)

My son loves “The Rebelution” and has read the book, joined the “cause” and challenges himself to make a difference in the lives of those who are IN HIS. A “funny”, yet true video clip posted there recently really made me think. You can view it here.

I hope that when people spend any time with me at all, it doesn’t take them long to learn the following:

1. I have a disability, and am ok with it. I wouldn’t change it if I could.

2. I love dogs, and welcome the addtion of an assistance dog in my life. She gives me independence.

3. I have a cochlear implant and don’t care who sees it. As a matter of fact seeing it will remind you that I don’t hear like you do.

4. I love my family, and joyfully color my hair to disguise all the gray hair living and loving them have brought.

5. I love others, and may unexpectedly throw my arms around your neck to prove it true.

6. I love my God, and do not mind sharing why my faith is so important to me.

7. It doens’t bother me if you believe differently than I do. I respect others, and have found most people respect my views as well.

8. I like green tea, white cheddar popcorn and blackberries.

(Actually I just threw #8 in to confuse you. If you knew this already, then we are pretty TIGHT).

The best kind of faith sharing is that which simply “happens” because you are living life as you always do. I want my faith to be such a natural “side-effect” of Denise, it just naturally creeps up and gooses you from time to time.

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal



Saturday, Chloe and I headed to the training center at Fidos For Freedom in Laurel, MD. Kyersten came with us which was a real treat as she normally has a ton of schoolwork to do, or has to work.

Fidos For Freedom is blessed with a great variety of personalities and people who volunteer in the training department. Kim, an apprentice trainer,  is one of the newer faces in the training department. She co-led the client chat with Tracy on Saturday. Saturday consists of 1 hour of training, and then a 1/2 hour “client chat”. The “chat” is usually a topic discussing problems/issues of an event coming up, or perhaps a client has had access issues, or other problem that week that the group as a whole can discuss. I always get a lot out of the “chats”.

Kim is a trainer, who just so happens to have a disability herself. She shared with us that as people with a disability, it is important to know what your own personal limits are. If you don’t know your limits, you can quickly get to the point where you aren’t able to take care of yourself or your valuable partner. Many disabilities are invisible. Other people often are not able to tell when you’ve reached a limit. She graciously gave me permission to share her list with you:

Basic Awareness Reality Check (B.A.R.C.)

1. Check in with yourself, physically and mentally – What are your early warning signs? Identify early warning signs that signal you are reaching your physical and/or mental limits.

2. Make a list, put it where you can see it, to have available for those times when it’s hard to remember.

3. What might cause you to not listen to your “body”/”mind”?  Ignoring those early warning signs? (i.e., feeling guilty, feeling that you “should” do something, wanting to “not give in to the disability”… etc., worrying about what other people will think?, not wanting to let someone down or disappoint them.)

4. List at least 3 things you do to take care of yourself. (Things that help you mentally or physically.) Make it a point to do at least 1 of the 3 daily.

5. It’s reasonable to remember that the list can change over time… as bodies age, or disabilities wax or wane… during times of illness… remember to check in with yourself, and update/change the list as needed.

6. Ask for feedback, from family members, friends, for things you might not recognize.

7. Practice letting people know, when you are having a harder time, rather than “hiding or covering up” your disability/illness, and how it’s effecting you.

8. Practice what you would need to say, during times when you are feeling better, just to get in some practice, before you actually really NEED to do it.

9. Ask yourself:  Are you taking as good care of yourself as you do of your dog? Clients, trainers, people, deserve the same kind of attention, and recognition of limits, as they give to their dogs. Remember, You cannot take care of your dog, if you do not take care of yourself.

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

To Boldly Go Where No Dog Has Gone Before…


I finished my research paper an entire day early, so the family and I headed for the movie theatre on Mother’s Day. Hubby and I have always been Star Trek fans, although the past couple of movies almost had me hangin’ my “fan hat” up for good!

Bottom line?   TWO THUMBS UP

What a great movie! There was a great deal of scifi action, and some pretty funny moments as well! Word of caution to those with hearing loss… wait for it to come out on open caption if you’ve any hope of understanding 17-year-old Chekov. Our own local theater has open captioned films, so I’m keeping my eyes peeled for when it might include Star Trek.

There’s a Dog in Here

Chloe is quite accustomed to going to the movies. I go about once a month, although sometimes it stretches to two months if there isn’t anything decent showing. Occasionally, I’ll hear someone say, “there’s a dog in here!” Many times a parent will take the opportunity to discuss “helper dogs” to a child, and occasionally people ask to pet Chloe. I always say “sorry, but no… catch me outside and I’ll take her vest off and you can pet her”. No one ever “catches me” outside. The hardest part about taking her to the movies is actually my own fear, not hers. When you have balance problems, it is very difficult to go –

Up stairs

in the dark

with “runway lights”

in a cavernous room.

Chloe is use to my shuffle step going up and down steps. She patiently plods along and adjusts her proximity to whether or not she feels me wobbling. I suppose I get a little aggravated when someone seated along the aisle tries to get her attention. Perhaps I shouldn’t blame folks because Chloe is beautiful and friendly and it’s hard to ignore her. But if the person on the other end of the leash has a death grip on the handrail, a worried husband with his hand on her back, and a 6′ 3″ son clearing the path in front, would YOU bother the assistance dog? Her vest says, “Do not Pet”, and in case people miss the meaning, she also wears a large tag on the side that says “Do not Distract”. Actually, I’ve learned a great tip.

When Chloe is being distracted by someone who just doesn’t know better, I carry on a dialogue with Chloe. I usually say something like, “Oh Chloe, please stay close! I’m really dizzy and if I fall, I’ll break my neck!” I say all of this in a really pleasant voice, and Chloe just wags her tail and continues up the stairs. Well “normally” whatever hand was trying to call her over to be petted, drops as fast as their jaw does. Most people get the fact they could be the cause of a “fall down and go BOOM“. Chloe doesn’t care at all that I’m fussin’, because I’m doing so in a pleasant voice. If she doesn’t hear a word she recognizes, she thinks I’m just babbling along to her like I usually do.(Yeah… I babble – sue me!)

I then put down her blanket and she is usually out for the duration of the movie. I try very hard not to drop popcorn on her head, as this will very likely cause her to stir. She rarely moves around during a movie, so I was surprised when she sat up to look at the screen at one point. The young Kirk was being chased by some kind of growling snow beast. She had to check out if it was a dog I guess. The theater was really crowded. Right as the movie was starting a lady came over and said, “is that seat taken?” It was dark and the movie was already loud. She couldn’t see Chloe at my feet.

I said loudly, “SERVICE DOG”.

She said, “Oh! It’s broken?” and went to find another vacant seat. I think even folks with normal hearing have trouble hearing in the dark with a lot of background noise.

Hey? Have you ever seen a dog on Star Trek? (Scratchin’ my head and ponderin’ on it…) I saw a cat once that belonged to Data. Went by the name of “Spot”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog, however! Not even when the crew was hangin’ out on Earth. Are dogs extinct in the future? Perish the thought!

(yeah… the southern comes out once in awhile)

live long

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal