Why I Chose a Hearing Dog

By Denise Portis of HearingElmo.com / LipreadingMom.com Guest Blogger

Lipreading Mom’s Note: I met Denise through Facebook a few years ago. She has become a wonderful role model for me as a mom thriving with her hearing loss. I am thrilled to learn more about why she chose her hearing dog, Chloe.

Denise Portis and her dog, Chloe

I didn’t mean for it to happen. The dependence snuck up on me. Having had a hearing loss since my children were first born, I vowed to be independent and not pressure them to be “Moms ears.” I considered myself a positive advocate and independent lipreading mom.

Yet, once they turned 10 and 11-years-old, I discovered that when someone said something to me I would look at my daughter standing to the side. As if on cue, she would quickly sign what they said to me. I remember responding inappropriately to things a number of times to people and my children touching my arm to repeat what they REALLY said to me. My response indicated I had not heard them correctly. I’ll never forget asking a friend at church how her back injury was doing. I thought she said that things were much better so I said, “Oh I’m so glad! That’s great news!” My daughter touched my arm and said, “Mom, she said she is much worse and needs to have surgery”. I looked back at my friend whose surprised-looking eyes now filled with tears realizing I hadn’t heard her. Relief or compassion?

After some agonizing self-evaluation, I realized I depended on my kids to stop me from walking in front of cars in a parking lot, to let me know my phone was ringing, to let me know someone was at the door, and because I also have a balance disorder, to pick up things I dropped when my vertigo was in full “tilt-a-whirl” mode.

How had this happened? Like any good mother, I really DID want my kids to grow up, leave home, and lead productive lives––hopefully modeled after their own parent’s lives. They loved me and were not disgruntled about doing things for me, but I knew I needed to be independent.

That is when I found Fidos For Freedom in Laurel, Maryland. I was accepted into the training program and was eventually matched with Chloe—hearing assistance/balance assist canine extraordinaire! For me it was a great choice. I loved dogs! It also brought a new sense of community to me as I trained alongside people with various types of disabilities. I learned that having a disability was not the end of the world. I learned to look at myself as “differently abled” and certainly better able to live my life safely with an assistance dog by my side.

What Does a Hearing Dog Do?
Chloe alerts me to timers, my phone ringing, door knocks, dropped items (such as keys or credit cards), and noises that do not belong. When she cocks her head and looks intently in a specific direction, I look as well. Sure, it may just be a crying infant, or car radio, but she has also alerted me to impatient shoppers wanting to slip by me, wildlife, people or bike riders coming up behind me on walks, and much more! She also picks up items I drop––which is a near constant, but welcome task for her. In the classroom, she picks up erasers, dry-erase markers, papers, pens, USB keys, and “accidentally dropped items by students so they can sneak a pet in” items.

An assistance dog is not for everyone. You cannot leave home unprepared. You have to plan in advance. You also draw attention to yourself. Having a service dog in public at stores, restaurants, church, and school hallways is like having a spotlight on you. Dogs are NOT the normal accessory! Yet, this has worked very well for me and brought me full circle. I am again independent and able to do things completely alone. With a cochlear implant, I am hearing voices much better now and do not make the same comprehension mistakes I did earlier in my hearing loss journey. A hearing assistance dog was a good choice for me.

It may even be a good choice for you! Here is a link where you can click on YOUR state and find an organization near you. Folks also train their own assistance dogs with the help of a personal trainer.

If you have questions about whether or not an assistance dog would be right for you, please feel free to comment here or email me (see address below). There are also numerous stories about life with an assistance dog at my blog, Hearing Elmo.


Hearing Elmo offers a platform for people with disabilities and invisible illness to tell their own story. Denise and many others have actively worked to erase the stigma of disabilities. Being differently-abled is merely an opportunity to educate and advocate, and offers a unique perspective on living a victorious life. You can reach Denise at denise.portis@gmail.com or at her blog, Hearing Elmo.


6 thoughts on “Why I Chose a Hearing Dog

  1. I love Denise’s blog, but I didn’t know she was a teacher! How cool to have a teacher and a teacher dog! I’d definitely be guilty of accidentally dropping things every day I think. I just can’t resist a fluffy dog!

    I do wonder if that bothers someone with an assistance dog. When I see one, I usually just see a dog, period, and I always really want to go coo over it and scratch it’s ears, but I always think that would probably really bother the person. Any thoughts on this?

  2. Hey Rachel… I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment on here. I thought I had licked to be alerted to follow up comments and must not have done it right.
    I think those of us who have had assistance dogs for any length of time are very accustomed to people noticing our dogs first and us second. Funny story… I got on the elevator to switch floors for my next class and a student got on with me. He said (to Chloe), ” hi Chloe… Going to class?” I usually remember faces if not names of students and I couldn’t place this guy. “Excuse me, have you taken one of my classes?” He said, “oh no… But everyone knows you are Chloe’s person” I was so cracked up. If I know the person pretty well and my balance is doing ok, I will take Chloe’s vest off occasionally and let her say hi to people. I’m fairly strict about no contact while the vest is on though as it helps her remember “working mode”.

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