By Rita Guinta, Volunteer Creative Writer ~ Healing Companions, Inc.
Meet Charlotte and Rosie, her psychiatric service dog in training. They are a new team with Healing Companions who have been together a little over a month. But Rosie already means the world to Charlotte and has had a positive impact on her life. Charlotte says, “Rosie tugs at my arm to get me out of bed to go for a walk. She makes me feel safer and more independent.” This is more important than might be readily recognized for Charlotte lives with the symptoms of anxiety and experiences panic attacks which are both invisible disabilities. She has been deemed by a mental health professional to need a psychiatric service dog and Rosie has been evaluated and fits the criteria by Healing Companions to have the potential to be trained as a service dog. This distinction is based upon age, intelligence, temperament, trainability and other qualities. Given the way Charlotte says Rosie makes her feel, Rosie’s off to a good start for being a loyal psychiatric service dog.
But Rosie has a long way to go. Her service dog training will consist of two separate tiers: Basic and Specialized Training. Basic training involves all the obedience training that non-service dogs receive such as sit, down, stay, etc., but she needs to perform these with distance, duration and distractions. It includes more lessons such as “pick it up,” “go to your mat,” and “tuck your tail.” Rosie must also learn not to shake in public places. Anyone who has ever had a dog knows that basic obedience training takes time. Specialized training involves Rosie learning to do specific tasks related to Charlotte’s symptoms. Rosie will learn to detect Charlotte’s racing heart during a panic attack and nudge her knee, paw her, or put her head on Charlotte’s shoulder to alleviate her anxiety. As part of her service dog tasks, Rosie will remind Charlotte to take her medicine on time. She will search a dark room and turn on a light to let Charlotte know it’s safe to enter. The thought of a hidden intruder in an empty and dark room is surely an anxiety-producing situation. Rosie is being trained to alert Charlotte by licking her face when her blood sugar levels drop and to interrupt her when she is obsessively picking at her fingers by nudging Charlotte’s hands.
These are just a few examples of the highly specialized tasks Rosie will learn to become a psychiatric service dog. Such individualized training is a long-term process. It can take over 200 hours to complete and cost upwards of $20,000. In addition to training, Charlotte must pay for all of Rosie’s needs such as food, vet bills, etc. She’s feeling bad, right now, about not being able to purchase the non-destructible mat Rosie needs for her training.
When Charlotte was interviewed for this blog, she was asked, “If there was one thing you could tell people about having a psychiatric service dog, what would it be?” It was a perfect opportunity for Charlotte to say something about herself, her struggle and her need. Her reply was, “I wish people knew more about the psychiatric service dogs and how hard they work and how much they help people.”
Now, thanks to Charlotte’s willingness to share her story, they will.
Rosie and Charlotte are zealous about working hard to achieve their goal. They will meet with a Healing Companion’s trainer every week for Rosie to learn a task. Then, they will practice that task, every day, at home until they meet with the trainer, again, the following week.
There is only one thing in this world that could prevent Rosie from becoming Charlotte’s faithful psychiatric service dog and that’s money. Please don’t let that happen. If you are interested in helping Charlotte and sweet Rosie, the eager psychiatric service dog in training, or people like her, please give. Any amount you can afford, even $1.00, will help.
Check out our media page for more photos of Rosie in training.