Excerpt from the book, “Healing Companions: Ordinary Dogs And Their Extraordinary Power To Transform Lives,” by Jane Miller – Introduction: How the Healing Journey Began
Several years ago I discovered something powerful about the dogs who share many of our lives. While all dogs provide love, comfort, joy, and support, for some people, dogs actually have the ability to transform lives. Although I have been in clinical practice as a therapist for years, this isn’t something I learned through professional training. The catalyst was a tiny furball named Umaya who came home with me on Christmas Eve. Here’s how our journey began…
In our fast-paced world, doctors are often quick to advise patients suffering from traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and other emotional and psychological problems that their ills can be solved through the use of one medication or another. Too many people think the pill itself is a “magic bullet” that will make their lives happier, easier, and more secure. It isn’t. Medications must be taken under careful supervision, and many anti-depressant drugs carry the risk of negative side effects, including in extreme cases suicidal tendencies. While many individuals do require medication, which has helped countless people, there are other pill-free choices that are extremely beneficial and may not have been considered. For many people one choice that they may have never heard of, either by itself or in combination with drug therapy and psychotherapy, might make all the difference.
Service Dogs have been assisting the blind, the hearing-impaired, and those in wheelchairs and with other disabilities for a long time. There are also Therapy Dogs who help enhance quality of life for many people by visiting hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions providing comfort and support. Umaya’s strength and calming influence were a revelation to me, and when I saw the way that my clients responded to her, I began to realize that having a dog could have a profound impact on some of my clients’ lives.
This is not just the story of our journey, however; it’s a window onto the world of Psychiatric Service Dogs for people with invisible disabilities, showing how the dogs can change and enhance the lives of their human companions. In the following chapters, we’ll meet some of these amazing dogs and see how they have helped a number of individuals improve their lives in profound and unexpected ways, allowing them to gain self-esteem, self-confidence, assertiveness, and so much more. These dogs provide emotional support, as all dogs do, but they are specifically trained to perform certain tasks unique to the individual’s needs. Through the stories of these dogs, I hope to show how you, a friend, or a family member how they might benefit from such a healing companion.
In addition to these remarkable stories, this book will also explain which dogs are the right candidates for the job, which dogs are not, and how to tell the difference. Here’s a hint: it has nothing to do with the dog’s breed. Mixed breed dogs are very well suited to assist those with invisible disabilities. These dogs can be in-home companions or full-time Service Dogs who also accompany their companions out in public and to work. I’ll discuss how these dogs are trained, how the dog may impact other members of the family, and how to make life more comfortable and less stressful for the dogs while they are undertaking their essential tasks. I’ll also provide a helpful list of resources for further information, support, and services.
For anyone who may not know about the profound benefits that these service dogs may bring, as well as for anyone who loves dogs and enjoys learning more about their value to their companions, I hope this book will serve as an informative, practical, and inspirational guide.
Umaya started me on this extraordinary path. Now, share the journey of my clients and others who have opened their hearts to a service dog and found a healing beyond their expectations.
To learn more join us in our journey: Healing Companions’ benefit to our community is three-fold: a shelter dog’s life is saved; the trained psychiatric service dog provides a friend, family member, or neighbor who has mental illness with assistance that promotes a higher level of functioning and participation in society; and the inmate who has trained the dog gains both job skills and “soft skills” that help them obtain jobs and contribute to their communities upon release.
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