You may have noticed I didn’t post a Flashback Friday last week. That’s because I started a new job a couple days before! While that is, of course, very exciting news it also meant I was pretty exhausted by the time Friday came around and hadn’t had a chance to pre-schedule a post. But I found a way to make it up to you!
I’ve decided you deserve more cute puppy pictures, beloved readers. To that end I asked a friend of mine to sit down with me and talk about her experiences of living with a service dog who supports her recovery from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She’s asked to remain anonymous, but has given me permission to introduce you to Sabe n, her 8-year-old chi-wheenie (chihuahua-dachshund cross, with more dachshund than chihuahua in him)..
I shall refer to my interviewee as Lady X for simplicity’s sake. In addition to PTSD, Lady X also daily copes with blood sugar swings from Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), osteo-arthritis in both knees, and a birth defect in her hips that causes severe mobility issues. As each of these challenges complicates each other, so Saben has unique ways of mitigating the pain and frustration.
Here is the Tale of Sir Saben and Lady X
Anneliese: Saben was originally trained to help you cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In what ways has he improved your daily life with this disorder? Has working with him affected your experience of other mental health challenges? If so, in what ways?
Lady X: My PTSD often causes social anxiety, and I really don’t do well in crowds. Before I got Saben, whenever I was out in public I’d get really tense over my whole body which would trigger my fibro-myalgia. Having him as a buffer helps reduce headaches, jaw pain… He calms me down. Having him has taught me how to self-sooth because when he alerts on me I can begin to recognize my triggers, the beginning of stress. Making me more mindful of my own symptoms has helped me take control of my symptoms myself. It’s been very empowering.
We’d been a team for about a year when we went to Panoply. Normally when I go, I have to go to bed as soon as I get home from it. But this time, with Saben alerting me to self-sooth throughout the day I didn’t get a migraine and was even able to go out to dinner with friends afterwards.
Anneliese: What is his alert like?
Lady X: He licks my face repeatedly until I acknowledge him, sometimes until I start laughing. Until he senses a reduction in my tension.
His blood-sugar alert is that he whines and paws at me until I or somebody else around me realizes what’s going on. He won’t’ stop until I turn and speak to him. And if I don’t eat right away he’ll alert again until my sugar goes back up. He just sits and stares at me until I eat.
Anneliese: Saben is your first service dog. What kind of expectations did you have when you started looking into getting a service dog? How has the reality differed, or matched, your expectations?
Lady X: I wasn’t looking for a service dog, but my blind friend with her service dog showed me how much they could have a positive impact on my life. Seeing other working teams around town kept showing me the possibilities. So when I heard about a PTSD service dog who needed to be re-homed due to the death of his human team-mate, I decided to give it a try. I knew he’d help my mental health, but I didn’t know how his support would affect every area of my life.
I thought he’d help me with smaller crowds, but I never imagined being able to go to Panoply (a large, local art fair) without a migraine, or tackle other incredibly challenging situations like that.
Anneliese: Unlike with some sensory disabilities like hearing and vision impairment, there aren’t a lot of formal schools training dogs to support non-veterans with PTSD. What process did you go through to find, train, and acquire Saben?
Lady X: My daughter’s friend, who trains PTSD dogs, found out about one whose handler had died. The kids were just going to put him in the pound, so the trainer called me because I’d mentioned I was interested in getting a service dog. It was a really informal process, no school or formal training.
I really regret that, not having enough training, honestly. I’m a horrible partner. He’s more trained than I am. My daughter’s friend who trains PTSD dogs worked with me some, made sure I knew his commands. I should have had more training. He’s trained, but I’m not. I’ve learned to really pay attention to him when he alerts on me. I used to be really horrible about ignoring him when he alerted to my sugar, but now I know to trust him.
Anneliese: What resources do you feel you as a PTSD dog-handler would like to see offered in your community?
Lady X: What’s really helped is the implementation of penalties against fake service dogs. Before those went into effect, we used to get attacked by dogs in stores, places of business, all the time. Fortunately Saben was never hurt, but it was extremely stressful and dangerous for both of us.
The scariest one was a German shepherd absolutely determined to get to Saben. I had to hold Saben over my head to keep him out of reach, and the other dog tried to go through me to get Saben. Fortunately, neither I nor Saben were hurt. But the other dog’s owner kept repeating “I can’t control him!” and didn’t have hold of the leash. When a store employee rescued us, the lady just took her dog and left. No apology, no assurance that her dog had his shots, nothing.
Thank God that doesn’t happen anymore!
We’ve still got room for improvement, though. Id’ like it if the general population were more aware that not all service dogs are labs and shepherds. A lot of people don’t think Saben is a real service dog because he’s small.
Anneliese: What’s your opinion on the idea of legal certification of service dogs/ Should service dog handlers be required to show official ID for their canine companions? Why or why not?
Lady X: As long as it doesn’t cost a lot of money…that’s one of the problems with service dogs that the training costs so much, that if you add a registration fee a lot of people, especially people with low income and vets can’t afford them. People who are disabled don’t have great incomes to begin with (see this post).
Regulating it would be complicated, though. Would service dogs have to pass some sort of test proving they can behave in public? Would they have to get re-tested over time? And, of course, setting all that up would cost money. Someone’s got to pay for it.
Anneliese: Service dogs are usually portrayed as Labradors, retrievers, or shepherds, with the occasional hypo-allergenic poodle. What advantages do you think Saben’s breed and size give him when helping manage your mental health?
Lady X: Dachshunds bond well, they’re small enough that they work well for people like me with mobility issues. He’s travel-sized They’re also less expensive to maintain. And with him being cute, they get a lot more positive reactions than I might with a scarier looking dog.
One of the things I admire most about Lady X is her growth mindset. She talked about how she wasn’t a very good teammate for Saben, yet in the same breath told me about how she’s already learning to trust him more. Saben has worked with her for about 4.5 years, and has quite a few more to go, but when he’s ready to retire I’m sure Lady X will take all she’s learned about working with him and use it to support her next canine partnership.
And now, my dear readers, your favorite blindfluencer bids you good-night!