Service Dogs (The Pros & Cons)

There are definite pros and cons to having a service dog.  First, I will point out a few differences between service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs.  Service dogs (SD) are a dog or miniature horse trained for specific tasks to help mitigate a disability that the person cannot do on their own. An emotional support animal (ESA) is a pet that provides emotional support that doesn’t need specialized training.  A therapy dog helps others by providing comfort, these ones you see go to nursing homes, hospitals, schools, etc…  Service dogs can go everywhere the general public is allowed to go, with a few exceptions (operating rooms, religious places that don’t allow animals, food preparation areas).  ESAs are only allowed in housing/apartments or on an airplane or a travel bus, with a letter from a doctor, counselor, or psychiatrist.  These are important differences because this will come up later in this blog and other ones that I write in the future. I will start with the pros of having a service dog, for me personally, then cover the cons obviously.

The Benefits Of Having A Service Dogs

I will be keeping this part mostly serious, with possibly a few sarcastic remarks that I will point out as sarcasm.  A benefit of a service dog/mini horse is that it will help provide a little bit more independence in your life, that is if you have a debilitating disability and the dog helps mitigate that disability (as per the ADA law and not your doctor).  The dog/mini horse is trained, either by the owner themselves, a dog trainer that is knowledgeable on service dogs, or a facility. 

A benefit of a service dog/mini horse is that it will help provide a little bit more independence in your life, that is if you have a debilitating disability and the dog helps mitigate that disability

They are trained to perform specific tasks to help their handler with things the handler cannot do.  A very common service dog/mini horse task is guiding the blind.  This is where the dog/mini horse will help the handler avoid obstacles and lead them up to a counter, etc… the animal does not know directions like google maps does, let me restate that, the dog/mini horse cannot just take their handler to Starbucks on a single command like “go to Starbucks”. The handler has to know the way, through memorization or google maps, to get there and the animal just keeps them from harm or gets them to crosswalks and helps them cross them safely.  This is a common misconception that I have heard plenty of times.  

Another main misconception that I hear is that there are only a couple types of service dogs/mini horses like guiding the blind and helping people in wheelchairs with retrieving items and opening doors.  There is in fact a wide range of different tasks that the service dog/mini horse can do.  There is mobility, balance, retrieval of items, PTSD (multitude of tasks that are performed for this one), guiding the blind, hearing alert for the deaf, performing everyday tasks (ie. Laundry, opening doors, getting items from the fridge, etc.), seizures, diabetes alert, heart alert, blood pressure, psychiatric, autism, allergy detection, medical alerting, etc. The list can go on because the tasks/jobs depend on the handler and their needs.

Pros of Service Dogs

They help the person be able to be independent with everyday tasks and help the handler to get out of the house for simple errands.  For this part, I’m going to list the pros for me with my service dog since this can be a specific thing.  I get to go out of the house with the help of my service dog because she helps me walk, no I’m not blind….  My first service dog was trained for mobility, balance, retrieval of items, alerting for vertigo, allergy detection, and protection (I’ll explain this in a moment).  My current service dog, 2.0 (sarcasm), is trained for mobility, balance, bracing, retrieval of items, alerting for vertigo and medical alerts, allergy detection, overheating, anxiety/panic attacks, and PTSD (this is where the “protection” came in with my first dog, but did not have the diagnosis until a few years later). 

y current service dog, 2.0 (sarcasm), is trained for mobility, balance, bracing, retrieval of items, alerting for vertigo and medical alerts, allergy detection, overheating, anxiety/panic attacks, and PTSD

This benefits me because I feel comfortable going out into public because I know I am safe and my dog will help me be completely independent.  I got to feel normal for a bit there and did not have to wonder if I had energy to get my wheelchair out of my car or not (I no longer use a wheelchair at this point in time).  I know other pros are that I am able to avoid allergens without feeling the need to avoid going out in public places with the fear of coming across it. I have had a significant drop in anxiety/panic attacks and debilitating vertigo attacks.  My SD helps with avoiding triggers for my PTSD and vertigo.  For me, the pros outweighed the cons with a service dog.

Cons of Service Dogs

This one is a bit easier to write for me only because I found out about the cons after I had gotten my SD and experienced them out firsthand.  I honestly think that if I had known the cons before I got my SD, I would have chosen to stay in the wheelchair and not relearned to walk.  The main one is that you will feel like a freak show/circus act and many people will treat you as such. 

The first thing that comes to mind with this is that people will take pictures of you and your SD without asking and even post it on social media.  The captions to this can be “look at the pretty puppy! I’m going to sneak a pet when they aren’t looking!” or “this is a fake one because the person isn’t blind!”.  You will get unsolicited advice on what breed you should be using, whether you truly need one or not, what you can use instead of the SD, or they will try to educate you on the laws….incorrectly…. I have had people be downright rude and mean towards me.  I have had death threats because I’m “torturing” my SD for “forcing” her to work. 

The first thing that comes to mind with this is that people will take pictures of you and your SD without asking and even post it on social media.  The captions to this can be “look at the pretty puppy! I’m going to sneak a pet when they aren’t looking!”

I have had people scream at me for lying and saying that I am disabled when I look “perfectly normal”.  People will think that they are entitled to pet your SD without asking and that they can do it because they said “hi” to the SD first.  People will assume that you are blind and try to sneak a pet when they think you can’t see and then get mad when you stop them because they were caught.  These are the people who then go straight into “so your faking being disabled! I’m going to report you!”  You will be told you are not allowed in restaurants or other establishments because they don’t’ allow pets, but if you try to educate them that the animal with you is indeed an SD they will not back down.  Some will even say that you need papers or a license for it.  In a couple of provinces in Canada, this is true, in the US it is not; as per ADA law, there is no registry or license.  

All in All

Even with all the cons, I chose to keep my Service Dog and even continue with SD 2.0, because I get my freedom (to an extent).  My SDs have saved my life a couple of times and I have been very grateful for them and all the hard work that they put into helping me.  They are both spoiled rotten and well taken care of. 

My first SD Kaiya (German shepherd, border collie, husky) is retired now and living the life!

My first SD Kaiya (German shepherd, border collie, husky) is retired now and living the life!  She gets to sleep on the couch when she wants, plays, eats and sleeps.  My SD 2.0 Naomi (gladiator dane) is enjoying working thoroughly and is excited when her pack/equipment comes out that means she is going to be working.  If she loses wanting to work before she gets too old I will retire her because as handlers, we want what is best for our Service Dsog and want them to be happy doing what they do. 

If you come across a team and want to say hi, please talk to the handler and not the SD.  If we choose to not say high back or seem like we are ignoring you, please do not be offended as some days we are out even though it could be our worst day yet with energy.  Some of us are willing to answer questions and hear about your pets (yes that happens more often than you think).

About The Author

Katie McCabe is a wife and mother of two beautiful girls. She has rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lupus, along with a few other disabilities. She works full time at a school district in the city where she lives and will be going back to school to get her Masters. She has a service dog that helps her with being independent and able to function day to day. Follow Katie on Instagram

My Experiences with Anxiety and PTSD

My Experiences with Anxiety and PTSD

When I was first diagnosed with anxiety, PTSD, and OCD; I asked my counselor how I could have PTSD when I had never been in the military. There is so much misinformation and stigmas about anxiety and PTSD in our culture. If you have any mental illnesses, and if you have one that is normally tied to certain lifestyles/experiences, you aren’t supposed to talk about it. I have heard many times that it’s all in my head and to get over it; that if I just change the way I think, I will be fine. I developed my PTSD from a car accident I was in and some assaults that had happened while I was in college. Eventually, I had to admit to my “issues” and then talk about it with my counselor in order to try and find the best way to work through it or find coping skills/tools to be able to function in society.  I was working at the time and still am working, but I need to watch my surroundings for triggers.

There are days where I struggle with my body, both physically and mentally.  I feel like I should be helping more, but cannot due to my body that day. My anxiety makes me argue with myself and go rounds in my head, fighting the mental battle in what I should be trying to accomplish. On bad days, I second guess everything and am afraid of being judged. I give excuses for my choices and slip them into the conversations to defend my choices because I think they are judging me. No one told me that anxiety and PTSD would control every decision I make. I was never told how much it could impact my life and that I would have almost no friends because I was too anxious to go hang out.  

After having my daughters, I was diagnosed with PPD and PPA. Prior to this I had only heard about PPD because of the episode from Scrubs and never truly knew how often it was diagnosed. I just thought that it sometimes happens, I was never informed that if you already have anxiety or depression you are more prone to developing PPD or PPA or that it could develop any time up to two years postpartum. 

My Experiences of Parenting with Anxiety and PTSD

My anxiety symptoms

I had such high anxiety that I did not take my daughters anywhere and refuse to go out into public. I have fears that I am being judged as a “bad” parent, when in all honesty I am doing the best that I can physically and mentally do. I have that guilt as a parent that I am not doing enough and then I hear small comments that my daughters don’t get interactions with others their age. It then takes me a few weeks before I try to set up a playdate, and then cancel it again a couple days before to the day of.  Sometimes I have to cancel due to my body not functioning and other times I cancel because my anxiety gets in the way. It is a vicious cycle that won’t ever stop.

I had gotten a service dog to help mitigate my disabilities, mostly physical, but some mental. My service dog helps with alerting to anxiety/panic attacks and she helps lessen my triggers for my PTSD.  I have only recently become comfortable, to an extent, to talk about these things. I never wanted to admit to having PTSD or anxiety and struggled letting my husband know about them when we got engaged. I felt broken and damaged when I realized that they don’t go away, you can do counseling, therapy, etc and they will always be there.  

Unfortunately, having my service dog with me can cause more anxiety in certain situations or when I’m having a bad day mentally. Some people can be outright rude when confronting me about my service dog because I don’t seem blind (I am not blind) or I don’t look like I have served in the military (I have not). These are the stigmas in society that can cause misinformation being spread and therefore making it harder for me to get out of the house.

My PTSD Symptoms

Some of the symptoms I have to deal with because of my PTSD are: nightmares (night-terrors), guilt, poor judgement (happens a lot to me, especially through social media), flashbacks, insomnia, anxiety (with having anxiety from separate issues this is a double whammy), avoidance (I do this a lot because I play “what if” scenarios in my head), startle response (my service dog is trained to help lessen these), negative self-image, stress, and isolation. These are some of the symptoms of PTSD, there are many more, but these are the ones that I experience almost daily.

My service dog is trained to help with my PTSD and anxiety by alerting or doing a few other coping mechanisms.  She will alert when she notices my heartrate rising before I notice it, which is an indicator that I am about to go into an anxiety/panic attack.  Typically, she will then guide me out to my car or to a quieter area where I can then sit on the ground with her. She will sometimes put herself between me and what is stressing me out (I struggle with crowds).  When I am putting myself in a situation that I know will cause me to panic or have a PTSD flashback, I will give her a command to guard/watch. This is where she will turn around facing behind me, which gives me a sense of security.  If my flashbacks, anxiety/panic attacks persist after she’s guided me to a quieter place, she will then do DPT, which is deep pressure therapy. She will also use DPT for another thing that she alerts to, but this is not associated with my mental illnesses.

I Am Thankful For The Support I Recieve

With my service dog, I am able to cope better with my symptoms and function out in society better. I did not initially get a service dog to help with these things, these tasks came about soon after I was diagnosed with PTSD, which was around 3 years after I had gotten my first service dog. There are other tasks that I have added slowly as my body physically gets worse over time and as I am learning that I need more help.

Having Support from my Family and Service Dog While Coping With Anxiety and PTSD

Along with my service dog that helps me cope and function on my own, I am grateful for a great support system.  My parents, parent-in-laws, husband, and a couple friends; help me be able to enjoy life and don’t guilt me (that often) when I bail out or am struggling mentally.  I truly believe that if I didn’t have the support system that I do have, I would not be able to function as well as I do. Sometimes all I need is a good listening partner so that I can process how I am feeling and why I don’t want to leave the house.

It also helps when I have someone be able to go out on errands with me so that I do not have to be alone. Other times, they gently push me to do things that I wouldn’t normally have the guts to do, like write this article. My anxiety got in the way and it took me three weeks to write this in fear of being judged.  Lots got deleted, put back in, deleted, and then put back in again. My support system helped me to feel comfortable to write this and have it published in this blog.