Big Dog, the Walnut Whip of Dogs. (My Thoughts on Service Dogs for the Mentally Ill)

I meant to write this the day before yesterday but I have been struggling with pain, which is most-probably-fibro-but-might-not-be..regardless, I don’t like it. Anyway, I was shopping for toothpaste for Boyfriend today (life is exciting..) and saw Walnut Whips.. funny how inspiration can be found in the bargain bin of ‘DiscountUK’.

My current housing/emotional/financial situation means Boyfriend and I are living with my parents. This has several advantages including actual hot food and clean socks that live in pairs but this biggest, best thing is the presence of the dogs. My parents have two, Big Dog  is pretty much my replacement therapist.

The PDSA sit is worth a look. The mugs in the Gift Shop could do with a marked improvement (possible business idea>) but they are helping raise awareness and monies for service dogs for people with mental illnesses. They can’t send you a dog in the post (sadly, I did check, they only send naff keyrings and mugs) but they do have a funky mission statement and a video. The site seems to have been under development for some time, I am half tempted to get in contact with them and see if they need a hand..but I am no better at website design than I am launching rocket ships*.
(I have only ever launched hand-made cardboard rocket ships. It did not get to space. The over-application of glue meant the craft was far too weighed down to ever achieve flight.)

Dog/ pet therapy is not new in the psychiatric world, but the idea of them being certified as mental health support dogs is. It is a pretty non-existent service in the UK, espeically Wales, although it is possible – and becoming more and more available in bigger, shiny places like America. (Doughnuts and Mental Health Dogs, I really want to find my passport!)

It is another step towards debunking some of the myths surrounding to what extent mental illness counts as a legitimate disability – it may be odd to think that depression/anxiety/hallucinations can cause mobility issues but it can and does. If a dog can sense the onset of a auidtory hallcination or sense the rising level of anxiety of somebody with a panic disorder and then lead them to a safe, seculded spot it would then allow the person to use the other coping skills to calm themselves down thus preventing a crisis. Often the fear of managing fear is what renders patients (including myself) unable to complete tasks. I can cope with anxiety – I cannot cope with sheer panic that renders me unable to see, hear or understand what is going on with me. I can cope with feeling a bit hot because my pulse is too fast, I cannot cope with a panic attack that makes me feel as if my lungs have dropped to my soles of my feet and that there are sharp pointy things being rammed into my chest and all my joints. I can cope with being scared of my own shadow, but I can’t cope loosing my breakfast all over the pavement because I am so terrified. In my eyes, if a dog, gnome or a cat helps anyone calm down from a situation from that it is worth it. (I am very interested in arguments comparing physical disability to disability originating from mental illness – I have previously seen/been part of very heated debates on thia topic on various forums/ in real actual life and it is something i want to discuss more when I have less pain/more thoughts/better grammar.)

Dogs calm you down because the sense emotions..but I think any sort of ‘comfort’ can really manage anxiety. A very good friend of mine, Pixie, was in eating disorder treatment with me. She had a very small soft toy mouse that used to sit on her table at meals. We used to occasionally post small messages of encouragement into Mouseys hands so he would literally be cheering her on. Mousey was a very small, stuffed hero. Pixie’s therapist often disputed his significance saying a stuffed toy kept Pixie in a ‘child like mode’.  I can see where he is coming from but think that he didn’t give enough credence to the need for reassurance and comfort. Mousey was just a toy but he became an emblem. He was a mouth piece for reassurance and he was connected with childhood. Dogs, I think, are similar. Mousey helped Pixie because he was pocked-sized softness – friends of Pixie would tell her ‘Mousey thinks’ because that separation of self is an easier way to digest compliments; In the same way we love petting dogs as m uch as they enjoy being stroked and in many pet-owning households you will hears the words; ‘the dog just said’ or ‘the dog thinks that’.

I speak to BigDog all the time. He knows what I think about politics, he knows what book I am reading and he knows what time I get up in the morning. He is easy to talk to because he doesn’t have any opinions other than ‘walks are amazing’ and ‘cats were made as playthings’. Dogs are brilliant at sensing emotions  (unless you want them to ‘sense’ that you do not want to get up at 5am to let them out for a pee). BigDog sits with me when I am sad and finds his toys when I am hyper.

I wish I could dress BigDog up in a yellow jacket and take him every where with me, but I can’t – because he is not a service dog and never will be. I think, if it was more available in Wales I would have qualified for a service Dog when I was even more loopy than I am now. At the time when my anxiety attacks were lungs-in-my-legs-being-sick-in-public bad I could have probably benefited from a dog but  BigDog, much as I love him, could have never been that. There is DogAID  ( which allows people with physical disability to train their own pets, but it does not extend to mental people, which I think is a shame.

News article about service dogs for the mentally ill.

I’m glad we are making pawprints towards people training thier own dogs, although BigDog will never, ever be a contender. He is far too fond of sniffing, pulling and chasing to ever wear a proper therapist hat.

Personally I’d love a world where dogs were allowed eveywhere but I recognize this is a bit like wishing for chocolate for every meal – it just isn’t viable. It would make a pretty sucky world for people who were allergic to dogs (or chocolate) or just didn’t like them..also I’d be alientating and discriminating against all those so-anxious-i’m-sick people out there who are also afraid of dogs.

Here is some stuff about laws regarding service dogs; Fake service dogs, why your pet is not allowed

Law stuffs from service dog central

The progress of pets for mental health is something I shall keep watching very closely.

In the town I went to University there was a man who was a bit of a legend. He’d walk around town with his cat on his shoulder. It never seemed to leave his side. Prehaps he was ahead of the game and when I turn up to my next appointment with my psychiatrist I will find a ginger moggy in his chair.

They even do alternative therapies

I do not feel as if I have written this post very clearly. My head is a bit scrambled am pain/feeling sorry for myself/being miserable is not helping. Trying to think in sentences and construct my opinions further than ‘I like dogs and cakes’  is hard work. I am going to post this with the aim of revising it.

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