Tracy is a Healing Companions success story and has given us an opportunity to understand a little of her journey. This is not to say that life is perfect for her now any more than it is for the rest of us but it is definitely better for her because of the tasks Tracy’s current dog, Finola, has been trained to perform to diminish Tracy’s symptoms as her psychiatric service dog.
Tracy’s first dog was named Baron. Baron is gone now, he left for the rainbow bridge five years ago. Being her first dog was a big responsibility for him. Tracy called him a wise old man. He helped with her depression knowing when to play and when to hang out couch potato style. One of the many tasks he was trained to perform was to preventing her from over eating by leading her to a chair when she would pace and be unaware that she was eating while she paced. Once she was sitting he would stare at her which increased her awareness that she was over eating.
Finola, Tracy’s second dog, is now 10. She is a survivor of Hurricane Katrina. Finola is a beautiful little dog whose sole focus is on Tracy and her every day needs. Like all service dogs she accompanies Tracy everywhere she goes. She was trained to gauge when Tracy is becoming anxious long before anyone else would notice. This training included nudging and pawing Tracy when Tracy was entering a panic attack. She would also lean against her or lead her out of a building where she is being triggered. Finola responds to commands and cues by watching for signs that her person needs help.
Now, if you are thinking Finola or any of the Healing Companions dogs are specially bred for their jobs, you would be wrong. Finola and most of the other HC dogs are shelter dogs from Berea Animal Rescue. They are trained in their basics in a special training program at Lorain Correctional Institute and in higher skills by Jane Miller of Healing Companions. With Jane and their handler they continue with public access training and on to more specific task training geared to their particular handler’s needs. As Tracy could tell you, those needs change over time and the dogs are always learning.
In the beginning, Tracy says Finola mirrored her; very active, hyper and anxious. Now she is so sure of herself people think she’s human. These days she is happy to go with the flow, being far more laid back than her young self.
Now Tracy is in the process of training Chino, her third dog. Over time each of her dogs have had different responsibilities as Tracy began to heal and her needs have changed. So in our next post about Tracy we’ll talk a bit about the transition from a long trusted companion to training a new PSD.