puppyjourney

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The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step

on February 26, 2012

Greetings all!

I am writing this blog so that everyone can partake of the adventure I’m on. See, I’m currently on a quest to find the perfect dog.

I suppose I should start from the beginning.

I’ve wanted a dog my entire life. Since I could speak I’ve asked for one. Santa even said I could get one for Christmas one year. But then my parents had a little talk with the Mall Santa. They dragged me back where he told me that he’d checked his list and, no, I couldn’t have a dog.

Over the years my childish desire for companionship changed into a medical need. Yes, that sounds odd. But I’ve had several doctors, a handful of therapists, and a social worker tell me that I need a dog. I have treatment-resistant major depressive disorder, severe anxiety, and a touch of OCD all of which are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. All of this adds up to a full blown Mental Illness and, due to its severity, a disability. A disability is any medical condition which limits your ability to live a “normal” life. They are not limited to physical disabilities. How is my life interfered with? I have panic attacks doing everything from walking to class to watching a movie. I’m often too afraid to speak. In addition, these paralyzing fears leave me feeling desperately lonely and so depressed that all I can do is go back to bed.

Anyway, back to my tale. Now, any dog lover will tell you that the unmitigated love and devotion from a dog is heartwarming. But did you know that science shows that dog ownership actually changes your brain’s chemical composition? Well, now you know.  Anyway, as medications have mitigated, but not cured, my depression I started looking for alternative treatments.

As I am moving off campus next year and getting my own apartment, I decided that I would finally get my dog. Next I had a few decisions to make. The first and most difficult was the decision between an ESA and PSD. Let me explain. An ESA (Emotional Service Animal) is any pet that emotionally stabilizes its owner. Hopefully, a dog will serve this function just by being a happy and loving pet. A PSD is a Psychiatric Service Dog. This is a dog trained to do specific tasks which help an owner struggling with Mental Illness. These dogs are legally treated the same as a Seeing-Eye Dog meaning they are allowed in any public building.

So did I need to go the extra mile and get a PSD? Since there are very few groups in this country who train PSDs I would have to train it myself. This training would require a lot of focus, dedication, and time. As a student, do I have the time to devote to this? Moreover, this training would require a professional, private, tutor to help both me and the dog. The cost of a PSD would be substantially more than that of an ESA.

In the end, I decided that I owed it to myself to train a PSD. As some of my worst anxiety attacks occur in public places I need a dog which may go with me to new places. In addition, a dog which is trained to do specific tasks will more actively help me manage my depression rather than the passive assistance of an ESA. Moreover, it takes years to train a PSD correctly. If I decided in the meantime that I don’t require a service dog then I can stop training and be left with a well behaved dog. If, on the other hand, I don’t start training a PSD but realize in the future that I need one then I’ll have to muddle through for several more years.

You might ask, “What Tasks?” Well, much like seizure alert dogs, PSDs can detect and alert to oncoming panic attacks and depressive episodes. There are also several ways a dog can be trained to interrupt a depressive episode or panic attack. One is Deep Pressure Therapy where the dog will sit on your chest. This invokes the same feeling as a big hug. Another is to demand attention. This distracts the owner from whatever he or she is upset about and redirects that energy into something more positive (such as taking the dog for a long walk). In addition, a dog can be trained to call 911 in the event that the owner intentionally hurts him- or herself. This is kind of like being on suicide watch 24/7.

And so, with that decision made, I truly began my search for a dog.

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