Each night before going to bed, Taylor Thompson removes the cochlear implant from behind her right ear, rendering herself completely deaf, and entrusts her safety to her dog, Zoe.
Zoe is Thompson’s hearing alert service dog, but more than anything else, she is her primary source of independence.
Thompson, 22, a senior at Franklin College, majored in biology, minored in biochemistry and will graduate Saturday with a GPA of 3.95. Until her senior year, she had never lived off campus.
But the time had come and gaining independence was necessary, considering what the next four years will entail, she said. In the fall, Thompson will continue her education at Purdue University, where she will study to become a veterinarian.
“In almost every sense of the word, I’m more independent because of her,” Thompson said. “I wouldn’t be able to live off campus if it wasn’t for Zoe. She’s made my life a lot easier.”
Thompson was diagnosed deaf in both ears at 18 months old. Since the age of 2, Thompson has had the implant, which allows her to hear out of her right ear. When that implant is out, she is vulnerable to anything from a fire to an intruder, and that’s when Zoe becomes necessity. She got her from Midwest Assistance Dogs in January 2014.
Zoe is more for safety, Thompson said.
Leaving Walmart one night, Thompson wouldn’t have known she was being followed by someone had it not been for Zoe alerting her. Zoe is trained to warn Taylor when someone is approaching behind her. She is also trained to seek out Thompson if she isn’t around. “Target” and “Get Taylor” prompt her to find Thompson.
Zoe has sensitive hearing, which also helps as she is triggered by any sound. Upon hearing “Taylor” she will turn toward the direction from which it came and pull Thompson toward the individual. She assists Thompson with everything from waking her up in the morning when her alarm goes off to notifying her when the oven beeps.
But before life with Zoe, getting through a day with a hearing impairment meant relying on peers and the good people in this world, Thompson said, but even then life came with it’s unfair share of obstacles.
Taylor struggled throughout elementary school. When she had to focus on multiple students, listen to the teacher, participate in group discussions and follow along in class activities, she fell behind.
Thompson gradually learned how to master lip-reading; and, despite always having those disadvantages due to her hearing loss, she found the level of success in the classroom that ultimately led her to Franklin College.
Zoe will walk with Taylor at Saturday’s commencement, in her own custom cap and gown, of course. It’s because of Zoe that Thompson was able to live off campus, alone for the first time. Although she won’t go to every class during Thompson’s four years at Purdue, she will be just as vital for the Franklin grad.
Zoe’s significance to Thompson goes beyond the everyday services she provides. While their bond is unbreakable, the pair were an unlikely match from the beginning.
Before they were matched by Midwest Assistance Dogs, two other dogs were selected and unsuccessfully trained for Thompson. One dog had aggression issues toward smaller dogs, which wouldn’t have worked for Thompson when she is around other dogs in veterinary school.
But the miss on the first dogs would benefit Zoe. Midwestern Assistance Dogs adopts dogs at shelters and then attempts to train them to be seeing, hearing and even emotional assistance dogs.
Nobody wanted Zoe, Thompson said.
The program found Zoe — a mix between a sheltie, collie and Australian shepherd — heartworm-positive, in a shelter and suffering from a bad reaction to allergies that had led to loss of most of her fur.
Thompson has since put her knowledge and love for animals to use, helping Zoe become heartworm-free and feeding her grain-free foods to bring her coat back to full health.
Each night when Thompson transitions to complete hearing loss, she does so with Zoe lying by her side. In the morning, Thompson puts her implant back in and keeps Zoe on her left, her deaf side, as the pair leave for the day.
The agenda for the day has a broad range of activities. When Taylor isn’t on campus or volunteering at local pet shelters, she works at Pet Supplies Plus in Greenwood. Zoe is with her for every shift. Their routine has bonded the pair, leaving them ultimately inseparable.
“She’s my baby,” Thompson said as she pet Zoe on the head. “She has bonded to me. She does not want to leave my side ever, and that’s what makes our relationship work so well. A service dog is for life.”
Thompson’s academic record is only a portion of the tremendous success she has experienced at Franklin. She founded the organization Passion for Paws during her freshman year on campus. The student organization is involved with the Franklin community, volunteering and assisting at local animal shelters and hospitals. Passion for Paws has since become an officially recognized organization on campus.
“I’ve always been passionate about animal welfare,” she said. “I saw an opportunity to share my connections with the animal community, and I’m extremely proud that I’ve been able to facilitate relationships between the Franklin College community and various animal rescue organizations.”
High school: Franklin Community High School (2011)
College: Will graduate from Franklin College this weekend and plans to attend veterinary school at Purdue
What: Franklin College Commencement
When: 10 a.m. Saturday
Where: Spurlock Center gymnasium, South Forsythe Street
Notable: 195 students will participate
Keynote speaker: Patricia Miller, co-founder of Vera Bradley and The Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer
Admission: Tickets are required to attend.