Vincent Wakeling (53) from Dagenham, Essex, was isolated from the rest of the world – until his hearing dog Teddy came along and completely transformed his life.
“I came alive the day I got Teddy” says Vincent Wakeling. He describes the isolation of growing up as a deaf child, the loneliness of being a deaf adult and how his hearing dog Teddy has helped him to enjoy life for the first time.
“We were five years old when my twin sister and I were sent away to a boarding school for deaf children. I had to wear a large hearing aid strapped to my chest with a harness, and ear moulds made of glass which really hurt, I hated them. To stop us using sign language and encourage us to speak we were made to sit on our hands. When Mum saw how unhappy we were, she took us away and got us into the local school instead.
My sister and I were the only deaf children in our new school, and so felt isolated from the other kids.
“Trying to listen was exhausting and took all my energy. The teachers would criticise my speech because it wasn’t good enough. It was hard to have a voice so I retreated into having no voice as that felt safer. It was a very lonely childhood.
“This loneliness continued into adulthood. I’ve always felt isolated, especially in social situations. I feel sad I can’t communicate easily with people. I’m aware that they feel awkward and that makes me feel bad too.
“When I left school I had no qualifications and got a job restoring books, but it was a terrible place and I couldn’t work there anymore. I then hit a really low point in my life. I’d always had my mum and dad who were my rock. Then my dad passed away, followed soon after by our family dog Bodger and I became very depressed.
“My sister had moved away, but I’d always lived at home with my parents. I was very close to my mum, especially after dad died, so when she was diagnosed with dementia it was a terrible shock. She was the only person who could understand me and help with communication.
“As Mum became more dependent on me, I became more afraid of the future. The isolation I felt without Mum’s help was terrifying. I remembered what a big support Bodger had been to me and decided to apply for a hearing dog. When Mum died, the thought of this kept me going.
I realised my life had changed forever and I would never feel alone again.
“The day I went for training with Teddy was the day my life started. Taking him to the park for the first time was such a special moment. As soon as I blew the whistle, he came straight back to me.
“From that day on I’ve grown more and more confident. I now go into shops – I never did that before Teddy, he’s taken away the fear.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think the fear of everything would be taken away. For so many years I’d had fears about all sorts of things; I was afraid of life itself. But when I got Teddy I didn’t feel frightened any more. Teddy has brought me into contact with people and I’ve made new friends because of him.
No one talked to me before I got Teddy. I felt invisible. People are kinder to me now.
“When I go into town with Teddy and I say I’m deaf, people stay and chat – before they’d have just walked away. He’s completely changed my world; made it so much better.
“The most important thing Teddy does is make me feel like a useful member of society. I no longer feel like I’m on the outside looking in; I’m part of the world at last. I’m thankful beyond words to Hearing Dogs because Teddy has helped me discover life and who I really am – he’s given me an identity, a purpose and made me complete.”