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.)

Interested in more discussions like this? Go to the Depression & Anxiety Support Group.

Hi Jim ….. Your post was wonderful, and so very true. I wish everyone understood how important these little creatures become to us …. they’re part of our family …. truly unconditional love.
I’m finally getting another dog on Feb. 3 and I can’t wait. Molly died a year ago and I’m ready. This little fellow is part bassett hound and part cocker … I’m picturing this long body with short legs …. he’s not like that as I’ve seen pictures of him. I’ve communicated with the foster Mom almost daily finding out as much as I could about him. Apparently he is another velcro-dog, like my Molly was ….. perfect! Just what I need. I’m going to name him Keller which in Gaelic means “little companion.” I’m Scotch.
I moved from MD to VA about 1-1/2 years ago at the insistence of my 2 girls who live here, and my son, but he lives near D.C. I did not want to move … I loved it there, my condo, my friends, church, community …. just everything. Well, finally I relented and moved. After 1-1/2 yrs. I just am not happy here. I love seeing my girls and 2 grandkids, but that’s infrequent and then here I am. So, I decided it was time for another little friend …. thus Keller will be coming to my home soon. My kids just don’t get it …. they’re totally against me getting another dog …. why? oh, he might make me fall (I’m not feeble), I’ll have to clean up his do-do (like I didn’t with Molly), the expense of taking care of him … Molly was sickly from the beginning as she was a puppy mill dog. They are all totally against this and letting me know it loud and clear, and yet it makes no sense. About 6 months ago I sent the 3 of them a brief article about Bipolar 2, which is me, hoping they would be a bit more understanding of everything, not just a dog. Well, I don’t know if they read it or not as it doesn’t show in their behavior. I saw my therapist today – he’s in MD and I make the 3 hr. drive up, and we’re going to start to meet every week for awhile while I get over this hump. It’s that same old deep dark hole, with me in it, covered by a cold wet black blanket and no one cares. I know a little friend will help …. just the joy of having another snuggler with me will be wonderful. I wish my kids could be more compassionate, and I wish I’d have never sold my condo in MD and moved to VA.
abby

REPLY
@amberpep

Hi Jim ….. Your post was wonderful, and so very true. I wish everyone understood how important these little creatures become to us …. they’re part of our family …. truly unconditional love.
I’m finally getting another dog on Feb. 3 and I can’t wait. Molly died a year ago and I’m ready. This little fellow is part bassett hound and part cocker … I’m picturing this long body with short legs …. he’s not like that as I’ve seen pictures of him. I’ve communicated with the foster Mom almost daily finding out as much as I could about him. Apparently he is another velcro-dog, like my Molly was ….. perfect! Just what I need. I’m going to name him Keller which in Gaelic means “little companion.” I’m Scotch.
I moved from MD to VA about 1-1/2 years ago at the insistence of my 2 girls who live here, and my son, but he lives near D.C. I did not want to move … I loved it there, my condo, my friends, church, community …. just everything. Well, finally I relented and moved. After 1-1/2 yrs. I just am not happy here. I love seeing my girls and 2 grandkids, but that’s infrequent and then here I am. So, I decided it was time for another little friend …. thus Keller will be coming to my home soon. My kids just don’t get it …. they’re totally against me getting another dog …. why? oh, he might make me fall (I’m not feeble), I’ll have to clean up his do-do (like I didn’t with Molly), the expense of taking care of him … Molly was sickly from the beginning as she was a puppy mill dog. They are all totally against this and letting me know it loud and clear, and yet it makes no sense. About 6 months ago I sent the 3 of them a brief article about Bipolar 2, which is me, hoping they would be a bit more understanding of everything, not just a dog. Well, I don’t know if they read it or not as it doesn’t show in their behavior. I saw my therapist today – he’s in MD and I make the 3 hr. drive up, and we’re going to start to meet every week for awhile while I get over this hump. It’s that same old deep dark hole, with me in it, covered by a cold wet black blanket and no one cares. I know a little friend will help …. just the joy of having another snuggler with me will be wonderful. I wish my kids could be more compassionate, and I wish I’d have never sold my condo in MD and moved to VA.
abby

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Hi again Jim …. maybe you could get her one of those little orange vests that says, “Please don’t touch me, I’m working.” I don’t know where you can get them but I’m sure a police department could tell you.
abby

REPLY
@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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Hi Jess ….. that’s where they found Keller …. he was just sadly wandering around the neighborhood. Finally the foster Mom took him in and notified the Humane Society. They checked him out, neutered him, microchipped him, and gave him his shots, then they gave him to the foster Mom til a home could be found. That would be MY home ….. I am so excited to finally have another companion. The love and faithfulness of a pet cannot be overstated.
abby

REPLY
@amberpep

Hi Jim ….. Your post was wonderful, and so very true. I wish everyone understood how important these little creatures become to us …. they’re part of our family …. truly unconditional love.
I’m finally getting another dog on Feb. 3 and I can’t wait. Molly died a year ago and I’m ready. This little fellow is part bassett hound and part cocker … I’m picturing this long body with short legs …. he’s not like that as I’ve seen pictures of him. I’ve communicated with the foster Mom almost daily finding out as much as I could about him. Apparently he is another velcro-dog, like my Molly was ….. perfect! Just what I need. I’m going to name him Keller which in Gaelic means “little companion.” I’m Scotch.
I moved from MD to VA about 1-1/2 years ago at the insistence of my 2 girls who live here, and my son, but he lives near D.C. I did not want to move … I loved it there, my condo, my friends, church, community …. just everything. Well, finally I relented and moved. After 1-1/2 yrs. I just am not happy here. I love seeing my girls and 2 grandkids, but that’s infrequent and then here I am. So, I decided it was time for another little friend …. thus Keller will be coming to my home soon. My kids just don’t get it …. they’re totally against me getting another dog …. why? oh, he might make me fall (I’m not feeble), I’ll have to clean up his do-do (like I didn’t with Molly), the expense of taking care of him … Molly was sickly from the beginning as she was a puppy mill dog. They are all totally against this and letting me know it loud and clear, and yet it makes no sense. About 6 months ago I sent the 3 of them a brief article about Bipolar 2, which is me, hoping they would be a bit more understanding of everything, not just a dog. Well, I don’t know if they read it or not as it doesn’t show in their behavior. I saw my therapist today – he’s in MD and I make the 3 hr. drive up, and we’re going to start to meet every week for awhile while I get over this hump. It’s that same old deep dark hole, with me in it, covered by a cold wet black blanket and no one cares. I know a little friend will help …. just the joy of having another snuggler with me will be wonderful. I wish my kids could be more compassionate, and I wish I’d have never sold my condo in MD and moved to VA.
abby

Jump to this post

@amberpep

Sadie wears a red service dog vest that has a Do Not Pet notice on it. People will be petting her and see the Do Not Pet, laugh and comment and go right on petting her. Pretty amazing.

I’m sure glad you’re getting a dog. They do provide a lot of therapy.

I know what you’re describing. I sometimes feel myself getting close to the hole, and sometimes falling in. I was at the bottom of the dark hole for several years. I don’t want to find myself back in the bottom of the hole. I’ve been feeling like I’m heading that way lately. Having Thursday to look forward to is all that keeps me going. I’m glad you have been able to get weekly appointments. I know how important that is.

I have experienced the stigma and lack of education about mental illness, not just with my family, but others whom I thought were my friends. When they learned about my depression and other stuff, especially my suicide attempts, they turned the other way and abandoned me. That made me go even deeper into the darkness.

I know that you’ll be greatly blessed by your new dog.

Jim

REPLY
@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

REPLY
@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 🙂

REPLY

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
.

REPLY
@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
.

Jump to this post

@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

REPLY
@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
.

Jump to this post

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

REPLY

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.

REPLY
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