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Most of us know that service dogs exist to help the blind, the wheelchair bound, even the deaf.  What many people don’t know is that service dogs also exist to help those with mental disabilities.

The mental disabilities that dogs can help range from helping a schizophrenic, to agoraphobia, to anxiety, and even to helping with mental retardation.  The things that dogs can do to help the people they love is almost endless.

This isn’t an excuse for someone to say, “Hey I’ve had an anxiety attack, I should take my dog everywhere with me.”  Your particular issue must be disabling meaning that your functioning is impaired significantly by your problem.

The best resource I’ve found for psychiatric service dogs is the Psychiatric Service Dog Society.  Joan Esynara is, in my opinion, the best expert in the field.  She, and others in her newsgroup list helped me when I was first considering that a service dog might be an option to give me more independence.

Part of that choice for many, if not all people is the willingness to give up a certain amount of control.  Once trained, you need to be willing to listen to your dog and let them help you.  Also, it’s a huge lifestyle change to have your dog with you at all times.  Service dogs aren’t sometime helpers.  They are constant companions that help you get freedom, companionship, and help to make your disability less disabling.

One of the few drawbacks I have personally experienced is the attention that using a service dog draws to you.  We don’t go anywhere without getting attention that by myself I would not have gotten.

It’s mostly children wanting to pet or play with the dog, although I have had a few exceptions of being asked what my dog does for me since I’m not blind or in a wheelchair, and one experience where a person who was dog phobic did not want me to seek treatment at the facility she worked at because she was scared of dogs.  It takes a certain amount of courage when you have an “invisible disability” like mine to use a dog and make it obvious that I need help.

Check out Joan’s website if you are like me and think a service dog may be useful for you.  Feel free to ask me questions as well.  On this one topic I reserve the right to politely refuse to answer depending on the question, but I think it’s important enough for people to know what service dogs are actually capable of that I probably will answer you.  As always, I value your comments.  Please feel free to share your thoughts.