Friday, September 11, 2015

Gracie, the PTSD (civilian) Service Dog

I work with amazing people. Many of them have made the decision to train their own service dogs. Though not for everyone, those who are suited for this long-term commitment often succeed beyond their wildest imaginings. Their hard work and determination need to be acknowledged. Their stories need to be told - by them. Here is one of those stories. Prepare to be inspired. - Dee 



In her own words: Faith's story

Let me start of with some of my history. I am 33 years old and I have numerous health issues. You're probably thinking "No way someone so young can have that many problems," but you would be wrong.

Eight years ago I suffered a back injury and it all went downhill from there. After two surgeries I have ended up with permanent nerve damage and a rather rare disorder called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia (POTS). This basically means I can't maintain my blood pressure. When I sit, stand or bend over, my blood pressure drops and my heart rate goes through the roof. To top it all off I have had OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), severe anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, and PTSD for what seems like forever.

I was told by not one, not two, but four doctors that I needed to get a service dog. After discussing it with my husband, we agreed that I definitely needed one. The only time I left the house was to my doctors' appointments and to get my hair cut when my hairdresser had no one else in her shop.  Just going outside to put my son on the bus for school would cause me to panic. I had to talk myself into going outside, which often took me more than an hour to do.

So my search for a service dog began and boy, was it a search. There are plenty for military/veteran PTSD service dog resources. Not so for civilian PTSD, even though there are an estimated 7 million people diagnosed with it. When I finally found service dogs that might be available to me, prices went as high as $20,000. 

Needless to say, with me on disability, that was way out of our budget and insurance doesn't pay.  So then I started looking for ways to train my own service dog. That is how I found the Wonderful Dee Bogetti who is actually close to where I live. I talked to her and bought her book A guide to choosing and training your own service dog. And off we went looking for the right breed and dog.  

I'm an expert in research now! We decided to go with a puppy so we could bond early on. After more research I chose a Mastiweiler. That's an English Mastiff and a Rottweiler mix. We found a reputable breeder and off we went to test the puppies. I knew that we might not find a puppy but I had my hopes up. I had my eyes set on one puppy but after we got there it was easy to see she wouldn't work.  I then started looking, really watching the other puppies and my eyes settled on a gorgeous little fawn with a black mask. I picked her up and she passed every test with flying colors. That is how Gracie became mine.

I would like to say it was all rainbows and roses, but I would be lying. Oh she was working her way deep into my heart, but we did have some issues. We couldn't seem to get her house trained (not a good thing). I talked to Dee and she recommended us getting her tested to see if she had a UTI.  We went to the vet carrying a urine specimen. It only took a few minutes to find out that indeed she had a UTI. After some antibiotics she was good to go. She also had some food aggression which is completely gone thanks to Dee. She even got where she didn't like to be touched on her lower back, which Dee also helped to resolve.  

We officially started training with Dee when Gracie was 12 weeks old. She is now almost 10 months old. That was one of the best decisions we have ever made. Dee will come to your house or meet you out in a public setting, introducing your dog to new experiences. She will help you along the way with any issues you may have even if they're little. We have a ways to go, but we have come a long way. 

Gracie is in adolescence which means Stubborn City. Yet she still follows commands from my two-year-old. And she still does her job. When my heart rate gets out of rhythm, she takes her front paws and starts hitting my chest. Sometimes I don't even realize she's doing it. When I have nightmares, she lays on top of me or sits on me to wake me up, then lets me snuggle with her until I calm down. With flashbacks, she nudges me until I react to her.

Gracie is my dog, but she is a family dog too. She likes to know where everyone is.  She is Fantastic with my children. I couldn't ask for a better dog. We have an undeniable bond. I like to say she is my other half, much to my husband's chagrin. Even though she isn't fully trained, I already feel braver and more confident. I take Gracie with me everywhere. She keeps people away and guards my back naturally. I believe that she was born to be a service dog and better yet my service dog. She hasn't cured me but she is allowing me to actually have a life, something that so many people take for granted.  I don't know what I would do if I didn't have Gracie or Dee. They have become my life savers.  For that I am eternally grateful, and I love them both.

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