How a leash could free me

In the UK at present there is no government backed scheme that provides service dogs for those who suffer mental illness. Organisations like Guide Dogs for the Blind and Hearing Dogs provide for the population who need assistance with their day-to-day lives; the benefits of the services of these animals is well-documented. Children with autism are assisted with their relationship and interpersonal skills by dogs trained to open the world to them. But despite many studies worldwide – for example a study on the benefit of service dogs in the treatment of PTSD by Dr James Gillett and Rachel Weldrick – that have shown the great assistance in day-to-day living for people with mental health issues, there remains no government-backed or even voluntary scheme in the UK to provide therapy animals.
A quick Google shows up one organisation (PADs UK) that is looking to train assistance therapy dogs – and they’ve been so popular that their waiting list is closed. There is no legislation to allow any animal serving as a therapy or psychological assistance to have the same access rights to public places as guide dogs or physical assistance dogs. In England, Pets as Therapy have dogs (and a few cats) that visit residential care homes and hospitals to allow people to benefit from the presence of a furry companion for some time, but there is no scheme in place for the permanent placement of psychiatric assistance dogs.
In the USA schemes such as Paws and Stripes are paving the way in providing veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with a permanent companion to make their day-to-day life easier to cope with. This is despite a similar situation as here in the UK whereby there is no government legislation to support them. Dogs placed with veterans can assist them with being in public by providing a sense of a physical barrier between the person and the people around them. The tactile sensations of stroking a dog is acknowledged as an effective grounding technique which can bring the person into the present when the memories of the past are threatening to overcome them.
The benefits seen in combat PTSD sufferers can be seen in people with other mental disorders. The onset of psychosis and subsequent recovery, for example, left me feeling less-than-confident with being in public on my own. The anxiety I felt was crippling and I lost a lot of my social life during this time; something I’ve not fully recovered (like all aspects of my life now, it is run to schedule and with the support of my husband or family around me). Three years after my first manic and psychotic episode I have regained my confidence with familiar and routine excursions such as going to work, coming home and popping to our local grocery store. But in situations where I am expected to cope with more spontaneous or unusual trips, I still find the anxiety fluttering in my chest.
A service dog would not only be a help in public. Part of my mental illness is made up of a personality aspect; I have an alter called Eve. Although she is mainly submissive to my dominant, main personality, under stress she becomes more prominent and I begin to dissociate from the reality that everyone else inhabits. This is difficult enough when I am home with my husband, but more often than not this is a problem that occurs when I am at work or home alone. In these situations the benefit of a service dog would be incalculable; in the same way as a PTSD dog I would be able to ground myself and focus on playing with or stroking the dog to maintain my grasp on the present.
I would love to see the government passing legislation that would support the foundation of psychological service or therapy dog charities; as well as an acknowledgement of the animals’ service to allow them the same access to public spaces as guide dogs and physical assistance dogs. This country has come a long way in the understanding and treatment of mental illness, but there’s a long way still to go.

How a leash could free me

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