Guest Post: Puppies and Pills Part 1

About thetroubleis: Thetroubleis is a 19 year old with bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and dyspraxia. She’s a WOC who is also a transracial adoptee and pansexual/queer, depending on how she’s feeling that day. She enjoys knitting, video games and is a music geek.

How I came to path of getting a service dog* was a long, strange journey. My experiences are my own and by no means represent the entire service dog community. My country and state laws are most likely different from some readers as well, so I’m only writing from my own perspective.

I’ve been bipolar since I was child along with my other disabilities, so I don’t remember being normal. I’ve always just been me. I am my normal. Although my other illnesses were diagnosed latter, looking back i can see how they impacted my child and now, how they affect my adulthood.

In junior year of high school, I was reading up on dog training, because I thought that might be something I’d want to do as a job. I’ve always like dogs, they don’t judge me and my Samoyed Kesha loved me unconditionally. One day I came across the topic of service dogs and was so amazed by them. I put the thought of them away in my mind until I read across the concept of psychiatric servicee dogs.

At first, I was skeptical. How could I dog help someone like me? I thought that service dogs were only for people with “real” disabilities. My mental illness wasn’t disabling, was it? Just because I couldn’t go out in public alone or deal with crowds didn’t mean I was disabled. Loud noises and lighting hurting and causing melt down was just part of who I was. It took me some time to to come around to the idea.

When I realized all the way in which I dog could help me, I read and read. Anything with even a small mention of service dogs was worth reading to me. I came up with a list of tasks based on my symtoms and things a dog could do the help them. I was ready.

Sadly, service dogs, especially types that are very new are expense. Psychiatric service dog are pretty new on the scene and the one program I had found in my state that trained them had closed. I was crushed. I tried to brush it off, because I didn’t have the money for a dog anyway. That was about to change.

I headed off to my first year of college and did badly after being cut off from my medication for a time, along with personal problems. I was called back home several times, because my parents had decided to sue my former high school for discriminating against me. They choose to settle.

My money problems were solved! Now where was I going to get a dog? I know it was best to buy from a breeder with service dog lines because even though some shelter and rescue dogs work out as service dogs, the chances of them washing out is much higher. I knew I’d have a hard time with my dog washing out, so I wanted to lower that chance as much as possible.

I started hanging out on Dogster.com and met a psychiatric service dog handler named Veronica who shared a disability with me. She was using a pit bull Weimriner mix as a service dog, but the dog was getting older and had to retire. She had picked a Standard Poodle to train as her next service dog and although I wasn’t partial to the breed, I went and checked out the breeder.

He was so nice. His wife friend were both service dog users, so he knew so much. We talked about what I was looking for in a dog and what tasks I wanted done. He said he thought I’d be a great home for one of his puppies and I put down a deposit and waited.

Sadly, with my puppy being in California and me and Maine, it was hard to coordinate a proper short flight for the puppy. He was already going to keep Figaro for a few extra weeks to get him used to the crate, but I ended up not meeting my dear boy until he was 4 months old. We ended up driving all the way to Boston to get him, but it was the best, safest flight for him, so I didn’t mind.

I had to finish up at school before we could commence training, so he went home with my parents, three hours away. When I finally came home, he took right to me. He’s was lovely boy, very intent on pleasing me. Teaching him was pretty easy, even for a novice like me.

I found another service dog school, one that helped owners train their own dogs. We signed right up. They have been an invaluable resource and i couldn’t to all I have without them.

Figaro and I were a team, the very best of friends. I spent that summer just bonding with him and the best thing happened. He started to alert to my panic attacks before they went full blown. I had been hoping he would, but hadn’t expected it. When I realized what was going on, I was ecstatic. He had his other tasks to make him a service dog, but this, the alerting was so helpful. My bipolar disorder is extremely rapid cycling and he started to alert me to that, as well as hair plucking. I hadn’t fully realized what a smart dog he was.

This partnership was the best thing I have ever done for me. I still take my pills and still go to see my doctors, but having a service dog in training is a big help. Although Figaro meets the legal definition of service dog, I only call him such in legal situations because his public access behavior isn’t where I would like it right now. Thus, he isn’t with me in public unless it’s a training exercise. That’s okay though, because I stay home for the most part. It’s nice and I have to admit having something need me is pretty great too. It’s good to not fail at something, to have purpose.

Next time, I’ll be writing about the public and service dog community.

* I’m using the United States of America’s of service dog and the state of Maine’s definition of service dog in this post. The USA’s definition is as follows:

“Service animal means any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.”

The state of Maine’s definition is

“Service animal” means:
A. Any animal that has been determined necessary to mitigate the effects of a physical or mental disability by a physician, psychologist, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner or licensed social worker; or
B. Any animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a physical or mental disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to intruders or sounds, providing reasonable protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair or fetching dropped items.

22 Comments

  1. This is a great post! I’ve recently been looking into ways of employing my Guide Dog to perform psychiatric tasks for me. In a way, I feel that it would help him, too. I know he knows I panic, but he isn’t always sure what to do about it. I’d love to hear what you do to help your service dog help you!
    .-= Nickie´s last blog ..Celebrating 2,400 =-.

  2. Well, some of what he’s learning actually are guide dog skills funnily enough. I have to have his hips x-rayed before we can work on some of his skills, but for instance, he’s learning to find an exit or bathroom on command. He’s learning body blocking, which keeps folks from pressing into me in a crowded situation. He’ll lay on my torso when I’m getting over stimulated or panicking.

    We think the dogs that alert to panic attacks are watching body language, so I after I figured out that his pestering me by pawing me always happened before a panic attack, I started to reward him for pestering me.

    I don’t know if you have any specific “tells” before a full blow attack, but if you do and they are something you can do while not panicking, doing them and rewarding you dog every time you do them can help start up alerting.

    I hope I was at least semi helpful as I’m very new at this.
    .-= thetroubleis´s last blog ..I am mine. =-.

  3. Thanks for writing this, thetroubleis. At the risk of sounding weird, I think I’ve run into you elsewhere, actually, and what you’ve said about service dogs there has really opened my eyes; I’m really glad to see you discussing this here.

    (OT: Mods–everything’s gone bold for me now, and I wasn’t one of the people having trouble before. OS X 10.5.8, Safari 4.0.3)

  4. I am very disappointed in this article, as there are no links or pics, and the real world version is mad because she slept outside last night.

    Figaro may be a good helper, but the important question is – is he absolutely adorable?

    All puppies aside, this is very interesting, because I’ve often wondered how service animals (I saw a pic for an article I didn’t read at a site I don’t remember that showed a Shetland or other miniature pony working as a service horse) work for/with people who don’t have “visible” disabilities.

    Though I have heard of them warning their owners about seizures, and every so often, there’s a story about a dog who detected a tumor.

    And then there’s the whole “unconditional love” part. (I don’t care about the reality, Dixie loves me, you mean scientists!) And petting them can be so soothing, and they love it too!

    My babies don’t do anything but cheer me up – and I was having such a bad semester, I was in animal withdrawal. I didn’t cry or anything, but if I saw a squirrel or chipmunk, I’d stop and watch them until I couldn’t.

  5. Bene, you probably have run into me elsewhere. I spend a lot of time on the net. I’m glad to educate, especially when it doesn’t involve people stopping me in public, lol.

  6. Hi! I spoke to you on Dogster 🙂 This is a great article – thanks for sharing.

  7. Thetroubleis – “I’m glad to educate, especially when it doesn’t involve people stopping me in public”

    And that is why this site and others like it rock my non-existent socks!

  8. Erin, you are very welcome.

    Kaitlyn, that’s big reason why I like this site as well. One doesn’t want to bother someone who’s just trying to live their lives.

  9. From a Grant Writing perspective, I am wondering how prevalent is the use of service animals for psychiatric conditions is. Reading this entry on a day where every grant proposal was some variation on the “Community Garden” theme was incredibly encouraging. I am definitely going to do some research because I would love to connect agencies doing this work with funders with deep pockets.

    Service animals are a support system folks should not be denied due to economic or infrastructure challenges.

    Thank you for this post!

  10. Also, thank you for the text enlarger. I have a coning of my left cornea and often have difficulty reading text on websites. I just discovered the magic of control/+, but having a text enlarger on the site is glorious.

  11. Snarkymachine, they aren’t incredibly common, but their use is growing.

    Pyschdog.org is the foremost site on psychiatric service dogs and my friend Veronica has a list on Dogster.com of programs that train psychiatric service dogs. I can grab the link if you’d like me to do so.

    The VA is actually starting it’s own service dog program thanks to bill from Al Franken which I was very glad to see. I believe they’ll be placing 200 dogs as a test run.

    The average cost to fully train a service dog is around $20,000, so yes it’s very expensive, although most schools do not ask for that much in payment and will help you fund raise the amount you do need to pay. Some even give dogs away for free to people with disabilities.

    Speaking of service dogs, psychiatric service do handlers could really use your support to get the department of transportation to stop singling out psychiatric service dogs by requiring extra documentation that other teams don’t need to have.

    Here is what happened:

    “The U.S. Department of Transportation implemented new regulations under the Air Carrier Access Act on May 13, 2009. The new regulations require Psychiatric Service Dog handlers to submit a mental healthcare provider’s letter at least 48 hours in advance of travel that discloses they are mentally ill, explains the handler’s need for a Psychiatric Service Dog, provides evidence of the clinician’s status as a licensed mental health professional, and attests to the fact that the handler is his/her patient. No other service dog handlers are subject to these new rules. In fact, the new regulations state explicitly that airlines are prohibited from requiring documentation from any disabled Service Dog handler, unless the individual has a mental health disability or is otherwise not credible.”

    So people with mental illness are once again, considered not credible. Wonderful, eh? Anyway, the law is open for public comment, so if people could comment with something as simple as “I support the Psychiatric Service Dog Society’s position”, it would be really helpful.

    Here is the link to comment: http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#documentDetail?R=0900006480a2662c

  12. Oh, I almost forgot, PSDS position statement is here: http://psychdog.org/comm_talkback.html

  13. Thank you for your post. I don’t think a service dog would help me with my mental illness, but I have a friend with severe depression who has talked many times about how much she wishes she could bring her cat to work. Well, she still can’t bring her cat to work, but I’m going to raise the possibility of psychiatric service dogs with her, because I think it would really help her.

  14. Wow, that is amazing. I had no idea there were service dogs for psychiatric conditions – and I am stunned your dog has been able to help you in such a concrete way. That is beyond wonderful.

    As for this:

    “In fact, the new regulations state explicitly that airlines are prohibited from requiring documentation from any disabled Service Dog handler, unless the individual has a mental health disability or is otherwise not credible.”

    What?! It’s explicitly stated that a mental health disability is equivalent to not being credible. How is that not blatant discrimination? I just can’t believe it.

    I don’t think my opinion will be taken into consideration as a New Zealander though.

  15. Awesome post! I know (well, e-know) Veronica on Dogster too. 😀 I would love to have my service dog officially recognized as such, but the laws in Canada are pretty restrictive. Even though my Poodle mix is trained to perform many tasks that aid me with my disability and on my very bad days I absolutely cannot function without him, the government will not recognize him as anything but a pet. 🙁

  16. Yes, people with psychiatric disabilities can and do benefit from service animals. If applying to a program some of the things they will want to know:
    -How long have you lived with you particular dx?
    -What coping mechanisms have you developed?
    -How long have you been stable on your current therapy and or med regimen?
    -When was the last time you were hospitalized?
    The service dog community is under a lot of scrutiny these days because many people are choosing to bring animals in public that do not have the necessary training or temperament to be working in public spaces. Service dogs should make a person with disabilities life easier; if you look in to it and find it would add more difficulties than it would solve it is probably not the right time to partner with a service animal.

  17. Melissa, thank you so much for commenting. I really, I recommend anyone looking into a service dog to read her blog.

    @Dana, yeah, I was… not happy about that to say the least.

    @Mcfly, I’m so sorry to hear that. I know Canadian service dog laws are much more strict then the USA’s laws, but I thought you could get a certified program to test your dog? I hope you are able to figure something out.

    @Vassilissa, International Association of
    Assistance Dog Partners also has some great information. Their website is at http://www.iaadp.org/.

    So, anyway, I’m sorry about taking so long to reply, my computer broke and I’ve had to borrow my parents’ computer.
    .-= thetroubleis´s last blog ..I am mine. =-.

  18. @thetroubleis, thanks. 🙂 There’s a new law in my province that allows service dogs (like, at all – used to be only guide dogs were recognized) as long as they’re officially certified, but the only organizations around here that can certify dogs won’t allow owner-trained dogs to be tested; just the ones they breed in their programs. I can’t afford $15,000 for another dog, and I definitely don’t want or need another dog that’s big and sheds. (They only breed Labs and Retrievers.)

  19. McFly, that really, really blows. I understand why Canada’s service dog laws are stricter, but they way they are in some places really seems to be hurting PWD, at least from what I’ve heard from your story and and the stories of others.

  20. As far as dogs goes, those are remarkable.

  21. McFly – my privilege (I don’t *need* my baby girl) is showing – are the rules as strict for other helper animals? Or are they stricter?

    thetroubleis – I still see no pictures! I bet it’s a robot dog. /silly

    Are your interactions different with Figaro than they would be with any other dog? Are you two allowed to play together, or would that hurt your authority? Does he still get to do doggy things when he’s not taking care of you, like harass squirrels and birds, or was ignoring those evil things part of his training? (We have had birds dive bomb our dogs and take their hair for their nests and squirrels who threw things at both human and dog.) Could someone have a pet (any animal) and a service animal in the same house?

    Eek, that’s a lot of questions. My brain is tired and I’m depressed and curious and I miss my babies. (Mom is taking Mikey to the vet to get shaved this week – it’s bound to be hilarious, and I’ll miss it.)

    If you don’t want to answer them, that’s ok. When I’m procrastinating later on this week, I’ll probably find some of the answers.

    I was actually asking because I thought maybe the lack of pictures is because you don’t want/you’re not allowed to treat him like a “regular” dog and thus don’t have albums and albums of silly doc pics. Or even “noble” ones.

  22. I don’t mind answering. Figaro is still a normal dog most of the time. he works becuase he loves and respects me, not out fear or anything.

    He actaully wrestling with my mom’s pomeraion right now, so yes having other pets generally isn’t an issue, but some orgnaiszations won’t give you a dog if you have other pets, or very young puppies.

    As For pictures he actaully has a dogster page at http://www.dogster.com/dogs/931236.

    He’s still a dog and I make sure he has plenty of down time to do doggy things. We also have a can that he likes to harass, but he isn’t allowed to treat any other cats that way. Shadow, our cat, is not pleased by Figaro’s attempts to play with him.

    I’m stricter with Figaro than I was with our old pet dog. With her, I’d feed her while I ate and such, but that isn’t something I do with Figaro, becuase begging isn’t something I want to encourage.

    So basically, although he’s not allowed to do a lot of things in public, he still gets pets and treats when he does something well, or in a distracting situation. Once he’s a little older and not so in love with other people, we might try having a visit command. He turned 1 on the 27th, so we might try soon, with a few select people.