“Big ears. I want a dog with big pointed ears.” That was my specific order for a dog I wanted to adopt. I had other requirements: small- to medium-sized, housebroken and a good disposition. But the ears were the main criterion.
You see, I was looking for the hearing version of a “seeing-eye-dog.”
Two months earlier, my world changed when I lost hearing in one ear, literally overnight. One morning, in the middle of a bad cold, I woke up and couldn’t hear anything in my right ear. At the same time, the room was spinning so violently, I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom without my husband holding me up.
During my first exam, the ENT doctor looked at me gravely, and said, “You are very, very sick.” He also told me that I’d likely never regain hearing in that ear.
After seeing several more specialists, I finally learned that my cold virus had badly damaged the nerve in my inner ear, resulting in profound hearing loss and severe, debilitating vertigo.
Within 24 hours, I went from being extremely active to being virtually incapacitated. Just a month before, I ran a half-marathon. Now the most basic functions — walking, getting out of bed, even watching TV —made me dizzy, nauseated, tired and depressed. I grieved for my former life and familiar routines.
But being a basically optimistic person, I didn’t wallow in self-pity too long. Accepting that my hearing was probably shot, I decided instead to focus on my equilibrium. The doctor said I needed to start moving again to allow my system to adjust to its new, impaired state.
I hit upon the perfect solution to get me up and out bed: a furry friend with excellent hearing to help navigate a noisy world and alert me to hidden dangers, like a car coming up from behind. Enter Jill.
Donated to Animal Friends after her owner died, Jill came to our family carrying a grief of her own. A 25-pound terrier mix, black and white spotted with huge, bat-like ears, Jill wriggled her way into our hearts in no time.
Within the first few days, I began talking her on long walks in our neighborhood regardless of the weather, through days of bitter cold, pouring rain and unseasonable warmth. Our walks, along with targeted physical therapy, reduced my vertigo symptoms and gave me the confidence to walk and eventually run on busy streets. But the true healing came from a deeper place.
Caring for Jill forced me to focus on her needs, rather than my own loss. Instead of obsessing about my illness, I redirected that energy toward making Jill feel loved and safe. I walked her, fed her treats, and rubbed her belly, which elicited licks, groans of pleasure and her toothy, crooked smile.
Jill also taught me a valuable lesson. Through her resilience and open nature, she showed me that you can overcome almost any obstacle if you have good food, a warm bed, regular exercise and people you love who also love you.
While I still haven’t regained much of my hearing, I have regained my “balance” in every sense of the word — thanks in large part to a big-eared dog with an even bigger heart.