Wednesday, October 25, 2006
I put off blogging about this for a couple of months, so I think now is a good time to discuss it. I originally heard about this when I caught an episode of The Dog Whisperer. The dog's name was Sparky, and he was there to help a woman manage her panic attacks while she was away from home. She was scared to leave the house before she got Sparky. Hey, they have service dogs for people with seizure disorders, so why not? If you've ever had a severe panic attack, you know firsthand how similar it is to a seizure.
I got an e-newsletter from NAMI last week that had information about these dogs. From the newsletter:
Most people know about seeing-eye dogs for the visually impaired, but what about service dogs to help people with mental illnesses?
Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) -- a relatively new phenomenon -- are dogs that are individually trained to work or perform tasks for individuals living with mental illnesses.
Although there is little research into the effectiveness of PSDs for people with mental illness, Aaron Katcher, M.D., emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, has examined the interaction between animals and people. He has found "much evidence that social support is a critical variable in the recovery from many serious biological disorders including psychiatric illnesses."
NAMI New York's Phil Kirschner took his own doctor's suggestion that a dog might help provide needed structure to his life and help him with his depression. He states, " I had never considered owning a dog before, and I admit to being somewhat overwhelmed by the thought of having to learn how to take care of a dog, train a dog, etc."
Tasks PSDs can be trained to perform include:
* Remind handler to take medication on time
* Warm handler's body during a panic attack
* Interrupt repetitive behaviors
* Attend to handler during emotional distress
* Accompany handler outside of the home
* Provide discernment against hallucination
* Mitigate paranoia with reality testing
Kirschner says he has experienced issues related to life with a service dog that he had not anticipated, including access challenges. "Because mental illness is not usually a visible disability, many shopkeepers think I am trying to sneak my SDIT [Service Dog in Training] into their store."
Kirschner says that the jury is still out as to whether or not his service dog and he are going to ultimately pass muster, but they are certainly giving it their best. His advice: "Do your homework."
"Researching Psychiatric Service Dogs on the Internet and joining a Service Dog listserv are two things you can do that cost nothing. Try to talk to as many PSD owners as possible in order to evaluate whether this life choice is for you."
To find out more about PSDs, visit The Psychiatric Service Dog Society Web site. PSDS provides information for persons living with severe mental illness who wish to train a service dog to assist with the management of symptoms.
It may take time for these dogs to be accepted in public places, but I hope that spreading the word will help educate the public and help everyone to see that it is a serious matter.
An article was published in People Magazine about this (PDF file).
This is great stuff, Latasha. Thanks for this. I have a little bit of an anxiety disorder my own self, and there have been times in my life, late at night, where I picked up my dog and brought him in the room with me simply so I wouldn't freak out. Pets are so great for that sort of thing, and I wonder how long they've served some of these functions on an unofficial basis. Who was that famous author who couldn't write without a cat in his lap...? It'll come to me. Cheers, TH
- Tom Head
I've been busy this week, but I just wanted to comment on this subject. I have cats, as most of you know and SUSPECT, but only two. Anyway, they often crawl in my lap and purr until their hearts content. I recently found out that the frequency at which they purr is a "healing frequency" and promotes, well, healing. This is why when some cats are purring continously and don't stop they tell you to take them to the vet. Its their way of trying to make themselves better. Anyway, I always feel like they are giving me a little "extra" love and healing when they sit on my lap and purr. :)
- Lori G
Tom, sometimes when I'm feeling frazzled, I'll go play with my mom's dog, and he's so silly and high-strung that when I'm done with him, I'm too exhausted to be anxious. Ali, I've had my cat for over five years, and when I'm not feeling well and lying in bed, he'll lie next to me as if he's trying to make me feel better. When I used to have migraines, he knew they were coming before I did. He'd sit in front of me and stare at me intensely. By the time I finished asking him what in the world he was looking at, I felt the headache. By the way, dogs are also being trained to detect mold, termites, and cancer cells. That is why I believe in being kind to animals. They have so much to offer.