Mike Fahey: Living with Jazz, my deaf-aware dog

Posted on May 27, 2015

I always love my daily walks with my 5 year old border collie Jazz.

She is my fitness trainer, she makes me get up and go, no excuses allowed. If you own a dog you have to exercise them, especially a border collie – she would walk all day if she could and then come back for more.

Jazz however, has been more than a way to keep the middle aged spread at bay. Being profoundly deaf most of my life, going for a walk has never been a straightforward; take it for granted type of thing, I have lost count of the number of times people on bicycles have run into the back of me simply because I was not able to hear them frantically ringing their bell and shouting a warning.

When we got Jazz, things slowly began to change for me, Jazz seemed to realise there was a problem and she became ultra alert to approaching bikers.

I don’t know if in her doggy mind she was thinking “I love it when this happens…it’s so funny!” but I became aware of the change in mannerisms. She would stop what she was doing; look at me and then the approaching bike, ears pricked.

After a while I used this awareness to train her to alert me to approaching bikes. If I saw one approaching from the front I made her sit, after the bike had gone past I praised her and gave her a treat. As time went on she would sit as soon as she noticed a bike coming from the front and, more importantly, from the rear.

She is not just a fitness trainer and biker alert though; she is also my wildlife expert. Before Jazz I walked along totally ignorant of the sound of… anything, to tell the truth.

If it was not visual it was not there as far as I was concerned, not through choice, but simply because I was deaf. It would have been a big, big animal coming crashing through the woods for me to see any wildlife on my walks.

Since the event of Jazz though, she has shown me deer, rabbits, birds, elephants, (elephants! That will teach you speed readers.. ) and she is like a rocket when she sees a squirrel… she never gives up until she is trying to climb the tree after it. It was a delightful change to become aware of all the different wildlife that is around me as I walk along.

Since November 2014, things changed once again, I became the latest recipient of a long awaited Cochlear Implant. Now don’t let anyone tell you different, I am still profoundly deaf, but with the help of my CI I can hear!

The sound of birds on my daily walks (oddly) drives me insane, as something that is supposed to be a delightful thing to hear, is at the moment, not! As I sit in my studio typing this I can hear the hum of the computer, the radio playing, the blackbirds screaming as they fight with the fat pigeon over the seeds on the bird table…

…and the soft snores of Jazz the dog, sleeping at my feet.

Mike is a semi-retired fine artist working from his home studio in Lancashire. As a profoundly deaf lip reader, he is just one of a large family with a genetic history of deafness. Mike attended a mainstream school before being transferred to a school for the deaf aged 11. He worked as a landscape gardener for thirty years and married Sara (who is hearing), then attended university as a mature student and gained a BA and MA in Fine Art. He is father to a son (hearing) and daughter (deaf on one side) and is currently preparing for cochlear implant surgery.

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