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.

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,
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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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@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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Hi Jim …… I have not gone to a monestery yet, but there is one only 1 hr. from me, who have small, simple rooms for people to rent for 3 days. They all eat together with the Monks, in silence ….. it’s a total time of self-reflection and getting our perspective back where it belongs …. with God.
abby

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It sure is Teresa …. and it will continue. As long as I am able and capable of handling my own affairs, I WILL. At 73, it’s about time!
abby

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This is my English Bulldog. His name is Weezer. He is my security blanket!

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@georgette12

This is my English Bulldog. His name is Weezer. He is my security blanket!

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@georgette12 ……..what a handsome dog. I know what you mean by a security blanket. I have always had a dog, but after the last one passed, I vowed I would never get another one. Maybe I should rethink this.

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