Animals Life

By James Somper


A deaf woman has opened up about sharing her condition with her pooch – who even knows how to understand sign language.

Larry, a cocker spaniel, was the only puppy from a litter of nine not to become a hearing dog after it was discovered at only 10-weeks-old that he was deaf.

Instead of giving up on him, Larry was trained to respond to hand signals and was eventually paired with Ruth Mallalieu, 32.

Despite the disability the pair share, library manager Ruth insists that deafness binds them together.

The faithful hound provides emotional support to Ruth and she communicates to Larry using hand signals so that he can understand her.

Ruth, from Eyam, Derbyshire, said: “He’s the other man in my life, alongside my husband, Jonathan.

“Because he’s deaf I feel such a strong bond with him.

“I remember the first morning we had together I was just cuddling him for hours – I felt so protective of him because of his disability.

“When I found out about Larry I felt an instant connection with him. I wasn’t sure if I needed an assistance dog but when I saw Larry it was love at first sight.

“He’s a bit like me; we’re both very visual, he’s always looking at people’s faces to see how they’ll react or what they want.

“He’s the biggest, softest dog you’ll ever meet, he loves everyone and is absolutely fearless.”

After being deaf since birth, Ruth looked for different ways to help improve her lifestyle.

She said: “I tried my best to not let my disability hold me back, I’ve always tried to lead a normal life.

“I’ve always felt though like I was playing catch up and was behind.

“I found it quite hard to make friends at school. I was bullied because of my disability and was quite lonely, it was only at university that I was more accepting of my deafness and I met more people who were deaf.

“I’m proud of who I am and that I’m deaf and of everything I’ve achieved.”

Larry was trained by charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People to respond to hand signals given by Ruth as he is unable to hear any commands.

The signals range from Ruth tapping the top of her left leg to get Larry to heel, to making a heart with her thumbs and index fingers to tell him she loves him.

She even has a special signal to say goodnight to Larry and can also sign for him to play games with her.

Ruth said: “Having Larry has totally changed my life. My husband has commented on how much happier I am since we got Larry.

“I work long days during the week and I used to be exhausted in the evenings from the effort of listening and communicating at work, typically falling asleep on the sofa by 9pm.

“Now, I take Larry out for a walk in the evenings and can manage to stay awake through a TV programme – usually with Larry asleep on my lap instead.

“I can relate to Larry on a very fundamental level because we are both deaf. He brings me solace and takes me out of myself. If I’ve had a bad day, or I’m worrying about my hearing, he comes to greet me as soon as I get home which makes things better.

“Larry is a very good stigma-buster when it comes to perceptions of deafness. He goes out into the world with an endlessly happy and positive attitude. In a strange sort of way, I suppose I find him very inspiring.

“I don’t have to use my voice with Larry, although naturally I do speak to him.

“If I’ve had a long day of communicating and using my voice, and I’m tired, we’ll go for a walk and communicate only using hand signals and facial expressions – I find this unspoken connection deeply therapeutic.

“My husband jokes that he is now outnumbered in our household.”

David Robson, from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, said: “When we found out Larry was deaf it became clear that he would not be able to become a fully qualified hearing dog.

“However, he responded so well to being trained using hand signals – something that we teach all of our dogs – and was such a gentle and loving boy, that we knew he’d be the perfect partner for a deaf person who would benefit from the comfort and support of a dog.

“Unfortunately, the world is not always ‘set up’ for people who can’t hear. This can create barriers, make everyday life more difficult, and cause deaf people to feel lonely or isolated.

“We’re incredibly proud of Larry and the impact he’s had on Ruth. He may not be able to alert her to important and life-saving sounds like a fully qualified hearing dog would, but he provides lots of love and emotional support, and that can be just as life-changing.”