Why a service dog?

The dog that is always on alert

The dog that is always on alert

Recently with everything happening, I have been getting a lot of questions regarding treatment and whether others should pursue their own service dog. I want to start by saying I am not a medical professional and do not feel comfortable advising others what is the best form of treatment for them. So instead I want to talk a little bit about the process I went though to decide on a service dog, re explain the difference between Service dogs, emotional support animals and therapy dogs and some pros and cons. I am hoping this will clear up some things about me and Bella as a team, try to help guide others on how to approach a doctor about this treatment. Be prepared for a longer blog.

Also, disclaimer, this is not to discourage the use of service dogs but is written to encourage deep thought before taking on the responsibility of a service dog.

Every time I fail a new medication, this is what I want to happen.

Every time I fail a new medication, this is what I want to happen.

The first step I took was finding the right team of medical professionals. Finding the right team is detrimental in your medical care. Especially when it comes to invisible disabilities. It’s actually really common that people with psychiatric illnesses struggle to find the correct medical team or the correct treatment plan. Personally, I take medication; see a therapist and still check into other treatments. The issue was for me, even with medication and therapy I still struggled to function in everyday life. Some current news articles make it sound like I have “a little” anxiety and that Bella is for comfort or to make me feel better. Here is the truth: For me, Bella was a last chance at living a normal life. I have mentioned in previous blogs but when I started looking into Service dogs I was a mess. I was taking more medication than believable for someone my age. I went to a therapist 3 times a week and spent 40 out of the 60-minute session crying in a ball on the couch. honestly I don’t think my therapist understood a word I said that first visit.

My favorite saying

My favorite saying

By the time my mom recommended a service dog, I was hoping for anything that would help me to keep my independence. The first steps were as follows: research, talk to my doctor and more research. One of the most important steps that I think people forget is in order to get a service dog, you must be legally disabled by your disability. Not all illnesses are considered disabling. this is where recommending service dogs for other people is tricky, what is disabling for me (like my anxiety) might not be considered disabling for someone else. That’s why having an open dialog with your healthcare professional is the first step. discuss with them if they think it’s a good idea.

 

One thing I found is that when you go to the doctor, not all of them will know every way a service dog could help you. So be prepared. Be prepared to ask the right questions and be ready for any questions they might have.

Here are a few questions my doctor asked me:

  1. what do you hope to get from a service dog?
  2. what tasks will you plan on training?

Things I asked my doctor:

  1. would I qualify for a service animal?
  2. would it be beneficial to my treatment?
  3. where do I start?
  4. what do you know about service dogs for Psychiatric illnesses?

I am going to be honest, I walked into that doctor’s office with a massive packet of information. my first doctor had no idea where to start. my second made sure I qualified and sent me on my way with instructions to call them with updates. Basically I got the okay, but no information on how to proceed. Keep in mind this was over 2 years ago and a lot more is known about these dogs now.

 

After getting the okay, I spent more time researching. At this point I started hearing terms like Service dog, Emotional Support animal and Therapy dog.  Here is a perfect graphic that describes some facts about each.

This graphic shows some of the big questions when it comes to telling the three apart.

This graphic shows some of the big questions when it comes to telling the three apart.

Remember, only Task Trained service animals have public access rights and that comfort is not considered a task.

Bella doing a task called DPT at work

Bella doing a task called DPT at work

One last topic I want to cover is the pros and cons of getting a service dog. Having a service dog isn’t for everyone and in some cases can make someone’s disability worse. I know that sounds strange but when you have a service dog you are basically wearing a sign that says “I have a disability!!” Case in point? 2 million people or more now know that I have one.

We have fancy vests to keep life interesting :)

We have fancy vests to keep life interesting 🙂

Whenever I hear the phrase “you are so lucky you get to take your dog everywhere, I wish I could too” it makes me sad. I love Bella and she does amazing things for me. Without her I honestly don’t know if I would be here today. But if someone gave me the choice of living without a disability and leaving my dog home, Or living with a disability and taking my dog with me, I would, without a doubt choose to live without a disability and leave Bella home. That sounds harsh, but I don’t choose to take Bella with me because it is fun, I have to take Bella with me in order to live my life. Bella is a medical aid to help me live with a disability but she is not without flaws. Sometimes she has off days because service dogs are still dogs. Also, by having a service dog, I open myself up to discrimination. That’s something people don’t like to talk about but discrimination because of a service dog is a huge issue. Have you ever been seated in a closed section of a restaurant so you don’t make other customers uncomfortable? Because I have been presented with this situation, a few times actually.. For some, the conflicts that can arise because of a service dog can actually make their panic, anxiety, depression or other illness worse. That’s something you must consider before choosing this route. Also, please remember dogs take a lot of time and money so be prepared for that as well.

Hard day at the in-home office

Hard day at the in-home office

Now I don’t want this blog to sound too negative but I really needed to show just how serious this decision is. Please, Please don’t pursue this option without considerable thought, education and discussion with your medical professionals.

Even Service dogs love to play!

Even Service dogs love to play!

If after reading this you think, even with the down sides my life will be better because of a service dog, then please talk to your doctor. I’ve said it before in this post and countless others, I would not be here today if it wasn’t for Bella. She has saved my life more times than I can count. I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to have her available to me so that I can live a relatively normal life. Also, I am so thankful that I can use my experience to help others. I hope this helps  clear up a few things.

Thank you all for reading!

PS. if you are getting a service dog soon or are just curious, make sure to know the ADA law inside and out. It has saved me on many situations

http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html

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3 thoughts on “Why a service dog?

  1. Dear Valerie, First of all, congratulations on your marriage! It’s wonderful! I would like to thank you, your husband and Bella for sharing your beautiful story! I have suffered silently with panic attacks for years. I see a doctor, a therapist and a neurologist (also for MS). I have a handicapped license plate and I can’t tell you how many times people have said ‘snap out of it’ but you understand that I know. Anyways, I just wanted to thank you again for being so brave in sharing your story. p.s. I have a wonderful 14 year old pit bull named Ladee, she’s not a therapy dog, but she’s always there. Take care of yourself and best wishes! Sandy

  2. Hi Valerie, congratulations on your wedding, thank you so much for sharing your story, I’m currently going through a difficult situation with my daughter who has been having panic attacks, I’m educating myself about service dogs, and would aprecciate if you please share the information of the place where you got your service dog from, where did you get Bella from??

  3. I am in tears I haven’t left my house unless my husband is with me. And when we do we must go the same places, take the same route if not I am beyond panic stricken. I suffer so badly I have also got OCD which makes the panic worse please please could you tell how to get a service dog. I am so unhappy my panic and anxiety have taken over. I am glad that you have your dog and that she helps you. God Bless your new marriage

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