Stacey Mae is a beloved therapy dog in Canon City, Colorado. With over 19,000 Facebook fans, this Greater Swiss Mountain Dog’s good deeds span the globe. Some of us at the CANIDAE Responsible Pet Ownership Blog wanted to know more about this four-legged angel.
I had the opportunity to interview Stacey Mae. With a motto like Never Give Up, Never Back Down, Never Lose Faith, you get a sense of the dog and her guardian’s character. Throughout the process, however, I was only granted access to Stacey Mae herself. Apparently her guardian wants all of the credit and acclaim to go to Stacey Mae. Maybe that’s another peek behind the curtain?
What made your family get involved in canine nursing home therapy?
My family had another Greater Swiss Mountain dog named Gracie who visited nursing homes for several years. They wanted to do something nice for the elderly and knew that people in nursing homes really like dogs. Gracie was mellow and loved people, so my family thought it would be a good fit. Unfortunately, the nursing home where Gracie visited closed down. When that happened, my family stopped going. Then Gracie crossed the Rainbow Bridge in 2008.
Sorry to hear about Gracie. What happened next?
Once Gracie passed away, my family thought I would do a good job visiting homes since I am so relaxed. I don’t lick, and just like to spend time with people. I’m fine if people want to pet me and if they don’t, I’ll just lay down near them to keep them company in their final days, months or years.
How old were you when you started?
Just a little over a year old.
What do you most like about being a therapy dog?
The people; I’ve met wonderful people at the nursing home, and I can tell I’m helping. Even though it is hard to say goodbye, knowing I helped make their time better is worth it.
Then you wanted to do more?
Yes. After about 2 years of simply visiting the elderly, we wanted to do something more. So in October of 2010 we launched the Teddy Bear Project.
My name is Ambassador Doc-Barker. I’m a 2 year old Chocolate Labrador Retriever and Team CANIDAE Member. I am a service dog certified through Canine Support Teams, Inc., a therapy dog registered thru Delta Society®, and a Canine Ambassador for the Make-A-Wish Foundation® of America through the Wishes Forever® endowment campaign, as well as my family’s loving pet. I have eaten CANIDAE dog food my whole life! I started out eating the All Life Stages (ALS) formula, and for the past year I have eaten Grain Free pureSEA, and I love them both.
As a balance and mobility service dog, I help my mama do many things. I pick up items she has dropped like her car keys, money, credit cards, etc. I help her by pulling her wheel chair or scooter and a grocery cart, which is a huge assistance to mama. I also help her get up from chairs and up and down stairs and inclines. Because I am a therapy dog, my fur needs to be soft, shiny and petable for all whom I visit, and my CANIDAE food keeps it that way.
As a canine ambassador, I travel around the country accompanied by my family, bringing awareness about service and therapy dogs and the important jobs they do, and also bringing awareness about a children’s charity through a canine connection. Ambassador Barker, my mentor, was mamas first service and therapy dog as well as a canine ambassador. He ate CANIDAE All Life Stages (ALS) too!
Most people who share their life with a pet enjoy talking about how strong their connection is with their animal. They like to discuss how much they delight in spending time with their pet. They share stories that illustrate how well their dog or cat understands them. I’m one of those people; I can talk about the power of the connection I have with my dog and my cat for hours. I am completely convinced that living with pets is good for my mental and physical health. What’s more, I know living with a cat has helped my mother-in-law tremendously. My husband and I are amazed at the positive influence a little gray tabby cat from the local animal shelter has had on his 87-year-old mother’s life. It’s as if she’s awakened from a long sleep. She and ‘Skeet’ are a perfect match, and getting her this cat is one of the best things we’ve ever done for her.
With this in mind, it’s not a far leap to believe that being around domesticated pets can be a helpful, positive and enriching experience for children with autism.
How animals help autistic children
First hand testimonials from parents and documented reports from clinicians confirm that interacting with animals (sometimes called animal-assisted therapy) offers emotional and physical benefits to autistic children. Structured programs like horseback riding or swimming with dolphins are beneficial, but the animal interaction doesn’t have to be that organized to be helpful. Something as simple as having a dog in the house can have a positive influence on a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder; it helps with their physical development by improving their coordination and strength. Additionally, a joyous relationship with an animal will help an autistic child develop more self-confidence and a deeper sense of well-being.
Colleen Dolnick, a Missouri mother who has a 10-year-old son with autism, tells Everyday Health: “Animals can be amazing for children with autism. Animals can relate to these children. And these children, who have a hard time relating to peers, can really relate to animals.”
For those of us who are writers, comments from our readers are special. We write because it’s something we love to do, and having an opportunity to write about the pets we love makes it even better. Sometimes a reader will ask a question or make a suggestion that sends us on a quest to find more information. My topic today, dogs that help humans with invisible disabilities, was suggested by a reader. After doing some research on it, I discovered another wonderful example of how important dogs are to us.
My mom developed Rheumatoid arthritis when she was pregnant with me. In the early stages, she didn’t really show any outward signs of the disease. She worked outside the home, took care of three kids, was active in our church, and appeared to be perfectly healthy. As I grew, her pain increased and the crippling effects of the disease began to take hold. By the time I was in grade school, she was spending more and more time in and out of the hospital for operations to repair damaged joints and continuous monitoring of new arthritis drugs she was taking. Mom was a fighter and refused to let her arthritis get the better of her, but I saw how hard it was for her on her worst days. As an adult, she told me on many occasions how important her dogs were to her. Without them, there would have been a lot of mornings she never would have gotten out of bed. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the invisible disabilities.
One important lesson I learned growing up is that just because someone looks fine on the outside, inside they may be dealing with crippling and life changing disabilities. Diabetes, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, lupus, sleep disorders, Lyme disease, food allergies, PTSD, epilepsy, lactose intolerance, chronic pain, autism, and ADHD are just a few of the invisible disabilities people live with every day. An invisible disability is any disease or disability that affects normal everyday life and hinders a person’s ability to perform daily activities, and it isn’t obvious to people who don’t know you.
We use a dog’s nose to find lost people, hidden explosives, termites, drugs and other contraband. Now we can add sniffing out life threatening allergens to the list. People with food allergies spend hours reading labels and questioning a waitress about what’s in a particular dish. For those with a peanut allergy, even a minute amount of peanuts can cause a severe, life threatening reaction. One solution to help those who suffer from peanut allergies is Allergy Alert Service Dogs – canines trained to search for and find hidden allergens in food or on everyday objects.
One of the more common food allergies is peanuts. In children, peanut allergies tripled from 1997 to 2008. A severe allergic reaction to peanuts is responsible for an estimated 100 to 150 deaths every year. Millions of kids and adults have to be vigilant about making sure they don’t come into contact with peanuts in any form, in their food or on everyday objects. They have to constantly stay on alert to what’s in food. Even if there are no peanuts in the food, traces of peanuts could have been introduced without anyone knowing about it.
Dogs help many people, in many different ways. There are dogs that sniff things out, such as bombs and explosives, cancers and drugs. I even heard a story recently about a man training a dog to sniff out emeralds. There are assistance dogs that help people who are deaf or blind, even dogs that assist people with cerebral palsy, who may need help picking things up. One of the newer kinds of service dogs is a psychiatric service dog.
A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is specifically trained to assist an individual or perform tasks for someone who has been disabled by severe mental health issues. This can include but is not limited to someone that suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression or anxiety, Autism, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Social Anxiety Disorder, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Panic Disorder, eating disorders and Agoraphobia. Anyone who has been diagnosed as mentally disabled is eligible for a PSD.
A psychiatric service dog can assist their person by providing a safe presence that grounds them. They remind their owner to take their medication on time. They have been used to relieve paranoia and manic attacks. They can interrupt the repetitive behaviors of someone with OCD. They can be taught to discern the onset of a hallucination. A PSD for a soldier suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can use their training to interrupt a flashback or dissociative episode, or to alleviate fear and hyper vigilance.
A PSD can be trained to let their owner know when an attack of dissociation, mania or panic is about to occur. For someone suffering from panic attacks they can help their owner during the attack by warming their body and attending to their emotional distress. An agoraphobic can take their PSD outside and experience less stress. For people who may be fearful inside their own home, psychiatric service dogs have been used to turn on the lights and search the rooms for intruders.
Psychiatric service dogs are allowed where most service dogs are allowed. There are several things that a responsible pet owner of a potential PSD should consider. There is no one breed of dog that is better for this service. The dog’s size and exercise level should be considered when looking for a PSD. If the dog is an older dog, they should be well socialized. If you do a lot of traveling by air, size should be considered carefully as it can get expensive the larger dog you choose. As with any dog, this is a long term situation. The person receiving the PSD should be aware that this is for the dog’s lifetime which could be fifteen to twenty years. It should also be remembered that this dog will be a companion 24/7, as they are a service dog and are with their human to help.
A psychiatric service dog can be trained by their potential owner, but it is suggested that a professional trainer be used in private lessons. Before choosing a PSD, a trainer should be consulted to help pick the best dog for the job and situation. A PSD does not have to be certified, but I would recommend it as the owner will have to be able to prove that the dog is a service dog. Three areas of training evidence that the owner should be able to show are basic obedience, disability related task or therapeutic functions, and public access skills.
Jane Miller, author of Healing Companions: Ordinary Dogs and Their Extraordinary Power to Transform Lives, has been working with PSDs for some time now and is the leading authority in the field. She’s had remarkable results in this emerging field. She was even approached by the Veteran’s Administration to speak on the subject of psychiatric service dogs for soldiers returning from combat with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Most of us know the emotional support and unconditional love that our dogs give us, but a psychiatric service dog allows people to gain or regain assertiveness, self confidence and self esteem, as well as nurturing their emotional well being and inspiring confidence.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, firm, corporation or brand names, in this blog is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. All opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company.