I’ve had dogs most of my life, except in college. I’ve always enjoyed them as pets, and my wife has usually had a cat.
My life went upside down in 2005. I was falling into a really deep depression and made multiple suicide attempts. I kept thinking I’d hit bottom, but then I’d go down deeper and darker. I admitted myself to a small facility for survivors of suicide attempts, and stayed for 6 weeks, until I felt like I’d be safe again. I wasn’t really, but life went on. I retired and began therapy, and after a couple of years I talked with my therapist about training my dog to be a service dog. I had an Aussie/Border Collie mix, who was a wonderful dog, and after working with him for over a year, he became my service animal.
Barnabas went everywhere with me, and was of great service to me with depression, PTSD and suicidal thoughts. Everybody loved him. But last year at Valentine’s, he had a stroke or some other brain event, a week after a checkup at the vet’s, where I was told he had years left in him (he was only 9). That was really hard, especially since I didn’t have a therapist right then, and couldn’t get one until a year later. That was an 18 month stretch without a therapist, and the last six were pretty dark. I was fortunate to find my next dog at our local humane shelter, a few weeks after Barnabas died. Sadie had just been brought in that day because the people had too many dogs, and decided to return her to the shelter. She was fearful and skittish, but I felt an immediate bond with her. We left her alone for a couple of days, so she could become comfortable in our home, with us, and with my wife’s little dog, Pete. After a year, she’s joined to me at the hip. If I go outside, she follows, and comes in when I do. We have ten acres, so she has lots of room to run, rodents to catch, cows and horses to herd – they either ignore her or run her off – but she always comes back to me and sits down near me and watches me work in the yard. If I’m kneeling, she sits right in front of me for some petting. She’s very attentive, obedient and therapeutic for me. When I’m extra depressed or feeling the anxiety level rising, she lies in my lap and the pressure of the weight of her body provides calming therapy on my torso, for as long as I need her.
One challenge of having a service dog is public ignorance. Everytime we go out, someone asks if they can pet her (No), or just pets her without asking. If they don’t pet her, they talk to her, which is pretty much the same as petting because they’re drawing her attention away from me. Cesar teaches don’t touch, don’t talk, don’t make eye contact.
An issue I’ve been dealing with is lack of understanding of the difference between service and therapy dogs. A service dog serves only its handler. A therapy dog is trained to serve others, such as in hospitals, to provide calming therapy for people. I was asked to have Sadie certified as a therapy dog, but I couldn’t agree to it because of the differing purposes of the service and therapy animals. For 5 years, I was a Hospice volunteer, visiting patients for an hour a week, in their homes, in the hospital, in care homes – wherever they were. A few had house pets, so I left my dog in the car during the visit (always in safe, shaded places, with water). Every other patient loved having my dog come with me to visit them. I made an exception to the no pet rule with hospice patients because it meant so much to them. I had to resign a few months ago because they wrote a set of guidelines that specifies only certified therapy dogs could go with volunteers. I hated to give up that volunteer job. I think it helped me get out and interact with others, and it gave me a chance to give out to those who have a real need.
How has a pet or animal helped you? Share your story with us.
Of course, Sadie’s more than a pet, though she is that, too, but she provides the companionship of a pet, the devotion and unconditional love. I’ll try to share pictures of Barnabas (brown and white) and Sadie (black and white). (Sorry I couldn’t change the orientation of the picture of Sadie.)