The value of an animal

Posted by Jim, Volunteer Mentor @jimhd, Sep 16, 2017

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.)

@amberpep

Oh Jess, what a wonderful story ….. I’m so happy for you. I’m picking my new buddy up Feb. 3. He’s a mix between a bassett hound and a cocker, and his foster mother says he is a real sweetie. He was found wandering around the neighborhood – no collar, no microchip, no tag. She said he’s a real velcro-dog, which is exactly how Molly was. I’ve decided to name him “Keller” which in Gaelic means “little companion.” I feel like a little kid waiting for the tooth fairy!
The Mgt. here has approved, my therapist sent a letter, and all my friends are delighted, knowing how lonesome I’ve been here. The only people totally against this are my kids! They have no idea what it has been like for me down here, and ….. get this – they all have dogs – big dogs – Newfoundland, Cockapoo, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Pyranese, and a Vizsla. So, I’m to pay them any listening time ….. absolutely NOT!
abby

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@amberpep

When our pet became my service dog, Barnabas, a rescue Aussie/Border Collie, my wife wanted a dog of her own. Our daughter lived in Seattle at the time and found a rescue dog at an adoption fair. The dog, Pete, had been picked up by the San Bernardino humane society. A rescue organization flew him to Seattle, and he was in a foster home. He was at half the weight he should have been, and was afraid of men. We drove to Seattle and spent more than we could really afford to adopt him, and brought him home. That was a couple of years ago, and it wasn’t long before he warmed up to me, and put on the weight she needed.

I’m looking forward to hearing more about your new partner.

Jim

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@amberpep

Oh Jess, what a wonderful story ….. I’m so happy for you. I’m picking my new buddy up Feb. 3. He’s a mix between a bassett hound and a cocker, and his foster mother says he is a real sweetie. He was found wandering around the neighborhood – no collar, no microchip, no tag. She said he’s a real velcro-dog, which is exactly how Molly was. I’ve decided to name him “Keller” which in Gaelic means “little companion.” I feel like a little kid waiting for the tooth fairy!
The Mgt. here has approved, my therapist sent a letter, and all my friends are delighted, knowing how lonesome I’ve been here. The only people totally against this are my kids! They have no idea what it has been like for me down here, and ….. get this – they all have dogs – big dogs – Newfoundland, Cockapoo, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Pyranese, and a Vizsla. So, I’m to pay them any listening time ….. absolutely NOT!
abby

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Oh yes, I totally agree. They are such faithful and loving little souls 🙂

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Hi Jim ….. you know, I don’t think people really understand these things unless they’ve gone through it. We here, have all been through some type of awful experiences, depression, anxiety, bi-polar, eating disorders ….. many of them, so we “get it.” But if they haven’t felt that deep, dark, sadness and the hopelessness that goes with it, I don’t think they understand. And with my kids (all adults) I really think they’d rather not know … sort of keep their heads in the sand. I’ve been going to see my therapist every other week for about a year now, but I’ve been teetering on the edge for quite awhile that I’m going to start to make the drive every week. It’s worth it to me. He actually said to me yesterday that I’m to please bring Keller up for a visit sometime when I’m coming up. Well, I’ll do that, but not until I can be absolutely sure he will sit or lay and not make a fuss.
I am so glad for this Board …. we may not all have the same problems, but we all understand the pain.
abby
.

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@amberpep

Hi Jim ….. you know, I don’t think people really understand these things unless they’ve gone through it. We here, have all been through some type of awful experiences, depression, anxiety, bi-polar, eating disorders ….. many of them, so we “get it.” But if they haven’t felt that deep, dark, sadness and the hopelessness that goes with it, I don’t think they understand. And with my kids (all adults) I really think they’d rather not know … sort of keep their heads in the sand. I’ve been going to see my therapist every other week for about a year now, but I’ve been teetering on the edge for quite awhile that I’m going to start to make the drive every week. It’s worth it to me. He actually said to me yesterday that I’m to please bring Keller up for a visit sometime when I’m coming up. Well, I’ll do that, but not until I can be absolutely sure he will sit or lay and not make a fuss.
I am so glad for this Board …. we may not all have the same problems, but we all understand the pain.
abby
.

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@amberpep

Hi Abby. I’m glad that your therapist saw your need for more frequent visits. I remember that he wondered if you could find a therapist closer to where you now live.

Because I live in a rural area, therapists and psychologists only come here to do their one year internship, then they move to where they make a ton more money. That means that every year I’ve had to start all over again with someone new. I think I’ve seen around ten. Starting from square one every year is traumatic because of my mental health issues and other stuff.

The current one has said that he wants to stay here. I can only hope.

Jim

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@amberpep

Hi Jim ….. you know, I don’t think people really understand these things unless they’ve gone through it. We here, have all been through some type of awful experiences, depression, anxiety, bi-polar, eating disorders ….. many of them, so we “get it.” But if they haven’t felt that deep, dark, sadness and the hopelessness that goes with it, I don’t think they understand. And with my kids (all adults) I really think they’d rather not know … sort of keep their heads in the sand. I’ve been going to see my therapist every other week for about a year now, but I’ve been teetering on the edge for quite awhile that I’m going to start to make the drive every week. It’s worth it to me. He actually said to me yesterday that I’m to please bring Keller up for a visit sometime when I’m coming up. Well, I’ll do that, but not until I can be absolutely sure he will sit or lay and not make a fuss.
I am so glad for this Board …. we may not all have the same problems, but we all understand the pain.
abby
.

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Well, I will hope with you. Seeing a therapist once a year certainly isn’t beneficial to you. I live 3-1/2 hrs. from where my therapist and psychiatrist are, but it’s worth it to me to make the trip. I’ve been with them so very long that to change now would be absurd. Would there be any town around, within driving distance, where you could go maybe every other week? I know it’s not ideal, but maybe it would be worth it. It is for me. Do I love the drive? No …. half of it is up Rt. I-81 in VA which I call “truck city” … for every car there are 2 trucks. I feel like a little ant in a wasp nest! But, I’ll keep going ….. they’re both worth it, and so am I. Good luck, my friend.
abby

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Regarding telling people not to approach your pet…maybe it would be helpful to think of this as an opportunity to help a pet lover understand your dog is a trained service dog taught avoid everyone else but you. I so agree that a dog lover will totally understand. I know it might be hard to say this but in a way you have a kind of nice opportunity to help others understand. Also, maybe that other person never even considered dogs are trained for this purpose.

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I am going to try to upload a picture of my guardian angel. My English Bulldog. His name is Weezer. Well that didn’t work. I will try later.

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Hi Georgette,
To upload a photo to a message:
1. Click “Add Media” above the message window.
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3. Write your message.
4. Click POST REPLY.

We look forward to seeing a picture of Weezer.

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Well, this coming Saturday I will be picking up Kellar. I’m pretty well set up for him except to get the crate out of storage and wash it out. I have not said anymore to any of my family and they’ve not said anymore to me. I don’t much care anymore what they think ….. I’m sick and tired of living by other people’s standards …. reminds me too much of my X who is a Narcassist. They don’t know when I get him and they won’t until I walk in their house with him. Of course I can’t take him to one of my daughter’s homes ….. her husband is 100%, dead set against, any dog, no matter whose, coming in their house. Dogs are meant to be outside animals, and that’s where his mother’s dog is, all the time. He’s a beautiful, white Eskimo dog, and he spends all his life outside, alongside a wooden doghouse, tied to a fairly long rope. I hate it. But, obviously it’s none of my business. They had a farm for years and years and all animals were outside animals …… sad.
Once before I left my now-X, I spent a week at a hotel with a kitchen, just to be alone, read, think, and be alone. I’ve been thinking about that again, but this time for a longer period of time, and maybe to a cabin somewhere in W.Va. I’d take Kellar with me and food for the week. Between this garbage my family gave me about getting a dog, my own emotional struggles right now, and just still this move, I’d like to run away …. no further contact.
abby

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@georgette12

Regarding telling people not to approach your pet…maybe it would be helpful to think of this as an opportunity to help a pet lover understand your dog is a trained service dog taught avoid everyone else but you. I so agree that a dog lover will totally understand. I know it might be hard to say this but in a way you have a kind of nice opportunity to help others understand. Also, maybe that other person never even considered dogs are trained for this purpose.

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@georgette12

I had a kind of weird experience a few days ago. A man asked if he could pet Sadie, I explained my reason for saying no. He told me that he has a brother who trains service dogs in Hawaii. Then he sat down and talked to her and started petting her. I was at the hospital lab, waiting for blood work and a chest x-ray because I had the influenza B. I decided not to say anything because it was apparent that he may not have had the mental ability to understand.

I’ve gotten better at declining over the years. I guess I’ve educated a few people.

It’s pretty clear that people often know the don’t pet rule, but mostly they don’t get the reason, because they go on engaging her. At that point, I give Sadie a tug on the leash to get her attention back on me. Another signal for her is patting my leg. Sometimes I will move her around to the other side of me. When all else fails, I get up and move away from them.

I’m a shy person and unlikely to initiate a conversation with strangers, so Sadie helps me be less isolated. Isolating is what a depressed person does. I just want to be left alone, but having a service dog at my side almost always draws comments and conversation, which is sometimes ok, but not always.

I wish Cesar Milan could be heard by everyone. His words are no touch, no talk, no eye contact. I think he has one more, but those are the ones I remember. People just don’t understand that Sadie is supposed to be focused on me, and talking to her moves her attention away from me. That’s not as vitally important to me, but it could be if the dog is trained for seizures or respiratory alert.

It’s a challenge to train a dog to be alert to only one person, then when you go out in public, people seem to be intent on getting the dog’s attention distracted. I like to hear people compliment Sadie, and a lot of the time I can keep their focus on me and what I have to say. I always thank people who ask to pet. My answer is always the same, but I appreciate people’s courtesy.

I’m rambling, as usual, aren’t I?

Jim

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@amberpep

I know that you will enjoy Kellar, Abby. He sounds like he will be a lovely companion for you.

It is also working out to be another way to practice “being your own person” isn’t it?

Teresa

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@amberpep

Well, this coming Saturday I will be picking up Kellar. I’m pretty well set up for him except to get the crate out of storage and wash it out. I have not said anymore to any of my family and they’ve not said anymore to me. I don’t much care anymore what they think ….. I’m sick and tired of living by other people’s standards …. reminds me too much of my X who is a Narcassist. They don’t know when I get him and they won’t until I walk in their house with him. Of course I can’t take him to one of my daughter’s homes ….. her husband is 100%, dead set against, any dog, no matter whose, coming in their house. Dogs are meant to be outside animals, and that’s where his mother’s dog is, all the time. He’s a beautiful, white Eskimo dog, and he spends all his life outside, alongside a wooden doghouse, tied to a fairly long rope. I hate it. But, obviously it’s none of my business. They had a farm for years and years and all animals were outside animals …… sad.
Once before I left my now-X, I spent a week at a hotel with a kitchen, just to be alone, read, think, and be alone. I’ve been thinking about that again, but this time for a longer period of time, and maybe to a cabin somewhere in W.Va. I’d take Kellar with me and food for the week. Between this garbage my family gave me about getting a dog, my own emotional struggles right now, and just still this move, I’d like to run away …. no further contact.
abby

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@amberpep

YOU GO, Abby. I’m proud to be watching you take control of your own life!

Have you ever gone to a monestery or such a place for a personal retreat? I’ve done it a number of times – there’s a Hermitage not far from me. It’s always a great time of solitude.

I’ve gone to a motel in Reno a couple of times for the same purpose.

You must be excited about having Kellar be home with you! What a blessing.

Jim

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