Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Benefits of a Service Animal for PTSD Sufferers

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), under Titles II and III, a service animal is any dog specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability.

You may think that having an autoimmune disease, mental health issues and PTSD, that owning a dog is an unnecessary expense and an overwhelming responsibility. The responsibilities really are not that energy consuming, and food is affordable. I have the self-discipline to maintain a savings account. 

I read articles, saw on TV, and watched YouTube videos about other veterans that have found great therapeutic benefits from having service animals, mostly dogs.
I was skeptical. My first attempt at adopting a dog from a pound did not turn out well. The dog had been apparently abused by males and was aggressive towards males. He muzzle butted my son in the face and I had to rehome him.

Then came the rescued Chihuahua who was supposed to be my son's dog, but she bonded with me. So, I kept the very loving, needy, emotionally sensitive and cuddly pup for 4 years. She developed separation anxiety to the point where she could not be left alone for an hour with out hysterically barking, and I am gone 10 hours a day working. She now lives with a retired couple who have another dog that is best buds with Melina, the Chihuahua.

The Choice To Try Again

After being completely alone for a few days I felt a void and depression descending. I considered the benefits of trying again to have a genuinely beneficial service animal.

Exercise; anxiety prevention.
Walking is great for the brain as well as the body.
I had been afraid to go alone to the beach. As a result of lack of activity, and the combination of the weight gain side effects of my fibromyalgia medications, my weight had ballooned to 210 pounds. That made me depressed.

Companionship; combat depression, prevent isolation.
My current schedule of working graveyard has me not socializing or going much of anywhere. Having a dog invites other dog owners to chat.

Confidence; reinforcement of faith in myself & capabilities
Being calm and gentle is my natural state when interacting with animals. Training requires patience.

I decided to search for a more suitable canine companion. I found Ranger at the Multnomah County Animal Control shelter. He was named Bumper and he was the quietest dog in the shelter. I was impressed.
A staff member named Jordan was extremely helpful in describing to me the dog's psychological and behavior profile. When we visited outside Ranger was interested in the other dogs and behaved well on a leash. He was antsy.
I had a good feeling about him and I went through with the adoption.

Day 1
Ranger slept in the backseat on the way home. Even though I had been awake all day and had to work the graveyard shift that evening, I took him for a walk on the beach, three blocks away. He pulled on his leash and I had to tell him to heel.
I'm definitely going to be transitioning to a harness and a retractable leash once I have the wiggle room in my budget.
I put a very soft blanket, a teddy bear, and a rawhide bone in his kennel and put him in there while I was at work. I worried that my neighbor would tell me that she heard him.

When I got home he was very patiently sitting in his kennel. No crying or barking. Sigh of relief. He got super excited to be out and even more excited to go on a walk. He just loses it when I grab his leash! He pulled on the leash again and I reminded him to heel.

We encountered a man working on a near apartment complex and Ranger ignored him. I felt a flutter of anxiety and then took Ranger's cue and walked on the street going around the man.

As we were leaving the beach and heading onto the trail back to the street another dog owner. We allowed the dogs to sniff each other, and then all of a sudden they were growling and going at each other. Ranger's leg had become entangled in the other dog's leash. The man confessed that he had adopted his dog 2 weeks prior. I guess his dog needs some work with socializing with other dogs.

Ranger wanted to run, but it was day 1 and I was not sure that we had enough of a bond to the point where he could be off leash and come back to me.
When we got home Ranger slept with me on my bed. When I woke he promptly pottied without any delay. When I got ready to leave and told Ranger to get in his kennel he laid down on the couch, I couldn't help but laugh. I picked up his 50 pound self and helped him into his kennel.

Day 2
I came home and it was raining. I put on a coat with a hood and took Ranger for a walk that extended to the beach. He did not pull on his leash! We had a fun walk and even played in the surf. I realized that I felt safe and didn't have any concerns of someone running up behind me, because I had a 50 pound dog with me. Ranger appears to be a cross between a brindle pit-bull and a German Shepherd. He is very mellow and friendly.

On our way back home a gentleman stopped his truck on the street to allow us to cross in front of him. It was a very nice gesture and I felt proud to be with Ranger.

When we got home I gave Ranger a new rope bone to play with and we had a great time playing tug-of-war. I then sat on the couch while I decompressed looking at Instagram.  Ranger was happy to lay next to me. He even had his head and paws on my lap until that position became uncomfortable to him. I snapped some pics of him. I took a sudden deep breath and Ranger raised his head to look at me. I assured him that I was OK. I got up to take my meds and he followed me into the kitchen.

I did some stretching and yoga. I was in doing cat cow and Ranger was running in circles around me. I then went to a forward stretch of my legs sitting and he walked between my legs to get some affection. I got an alert on facebook and got sucked into that. I looked up after a few minutes not seeing Ranger in the living room,so I went to my room. He was waiting for me on my bed, like "It's bed time."

This morning while I was sitting at my dining room table Ranger came up and enjoyed some attention. He then went and got his raw hide bone and was engrossed in playing with it by tossing it around and then chewing on it. This is a good sign. Ranger has become more relaxed and affectionate. When he first arrived at my place he would pace back and forth. I am so happy to see him playing and behaving like a regular dog.

Is My Service Animal Actually Benefiting Me?

As I was on Instagram and I saw a post about a service animal and something caught my attention. The author described some of the benefits of having a service animal being an increase in self-confidence, more attention to self-care and an improvement in mental health.

I sat and thought about how I had been impacted by the shy dog who had been in a shelter for 2 weeks and before that had been as stray, abandoned by his owner. Ranger is microchipped, so the shelter staff contacted the owner to let them know that they had found his dog. The man did not want Ranger back, citing that he was "very fearful and timid". Makes me wonder how he was treated with that owner...

I speak to Ranger in a very natural manner and I pet him as he lets me. He is warming up to me; nudging me with his muzzle to get my attention so I'll pet him, and him even checking on me when I go to the restroom. He is my shadow, following me from room to room and is happy to lay on the floor next to me when I am at the table. He has been taught not to lick but I have gotten a kiss out of him. It warms my heart to see him thrive. I am witnessing the transformational power of love.

I feel that it is an honor to have an animal trust and love you.

Ranger fills a spot in my heart that I didn't know was empty. My self-confidence has been boosted. I suffer from low self-esteem due to childhood trauma. I feel more capable somehow.

Just like a child, dogs need routine and structure. I have been struggling to get a routine down since working graveyard. I have discovered that I am more prone to get tasks done before I go to bed, rather than when I wake up before work. Feeding Ranger reminds me to eat. Getting Ranger water reminds me to drink water. Walking is great self-care and now I have a reason to every day.

My mental health has been impacted positively. Being alone is not a good thing for me to be, I perseverate on the dynamics of my life right now. I feel empty, sad, lonely and I focus on how much I miss my son, then even more feelings come. So, being with Ranger helps me to be more present. Having him near me, resting my arm on him is relaxing for both of us.

The science of why having a dog is beneficial to a human has to do with bioelectromagnetism. The human heart, not only has brain-like tissue, but serves as an electromagnet generating a bioelectromagnetic field.

I was not able to find any articles about the effects on humans of a dog's electromagnetic field. Dogs have good energy and their hearts produce an bioelectromagnetic field which produces negative ions, just like every other creature with a heart organ. This compliments our own electromagnetic field in a healthy way, the bioelectromagnetic feedback, soothing and relaxing the central nervous system. Blood pressure has been measured to lower around the presence of a good size dog.

Where Can Service Animal Gear Be Obtained From?

I have got my gear from 
They are affordable and items ship in a timely manner. An Access Tag is only $6.99 and vests start at $39.99 and harnesses at $51.99, depending on which you prefer. They carry tiny to large sizes.

The only time that I ever had an access problem was at a church with my Chihuahua. She had been overwhelmed and took a pooh on the floor amidst a room full of children. The elders of the church initially told me that I could not bring her with me. Rather than cite the laws protecting service animals for the disabled, I appealed to their human nature and had them acquiesce to allow me to bring her if I kept her off the floor.

Now, if I had an issue with access I would call the Department of Justice, church or not. I have gone through a lot of personal development, therapy and growth, and I no longer see religious organizations in the same light.

The most annoying thing that I have experienced is when people ask me, "What service does your dog provide?". This is the only question that allowed to be asked of an individual with a service animal. I answer, "I have PTSD, he keeps me calm." Simple as that. I don't have to go into my list of diagnosis; anxiety, panic attacks, depression, etc;

Final Thoughts

It is not a sign of weakness to require a service animal to assist you with getting through life. Keep in mind that the temperament of a dog is something that you need to pay attention to. If you  are looking at shelters for a prospective service animal there are some things that you need to be aware of, age, temperament, socialization (gets along with) with other dogs and leash behavior.

A dog that is young and has high energy may not be the best fit for you, whereas a more docile dog makes a better companion in public. Dogs 2 and under are still in their puppy phase and will require a lot of patience, repetition and more work overall.

Training is not difficult. The right dog will adapt to your needs, it's pretty incredible. Treats are very important for rewarding good behavior. I don't focus on behavior when I am letting Ranger out of his kennel and getting his leash on, he is too excitable then. He is more receptive after his walk. Regular exercise is crucial for building a healthy relationship with your dog. If you cannot walk any distance from home, then a smaller dog may benefit you best.

KENNEL training is very important. My dog has 2 bones and a teddy bear in his kennel. Granted, if he were left alone at home he may only lounge on the couch, chew on his bone and be perfectly quiet, but he may behave differently as well. I don't want to come home to find my sofa or chair chewed on, the carpet soiled, my neighbors complaining, or scratch marks on a closed door. So, my fur baby is in a kennel while I am away.

It is not mean to have your canine companion in a kennel. It provides security to the dog and peace of mind for you. Kennel training produces more grounded dogs and can be used for a "time-out" should your dog exhibit unacceptable behavior. For more tips on training your dog I recommend anything by Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer. He has books and more on his website

I hope that you found my input here helpful. Feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts and experiences!


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