A Moulsford Prep School teacher has had his life changed by a specially trained hearing dog that alerts him to important and life-saving sounds.
Graham Sage, who is a Year 4 teacher, began to lose his hearing at around 15 years old. By the time he went to university, Graham was unable to hear his lecturers and realised he had been relying on lipreading.
Graham’s hearing loss is progressive and over the past five years has gone quickly from moderate loss to being severe to profound.
Being deaf left Graham feeling unsafe at home and meant he often struggled to get to sleep, fearing that he would miss the smoke alarm or someone breaking in. Furthermore, Graham could not hear the alarm clock in the morning, making it more difficult to sleep well at night for fear of not waking up on time.
When Graham became a teacher, he found it daunting as he was not always able to hear the sounds that he needed to hear during the school day, such as fire alarms and timers.
Graham decided he needed help and got in touch with Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, a national charity that trains dogs to alert deaf people to important and life-saving sounds and provide valuable emotional support and companionship. He was eventually matched with hearing dog Jovi, a cocker spaniel.
A hearing dog acts as a person’s ears. When they hear one of the sounds that they are trained to alert people to, they will let their deaf partner know by nudging them. The person will then ask the dog ‘What is it?’ and the dog will lead the person to the source of the sound. In the case of danger sounds such as the smoke alarm, the dog will lay down on the ground when asked ‘What is it?’. This signals that they’ve heard a danger sound and ensures they are not leading their partner towards danger.
Graham Sage said: “My hearing dog Jovi has changed my life in so many ways. When I’m teaching, he helps me by alerting me to a timer I set to give my pupils a specific time to complete work by. He also alerts me to the fire alarm, which is amazing. Before I had Jovi, a fire alarm went off when no one was in the classroom and I didn’t evacuate because I didn’t hear it.
“I am very lucky because the school and colleagues are all fantastically supportive, and Jovi’s presence has greatly increased everyone’s awareness of my deafness. The pupils are great in class and have learnt to be clearer in their communication.
“Having hearing loss can be pretty scary. I have always had a fear that if my house was being broken into, I wouldn’t hear it. I would be quite on edge and would keep checking that the doors were locked.
“Not only does Jovi make me feel safer, he has helped me to overcome some of my anxieties around interacting with other people, and his presence actually encourages interaction. I have had so many people come up to me and ask questions about him. When people find out he is my hearing dog they start to ask more questions, which has made me far more accepting, and even proud, of my hearing loss.
“Communication at home could be quite difficult at times, as my wife Anna could struggle to get my attention. Now, thanks to Jovi’s amazing abilities, Anna can call him and ask him to ‘Go get Graham!’ and he’ll come and alert me and take me to her.
“Looking to the future, if my wife and I were to start a family, it is comforting to know that Jovi can be trained to alert me to a baby’s cry and will add to the safety and security of the household.
“Deafness can cause barriers, but it does not always have to hold people back, and I would say to anyone who has any level of hearing loss and is struggling - try and seek help, even if it’s just talking to someone.
“Jovi helps me to lead a ‘normal’ life and I’m so thankful to him for that.
Jovi’s presence at Moulsford has also led to the school raising a staggering £20,000 for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People in less than a year.
One of Graham’s colleagues even ran the London Marathon in 2018 dressed as a dog to raise money for the charity and ended up breaking the Guinness World Record as the fastest female to run the London Marathon in a full body animal costume.
One of the school’s pupils also chose Hearing Dogs as the charity to benefit from an auction run by the well-known band Belle & Sebastian. The pupil’s mother was on the cover of the band’s debut album, and her son was asked by the band which charity he wanted the proceeds to go. He chose Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, and this raised over £14,000.
David Robson, a spokesman for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, said: “Jovi not only helps Graham on a daily basis by alerting him to sounds, but he also provides emotional support and companionship, which is really important as hearing loss can cause people to feel isolated.
“Not only that, Jovi gives a visibility to Graham’s deafness which can make things easier for Graham when he’s interacting with others.
“Moulsford Prep School has done fantastic things to fundraise for Hearing Dogs. This will directly help us to train more dogs that will change the lives of deaf people, so we are incredibly thankful to the staff, pupils and their families.”