Opinion: Sounds of silence

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This column was prompted by two events. First was the recent 20th anniversary of the passing of my beagle, Barney, who accompanied me on more than 2,500 TV segments between 1991 and 2002. And second, that I have finally agreed with my wife (and all my friends) that I need hearing aids.

What’s the connection? Toward the end of Barney’s life, he was beginning to lose his ability to tune in to the sounds around him. Those big floppy ears were nothing but window dressing.

In the past, Barney could hear me chomp on a pretzel three rooms away. He expected the doorbell seconds before it chimed because of footsteps on the walk. If he ran off, I only needed to shake a box of Milk Bones. He was at my feet in a flash.

His ears were failing him, but I chose to ignore it (as I had with my own hearing loss). When I said, “Bad dog!” or “Get out of the trash!” he paid no mind. He never listened to me. Was he deaf or stubborn?

On workdays, we both arose about 3:30 in the morning to begin our early broadcasting of feature stories around Indy. Barney was usually waiting for me at the front door. Then one day, he wasn’t there. He hadn’t heard the shower, my electric toothbrush or my car keys jingling. He was still asleep, his body vibrating to some fantasy canine dream.

Beagles are bred to travel in packs when they hunt. Barney often walked ahead of me but would twist his head around to be sure I was nearby, still part of the hunting party. When I would hide behind a tree and my footsteps ceased, he predictably turned to check my whereabouts. This method never worked with my wife, who once walked ahead of me for 3 miles while I waited behind a tree to see if she would notice.

Aspects of Barney’s walks changed. He would waddle along with his body almost at a right angle, bent in the middle, so he could see me at every step. He had lost his radar.

Despite the loss of his hearing, he lived a happy life right up to the end. He could still smell a doughnut a block away and he remained bright-eyed and alert until his last day. “He is so cute,” people said. “And smart.” “And funny.”  Barney had heard it all; he just couldn’t hear it anymore.

With dogs, there isn’t much you can do to remedy this problem. Not so, with humans. I ordered a pair of hearing aids at Costco this week. They cost more than I expected, but I did the math: For the next 1,200 times I’m in that store, if I can resist walking out with an all-beef hot dog from the snack stand, I’ll pretty much break even.

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