Maggie Lee went profoundly deaf overnight without warning.
It happened about 20 years ago and she says it was a terrifying experience.
She lost her job, social life and independence and became a recluse.
Then she was given a hearing dog and her life changed. Here’s her story:
“It was a terrifying experience to suddenly go from the hearing world into the silent world. It was made worse by the fact that I lived on my own and I had no family support. I could no longer easily pick up the telephone to make an appointment or even seek help with my deafness. In those days the internet was in its infancy. I was very frightened, I lost my confidence and I became a bit of a recluse because if I did have to venture out it was such an ordeal.”
For two years Maggie barely left her house but then she applied for a hearing dog and was partnered with Clay, a poodle crossed with a cocker spaniel – a cockerpoo.
Clay made my life enjoyable and less stressful
“The day I was partnered with Clay was, and still is, one of the happiest days of my life. Knowing I would never miss a telephone call or visitor again made my life so much more fulfilling and enjoyable and less stressful. Also, knowing that Clay would tell me that the smoke alarm was going off to avoid my house burning down was pretty important too! Each day started with Clay touching me with his paw to alert me to the alarm clock.”
Maggie and Clay were together for more than 10 years until he sadly died from an aggressive cancer. During his time with Maggie he became somewhat of a celebrity, attending a Buckingham Palace garden party with her and meeting the Queen.
He also appeared on the BBC’s See Hear programme when it was filmed in Canterbury Cathedral, where Clay was the very first assistance dog to work there.
Jamie lights up my life
“When Clay died I lost the plot,” Maggie said. “I’d gained enough confidence to get back into the world of work, but without hearing the alarm clock I would stay up all night in case I overslept. My life became tiring and terrifying again. I went back into ‘solitary confinement.'”
Not long after Clay died Maggie was partnered with her present dog Jamie, also a cockerpoo, in February 2014.
“Jamie is now my ‘Sunbeam.’ He lights up my life. He helps me to become the person I want to be. I now work at the Gulbenkian arts centre in Canterbury, assisted by Jamie Lee, head usher, canine division!
I can function in the real world again
“Every day with Jamie (and previously Clay) is made easier – just doing the normal everyday things. I always feel so safe and secure with Jamie at my side to let me know about things going on that I would not otherwise know about.
“I feel I can meet people and function in the real world again. Thanks to Jamie, the doors to my new life are wide open and the sun comes flooding in.”
Clay and Jamie were trained by the charity Hearing Dogs which was founded in 1982. It has almost 1,000 working partnerships across the UK. The cost to train and support each hearing dog throughout their lifetime is £40,000 and the charity relies heavily on its supporters to help change lives.