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Feel-Good Corner, My Take

The Truth and Lies of Service/Assistance Animals

It’s unbelievable that we’re November now. It feels real which broke my denial. I can feel the bitter chill in the air and the rising wind. I know I write this a lot but time really flies and it only seems to go faster. Does all of life go by like this until we wake up and realize our time is almost up? Anyway, that’s a little too depressing. My purpose today is to share some good news and educate a little on this subject in case it helps you out.

The Fantastic News

Muffin, my precious little miracle, is officially my Emotional Support Animal (ESA). This is actually something I’ve wished for for a long time but never had a chance to follow through; I’m so happy I finally did! The reason I took action, despite having more than usual on my plate, is exactly for that reason. I’ve been feeling more than a little overwhelmed and it’s hard to concentrate enough to get everything done when I’m too busy thinking about how I’ll never get through it. Then when things slow down, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, my thoughts get bad. Being with Mia makes me feel calmer, happier and less focussed on myself. I have to care for her and all her needs. I’m more grounded in the present moment which consequently makes me feel better AND more productive. That said…Mia isn’t a tool or anything…I love her with all my heart and the joy she shares with me is unique and indescribable. I like to think that our relationship is symbiotic.

The Truth

In my research I learned quite a bit about Assistance and Service dogs. I also learned of something super annoying that’s occurring online. There are quite a few companies charging for their ESA certification services. It almost looks real…from plastic cards made to look as official as a drivers’ licence to custom labels for harnesses, it all looks so legit. Yeah right! Upon closer inspection I learned that if you complete a short questionnaire you can be instantly qualified to have an ESA. For a fee ($200-$400!), a ‘licensed therapist’ will sign off and you’ll be delivered the desired paraphernalia.

At the same time I learned the difference between Service Dogs and Emotional Support / Assistance Dogs. Service Dogs require training…makes sense – Service Dogs have to be perform very serious tasks! Support/Assistance Dogs on the other hand don’t require formal training and can be trained instead by their human companion. Additionally, Service dogs are bred for their role and placed with people in need as opposed to Support/Assistance Dogs who can already be with their owner. Back to the scam companies, this information weeds out the bullsh*t. They offer Service Dog qualification. As we now know…that’s IMPOSSIBLE. It doesn’t work like that!

Venting Time

Why am I frustrated? Well…because I’ve spent 5 out of 6 years of my illness bouncing between therapists, psychiatrists, CLSC’s, hospitals and medications. Out of over 20 meds tried out, only 6 seem to work for me. Mia is arguably better for me than all of my meds combined and is certainly an essential component to me living life the best I can. Despite this and what it took to learn about all of this on my own and then stay on my psychiatrist to have it worked out… people are using a credit card to buy something illegitimate that’s taken seriously. What’s going to happen when people catch on to the fraud? EVERYONE will be penalized…that’s how the world usually works, right? So now they have a fancy-looking card that means absolutely nothing while mine is simple laminated card but is actually…oh yeah…LEGAL! I’m sorry that this blog turned into a rant, but it’s quite aggravating. Discovering how helpful it is to be with Mia all the time makes me wish for everyone struggling to have a chance to feel better like this. Instead that potential might be ruined by people taking advantage of the internet and bypassing the system. I know that the system can suck; I have a lot of experience to back that up…but I believe you’ve got to pay your dues and fight for what you need rather than exploit a real necessity for some people.

Yesterday, being Monday, was my get-stuff-done day of the week. (The the stuff I have to push off until I’m not working.) Aside from knocking on doors to make arrangements for me to park near Aaron’s in Winter – which is proving to be a huge pain in the butt by the way…I finally got Mia’s ID from the SPCA. After I got her tag and paid I asked some questions about ESA’s to glean more information. I was surprised to find out that the licence is free for Service-Assistance Dogs and doesn’t need to be renewed every year; it’s for life. That’s good to know and maybe it’ll help you if you have one. I got a regular yearly tag for Piko at the same time. By the way I wanted to adopt every animal in the shelter…I started to tear up…I so very much hope that these abandoned animals find a happy home.

A Little About Muffin’s Progress + Tips

I’m an extremely proud mommy; Mia is getting better each and every day! For her to come with me everywhere she has to be perfectly trained, even if it’s just by me. Thankfully she’s already superb around humans. Very calm, entirely quiet and she can curl up on my lap for an extended period of time in class or at a café while I’m doing homework. Her recall is also growing by leaps and bounds. A year ago if she took off it would take forever for her to come back or we’d need to pick her up. She would also tear off after Piko if he went after a squirrel or something. Piko is amazing, he always comes back right away…Muffin on the other hand is decidedly stubborn. With a combination of beef liver treats and scolding, she listens so much better now when we take a walk and she isn’t on a leash. (I only do that at my parents where it safe.) She runs back and only goes within about 15 ft to begin with.

What she needs more work on is socializing with bigger dogs; she tends to bark up a storm. Working at a pet store though and bringing her to work is desensitizing her pretty quickly. I use the treats as well as a ‘Pet Corrector’ which I now swear by. It’s the first negative reinforcement that she listens to and remembers for longer than a minute. It’s only a can of compressed air that makes a loud hiss so it’s completely humane. (Just never point it directly at your dog or too close to their ears.) She also has to get better at all kinds of handling; for her this means any sort of toilettage. Once again, I’ve been using beef liver Pure Bites to brush her for 5 minutes every two days and I brush her teeth more regularly. 5 minutes doesn’t sound long but she used to growl, snarl, squirm and bite the brush immediately!

Here are some tips even though I don’t know much:

  • Make sure your dog can perform the basic commands: Sit, come, no, stay/wait, etc.
  • You can work on others after the basic necessities: Down, up, stay close, heel, etc. (Mia doesn’t heel yet.)
  • Make sure s/he is sociable around humans. No barking, jumping up (especially if you have a big dog) and most importantly, no growling or biting! This applies not only to adults but younger and older teenagers, KIDS and older people.
  • Socialize your dog with others of all sizes! This can be tough and it’s best to start when your dog is young if that’s possible. Dog parks and pet stores provide perfect opportunities for this. You can also get together with friends who you know have dogs themselves. I learned not to think that your dog is perfect if they’re good with a few dogs that they see often though. They need to get good with stranger dogs. Oh and getting them used to cats is also a good idea!
  • If you’re going to bring your dog everywhere, it’s super important that they be calm and ok with being relatively still for longer periods of time. This takes practise and I find that making sure your dog has exercise / play sessions to expend energy and have fun is very important and helpful.
  • You have to ultimately have complete control. With a 7lb Yorkie I can put her in the comfy backpack if she needs to calm down…if you have a big dog like a husky for example, this obviously isn’t an option! That’s also why calmer breeds who require less activity are generally easier to have as Assistance Dogs. Nothing is impossible though!
  • This pretty much goes without saying but s/he has to be potty trained. It’s also essential that your dog can eventually ‘go’ on command so you can feel good about being inside for a while with no opportunity to peepee/poopoo. Find a way to insert breaks whenever possible.
  • Make sure they’re used to (and that you have) some type of mess-free water dish and food dispenser. I love my water bottle with a bowl on top that fills with water when you squeeze it and the water gets sucked back in when you release the bottle.
  • Safe transport in the car is a must! Most importantly it’s extremely dangerous for both you and your dog, and you can also get a hefty fine. Aside from transport cages which pretty much no animal likes…there are special bags with a short leash, secure harnesses that can be used with a leash that goes directly into the seat belt ‘clasp’ and harnesses with a carabiner to attach to a clipped regular seatbelt. What I can’t emphasize enough is to NEVER use a collar in the car if your dog (or any animal) isn’t in a transport cage. Even if they’re tied, there’s a strong likelihood they’ll break their neck in an impact.
  • Praise, fun, love and more praise! Your doggo isn’t just there to help you feel better; you’re there to ensure their happiness and fulfil their needs too. It’s a give and take. Try not to forget that your doggo is still a doggo and still needs to run, walk, play, chew, etc. Shower them with love and keep a tight bond…dogs in my opinion are the closest thing to real angels on earth.

Well…I’ve shared my piece. What do you guys think?

Have a wonderful week!

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