Monday, January 13, 2014

My Dog and I Cured Me

My new puppy!  November 11, 2004!  There is nothing like the glow in the face of a new puppy owner.
Around the time I got my puppy that I was going to train as a service dog, I had been out of the psychiatric hospital for about a year.  I had only been out of the medical hospital (which I was in for psychiatric medical reasons) for about 2 months.  When my puppy was born, I had just come home.  Mentally, I was somewhere between locking myself up in the security of a psych ward and staying home to attempt to tough it out and see if I could do it.  My life was in the balance.

The past year had been a struggle, but I had stayed out of the psych unit for months.  The Doctor of the psych unit might say "it was my unscrupulous treatment of her that made her stay out of the hospital.  I broke her."  The caseworkers were saying, "It is because we deemed her 'not disabled enough' to continue with case management and discharged her from the team that she was able to stay out."  I will not be giving them credit for what they claim they did for the sake of "treatment", because all they did was abandon me when I needed someone to be there and take me seriously.  What I needed was a way to get out, a way to recover without being scolded all the time.  I was not getting any pleasure from reliving a trauma over and over again and I certainly wasn't getting treatment from a doctor whose approach to care for me was to make my stay as miserable as possible to the point where I willingly took those mind-numbing meds that did nothing more than knock me out.  I certainly didn't want to be conscious.

For several years I had been learning about emotional support dogs, therapy dogs and service dogs for psychiatric disabilities.  I knew a bit about it.  It was one thing I had not tried yet.  Soon after my discharge from the medical hospital, my (community-based) psychiatrist wrote me a script for a service dog.  I can't even remember what we talked about.  I can't remember at what point in my search for a puppy I was in when we began discussing it.  I know the note was written the week I was to get my new puppy, which we had found an ad for in the newspaper.  Knowing how uncommon it is to see border collie puppies advertised in the local paper, I know God must have been helping out with this one.
Posing for a winter photo
Raising a puppy that first 6 months was the best therapy I could have ever had.  Not only did it give me something new to work on, it seemed to meet a need.  It seemed to quiet something that had fought so hard before.  And at 6 months, she began alerting to rising anxiety.  She began learning a task that would make her a service dog one day soon.

The way the human aspect of the Mental Health treatment had hurt me was inexcusable, and unjust.  If anything, it was downright re-traumatizing.  In fact, I have nightmares about being in the hospital (psych unit). This was a system that was supposed to help people, not leave traumatized people with more traumas to struggle with in life.
A day at Camp Capella in Lucerne, Maine
WHO got me to where I am today, having been out of a psychiatric hospital (and medical hospital) for about 8 years or so?  WHO has weaned me away from the harm of the mental health system?  I give credit to few individuals:  Rowena, my service dog, and myself.  I give thanks to few, but I recognize 2 outpatient psychiatrists, Deborah Ryan, MD and Pakkam Rajasekaran, MD for their faith in service dogs (especially mine) and their faith in me.  So many other "Helpers" have only succeeded in leaving me feeling hurt and like I'd been stabbed in the back.  So few had faith in me.  None of them had done away with the scolding to actually listen to me.

You can not shame and blame a person back to mental health.  You cannot shame and blame a dog to do your bidding.
I'd like to purchase this please?

I blame myself for the need to write this piece as I watched a movie the other night, a "horror" flick.  It took place in a psych ward of a big old fashion Institition, probably the same age as the one I spent many nights in many years ago.  I don't know if the people who created the film had any clue that their horror film is so much like the many "hospital" dreams I have. The confusion, and surprise endings are nothing too different from the real feelings I have had.  And then that so confusing feeling of escape from the outside world.  THAT is why I have these dreams to begin with.  So much stress.  So much so that I fall asleep and dream of being locked up away from the outside world.  However, I do not meet the criteria so I must stay out with my faithful service dog and continue to try to make myself stronger in this harsh world we live in...  even when I'd rather be in seclusion in a drug induced fog.
Participating in a fund raising walk to raise money for the local animal shelter
Everyday I stay out, I am hopefully that much stronger.  And my best friend is not about to scold me for feeling weak.

Photographing life in the bog, one of my favorite pastimes.
Photographing one of my favorite subjects, my service dog Rowena (while at the bog).

Thursday, June 06, 2013

"Toddlers Must be Leashed" (I'm kidding. No hate mail please!)

Me and my service dog Rowena (Rosie) out photographing nature

My hobby is photography.  I photograph things in nature.  When I first started doing this I found that I really wanted to know what the flowers etc. were that I was taking pictures of all the time.  With guide books, I labeled my photos, identifying the subject and sometimes putting the Latin name for the subject as well.  Gradually, I began to actually retain some of the information I was getting from looking everything up.  I am now a lot more versed in flowers, birds, and some various other things in nature.

Sundew- like a tiny Venus Flytrap
more Sundew- they are like 1/4 of an inch.  This is a very close shot.
I have always had favorite places to take pictures.  My faves were places that I'd go and I would always be surprised.  One of my favorite places became the Orono Bog Boardwalk, which is about a mile long boardwalk accessible through the Bangor City Forest, Tripp Rd. parking lot.  The bog is a fragile ecosystem, so great care was taken when laying out the boardwalk, and whenever repairs are done.  There is a gate that is locked at a certain time every evening, and opened at a certain time every am.  They have volunteers that supervise the entrance and occasionally walk through looking for garbage or something.  NO ONE is allowed to step off the boardwalk at any time for any reason.  Understandably, dogs are not allowed on the boardwalk.  Bikes and skateboards aren't allowed either.  It is this fragile ecosystem that nurtures and grows my favorite flowers, and a variety of other flowers, mosses, and plants that I cannot remember ever seeing anywhere else.
We are actually way down at the end.  This is how far that
toddler was allowed to run to pet a strange dog.
One of the biggest benefits of haviing a service dog is the new level of freedom the dog provides.  Rosie is no different.  Since she is a service dog, and I am her disabled person, I am allowed to bring her on the boardwalk with me when I visit.  We have never had much of a problem on the boardwalk together before.  One incident when she stepped off the boardwalk into the bog was my fault.  I was telling her "Off" for her to stop standing on something and she thought I had asked her to step OFF the boardwalk since she was right next to the edge.  She stood in the delicate bog a whole split second before I lifted her butt directly up and out.  My fault, though I did re-emphasize the boundaries to her right after.

Rosie has often assisted me with balance while we are on the boardwalk. It is her ability to stand still and firm when asked that helps me most.  I have an inner ear problem that, if I look up or away from my feet or while I am moving, I get dizzy and lose my balance on occasion.  You can see how valued this task is since I am photographing things high and low pretty much the whole walk.
Rosie braces to steady me as I crouch to take a photo.
About a month ago, My husband, and Rosie and I went for a stroll on the boardwalk.  It was one of the first very nice days of the spring, so traffic in the forest was quite high.  A couple and their 2 or 3 year old boy caught up with us.  The boy was a bit too eager to see a "DOGGEEEE" so Chris (my husband) and I walked ahead a little faster to give some space.  We had a good maybe thousand feet between us.  That seemed to work.  We thought.  We are doing photos at one of the benches and all of a sudden the 3 year old does a speedy bee-line for Rosie.  When the boy is in front of me, I told him not to pet the dog.  He still reached to pet her so I said the same thing while pulling Rosie away from him.  Basically I had to totally body block the toddler from trying to "pet the Doggeeee".  The parents remained about 500 feet away, barely a visual on the tot.  The child gave up and went back to his parents.  Chris and I continued on our walk, but I think we let them by.

This incident really bugged me for a few reasons.  Early on, these people did take note of the vest Rosie was wearing, clearly marking her as a service dog.  I am assuming they knew she was working.  Even if they did not know she was working,  would you 1- Allow your 2 or 3 year old run ahead of you to pet a dog you do not know? 2- Allow your 2 or 3 year old run ahead of you to pet a dog attached around the waist of a person whom you'd never met before?  Lastly, if they had known that Rosie was a working service dog, what if this toddler had caused Rosie to move when I needed her to stand/stay?  I could have fallen on my a$$ in the bog!

Rosie poses behind some Lady's Slippers, a type of Orchid that grows
in the Bangor City Forest.

There is a reason that service dogs have patches on their vests and harnesses that tell you not to distract or pet, because the dog is working.  Many people don't understand why that has to be.  Some think that the handler is just being mean, and some think that that means the dog never gets treated like a dog, allowed to play, get love and affection... which couldn't be further from the truth.  Service dogs are ultimate Heroes.  They give life and independence back to those who's disabilities prevent them from living life and going forth with a new found increased independence.  These dogs are VERY LOVED!  Hugs, kisses, baby talk... yep, they get it all.  Just like in a workplace, these things can be very distracting to humans, when a service dog is working, it distracts them as well, from their number one person... the disabled handler who depends on that dog.  Just like you would not goof around with a surgeon in an operating room, you don't mess with the dog with the vest on.  A distraction can mean injury or even death to some people who utilize service dogs.

Another form of distraction is when other dogs are allowed to approach a service dog who is working. If the "civilian" dog is recall trained, a good recall will call a dog away from a working (service) dog no problem.  However, not all dogs that are allowed off leash are recall trained.  If your dog is not trained to a strong recall, the dog should remain on leash until he learns. Along with his name, recall is one of the most important things you can teach your dog.  You can call your dog away from danger just by calling his name and saying "Come!"  Not all dogs your dog approaches will be friendly and you want to protect your dog from those dogs.  I do not let my dog approach a dog we are not familiar with.  I value her that much.

It is also not necessarily good to let two service dogs who are working greet and meet each other.  I may go out with a fellow service dog user, but our dogs do not interact.  If a person I do not know has a service dog and enters the scene, I do not let my service dog meet and greet the other; Not even if the handler asks first. Am I being mean again?  No I am just keeping my service dog safe and on task.  I don't know that dog (or person) so I am not about to let my service dog go face-to-face (or butt-to-butt) with a strange dog.  Also, since my dog has been attacked by other dogs before while on leash, I don't want to increase her stress level and perhaps put her on the defensive.  The best way for my service dog to meet another dog is to work side-by-side, and then in a safe setting, take the dogs off leash and have them officially say Hello.

Rosie working along side Teddy the Keeshond.
Herding dog Service Dogs working under the table at a hotel restaurant.
L-R: Winston (blue sable border collie), Jenna (Black tri Sheltie), and Rosie.
1- Do not let your child run ahead of you to pet a dog you do not know anything about.  2- Do not let your child run ahead to interact with a dog you don't know being held by people you know nothing about.  Imagine how fast it would take for something to go very wrong in that scenario had the child run up to someone else and some other unknown dog.  And the parents were not very close to even see what was really going on, let alone react if something did go very wrong. 3- Why you are not supposed to distract a service dog who is working; 4- Do not let your dog approach a service dog that is working.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Saying Good-bye to a Good Friend...

Today we are remembering a service dog named Destry.  On April 22, 2013, Destry was pts. He had been diagnosed with Cancer within the last several months, and had declined rapidly over the weekend. He is now at the Rainbow Bridge to wait for his Momma.  

Destry was a handsome, well-behaved Belgian Sheepdog boy.  Rowena and I have had the opportunity to meet Destry and his human, Elaine, when we all attended a service dog meet up (2007 & 2008) in Washington D. C..  I have enjoyed watching this handsome boy turn into a loyal service dog over the years and know that Elaine is really missing him right now.  Losing a service dog is like no other pain.  These wonderful dogs work hard for us and play hard with us for years.  They are with us literally 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  When a service dog dies, this absence is deeply felt. My heart is with Elaine as she grieves this loss.  I dread when it is my turn to grieve losing Rowena.  It is inevitable.

Destry and Elaine are from Texas.

For more about Elaine & Destry the Service Dog:

(Scroll down to the very bottom of that page and you will find Elaine and Destry's story.)

Elaine now has a new puppy, a Belgian Sheepdog named Dash, who she is training to fill Destry's pawprints. Dash is from the same breeder.  I wish Elaine the very best with training this little guy.  I know Dash can't replace Destry, but Dash can help sooth that aching heart of Elaine's.  I am sure Destry is looking down, relieved that Dash is now there with her.