The incredible support of a service dog

people with disabilities day

I have a major disability.

It doesn’t matter what it is. I could have anything that impairs basic functions of life, like breathing. walking or thinking. I could have cancer or lupus or epilepsy. I can be schizophrenic, bipolar, or have PTSD.

There’s a common medicine for all these things.

You may ask me: “what are you talking about? These conditions all require different medications! How can they possibly ALL have a medication in common?”

Ok, you got me, it’s not a medication you can inject, swallow, or stick to you arm. It actually does nothing for curing any of these conditions but it certainly makes my life easier.

I have a service dog (YAY, PUPPY!)

I’m not kidding, I say that to him all the time; apparently random people in the street think it’s fun to say too when they see him but you know what? He should be celebrated. My dog has saved my life more times than I can count and I’ve only had him a few months.

people disabilities day - quoteAllow me to introduce myself; my name is Carolyn, and my dog’s name is Asriel. I am 20 years old and I was diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety, and panic disorders last year though I have been suffering with them since I was about 17. Asriel is 8 months old and has been training to be a service dog since he was 6 weeks old in June.

A bit about my journey towards getting Asriel.

I nearly died in April. I don’t say that lightly or for the sake of drama – I walked pretty close to the edge of ending my own life due to a massive depressive episode I was suffering through at the time, and I ended up in a mental health ward for roughly two weeks on a self-harm watch. Let me tell you, nothing makes you reevaluate your life more than being watched 24/7 and only being given plastic utensils for meals.

It was a couple of weeks after I got out of the hospital that I made the decision to look for a support dog. After doing some research and talking to some other people online who had service dogs for similar reasons I decided I was going to buy a quality puppy from a breeder and train my dog myself.

I had several reasons for doing this, the first and foremost being that I didn’t have time to be on a 6 year waiting list for a fully trained service dog from an organization and I definitely didn’t want to pay $20,000 for one either.

I ended up buying Asriel from a really tough older women who lived alone and had been breeding German Shepherds for over 20 years. Her dogs were all tested for health issues before breeding and the litter I chose had several Canadian and American champions in their lines. He cost me $2000 and I don’t regret a single penny of it because I ended up with a smart, sassy little pup with a ton of spirit and a great sense of humor. He’s pretty darn good looking too.Asriel

What it’s like having a service dog:

In a word? Liberating. I being able to take my dog everywhere with me, I love that he has a job to do and does it well, and I love being able to leave my house knowing he’s got my back. There are a few drawbacks but they’re definitely worth it.

First of all, having a service dog is like wearing a sign that says “LOOK AT ME, I’M DISABLED!” in a big neon letters about your head. Apparently I’m also wearing a shirt that only other people can see that says “please ask me all about my personal medical problems” because I get at least one person a day getting a bit too nosy for my liking.

FYI: it’s rude to ask what someone’s dog is for. It’s like asking what kind of underwear a random stranger is wearing.

I will admit to enjoying discussing how pretty my dog is because I love him so completely that I just want to annoy other people by talking about him all day long. When I’m having a good day I really like talking about service dogs in general and education people about them, and I find most of the other handlers I know do too.

I’m gonna do the next bit of an FAQ to save some time:

Frequently Asked Questions about service dogs

Q: How long does it take to train a service dog?

A: About two years.

Q: Can any dog be a service dog?

A: No, very few dogs have the temperament and physical ability for it. They need to be physically sound (blind, deaf, and three legged dogs need not apply) and they need to have calm loyal natures. They have to learn an incredible number of behaviors and tasks and perform them flawlessly while fireworks are going off and a marching band is going by. Not that that happens often, but the point is they need to be able to ignore food, other dogs, people, and other inexplicably scary things going on and remain focused on their handlers. If they get distracted it can prove perilous to their handles.

Q: How many different kinds of service dogs are there?

A: I have no idea and frankly every service dog is tailored specifically to their handler so every one is different. There are a few common, generalized categories though: alert, guide, mobility, and psychiatric.

– Alert dogs let their handlers know when the handlers condition is flaring up (blood sugar drop/high, seizures, anxiety attacks, etc.) and they can also include hearing ear dogs that alert their handlers to sounds that the handler cannot hear.

-Guide dogs are the ones that everyone knows, as they are include seeing eye dogs. They literally guide their handlers around obstacles and keep them away from danger.

-Mobility dogs are those that help a handler move around. They can be trained to pull wheelchairs, brace themselves so their handlers can lean on them to steady themselves, retrieve objects, push automated door buttons, or help pull their handler along to make walking easier.

-Psychiatric dogs are those that help with mental disorders and they are kind of a mix of all the other categories due to the complex nature of psychiatric disorders.

Q: Can I take my dog everywhere with me because they make me feel better?

A: No. You need to be professionally diagnosed with a condition that inhibits a major function of life. In the States, the law is very specific about what defines a service dog and they have to perform at least three tasks that mitigate your disability. In Canada the laws are pretty vague – in fact only Alberta and Ontario have defined service animal laws. Here in Ontario I have to have a written prescription from my doctor.

Q: Do service dogs have to wear vests?

A: No. Nowhere in North America is there a law stating that a service dog needs to be marked as such. In the States, if your dog is unmarked, you can only be asked two questions: is that a service dog and what tasks does he/she perform. In Ontario if the dog is clearly marked then you don’t need to have the prescription on you, but be prepared to be asked for it if your dog is going naked for the day.

Q: Is there a certification or registry for service dogs?

A: No. In no state or province is there a certification or registry. Yes they will show up if you google them and yes they are all scams. These scam sites really harm the ability of a service dog team to go into businesses because if the first experience that business has of service dogs is a team with a fake ID then they expect them from the rest of us too.

I hope you’ve all learned something today and you’ll take away the information you’ve learned and share it in honor of International People With Disabilities Day. If you have any questions please comment or e-mail Asriel and I and we’ll be happy to help in any way we can.

You can learn more here:

– Carolyn Strung


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