For the Love of Maxie

By Gladys Nielsen

This is the story of Maxie, a black poodle who helps me, and the story of how he came to be mine in January 2008.

Last year, Maxie came to Winnipeg with his master, Bill Laing, who was enrolled to take special training so he could teach the Living With Hearing Loss (LWHL) program in Thompson.  Maxie attended faithfully and received a certificate together with Bill on the last day of the course.

Bill had a cochlear implant, as does Gladys.  She was one of the instructors and as he said later, he fell in love with her smile!  He thought she was playing “hard to get” but he liked what he saw and heard didn’t give up.  Gladys soon fell for this kind and generous man as they shared so many of the same interests in life.  They both dreamed of travel to far away places, and soon a cruise to Alaska was planned for July 2008.

Bill brought Gladys home to Thompson to meet his daughter Tanna and his many friends.  Talking and listening in a vehicle is not the ideal environment for two people with cochlear implants, but while making the eight-hour drive from Winnipeg to Thompson they found a unique way to communicate.  Gladys clipped the directional microphone from her Cochlear implant kit to Bill’s jacket and connected the other end into her implant.  Bill was able to talk while he drove, telling Gladys his many wonderful and amusing stories while she enjoyed the scenery and got to know more about Bill and his lifetime of adventures.

When they arrived in Thompson Maxie was happy to see Gladys again, and they snuggled and enjoyed each others’ company.   Bill took Maxie with him everywhere he was allowed.  The bonds quickly grew stronger for the three of them.

Maxie came to Winnipeg with Bill and spent over a month with Gladys, through the Christmas season until January 8, 2008.  Together they walked, went to hockey and indoor-soccer games, and even enjoyed coffee at “The Tavern in the Park” with Maxie tucked inside Bill’s jacket while waiting for CAA’s emergency roadside service to unlock the doors on a cold Manitoba day.  Maxie was Bill’s and Gladys’s ears to let them know when the phone was ringing or someone was at the door.

Bill and Maxie returned to Thompson on January 9th in preparation for teaching the LWHL class. Gladys heard from them daily and, as planned, took the bus to Thompson to help get the classes going. Surprisingly, he didn’t meet her at the bus that Sunday evening.  He didn’t answer his phone! She took a taxi to his house which she found in darkness, and with his truck parked outside.  Maxie, as usual, answered the door, and led her to Bill.  There he was sleeping peacefully, having died in his sleep, faithful Maxie with him to the end.

Maxie stayed in Gladys’s arms for days; together they attended a beautiful memorial service for Bill, and together attesting to his love of life:  he volunteered in service to others; he was a passionate environmentalist, having started the Thompson recycling program; he loved scuba diving and snorkeling; he walked, he traveled extensively; and he loved his family dearly with a special love for his grandchildren.  His eulogy spoke to his 35 years as a volunteer fireman, an Inco employee, a volunteer mine rescuer, a man who loved his community and its people, and his church.

Bill’s hearing loss was a part of his life for many years.  It didn’t prevent him from doing all the things he wanted to accomplish.  It didn’t prevent him from helping others selflessly.  He wore his cochlear implant with pride.  His response to hearing loss was to help others with hearing loss through the LWHL program.

Maxie now resides with Gladys in her apartment in Winnipeg.  Gladys was able to obtain documentation from  Maxie’s vet and from her own doctor about his value to help her to hear and as a companion. Her sister Nancy had successfully negotiated with the apartment management. Through their combined efforts Gladys is able to have Maxie live with her in an apartment that does not  allow pets.   Maxie is Gladys’s constant companion – he both comforts her and protects her. Maxie proudly wears his shirt with the “blue ear pin” securely attached.  He continues his role as a companion and ears for Gladys.  Bill and the good work he has done will live on through Maxie, who teaches the public about hearing loss and who demonstrates the value of our four-legged friends.

Bill is loved, missed and remembered by many.  His favorite quote was,

“Tell me and I will forget.

Show me and I may remember.

But involve me, and I will understand.”