National Empowerment Center - Articles
A few years ago Angel White lived a fairly isolated and tormented life. She had frequent panic attacks. She was afraid to leave home and interact with people. She was filled with fears and paranoia. She had severe migraine headaches. She lost her home, friends, colleagues and was having trouble with her finances. She turned to traditional psychiatric and psychological services but these were only minimally helpful. It was not until she found "Spencer" that her life began to change for the better.
Spencer is a 5-year-old black Labrador retriever. With his bright red harness and a certified card identifying him as "service dog", Spencer accompanies Angel wherever she goes. If Angel is feeling suicidal, Spencer seems to sense her mood and approaches her with a ball, playfully urging her to get outdoors which, in turn, breaks her suicidal thoughts and impulses. If Angel is having a nightmare she cannot awake from, Spencer hops up on her bed and nudges her until she awakens. If she is afraid to go to a social event Spencer escorts her and instantly becomes a topic of interest to others which helps Angel to socialize. If she is walking down the street and becomes disoriented, Spencer helps keep her safe and away from traffic. As Angel says, "Because of Spencer I am now a participant in life rather than a fearful observer".
For many years people with mobility and sensory disabilities have used "service dogs" to assist them. For instance, people who are blind use specially trained "seeing eye dogs" and people who are deaf may use dogs that are specially trained to "hear" oncoming traffic, door bells ringing, strangers approaching, etc. The right to use service animals in public places like restaurants, trains, airplanes, malls, theaters, etc., is guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). People like Angel White are taking advantage of this opportunity and are proving that service dogs can assist people with psychiatric disabilities in many ways.
For people labeled with mental illness to get a service dog, there are certain steps that must be followed. However, before getting a dog you must search your heart and ask yourself: Am I willing to love and provide for the needs of this dog? Am I willing to spend the time necessary to train my dog? Am I willing to bond with this animal so that we become a working team? If the answer is "yes:, then the following steps are recommended.
Additional information is available from the Psychiatric Service Dog Society: www.psychdog.org
An informational podcast on Psychiatric Service Dogs with Joan Esnayra, President and founder of Psychiatric Service Dog Society and Peter Ashenden, Executive Vice President, DBSA.
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