Living with an Invisible Illness and a Very Visible Dog. (approx. 6½ - 7½ min. read)

I thought that having a service dog would give me my freedom back, but that’s not the case. Now instead of me thinking people are whispering about me and my PTSD, now I think they’re whispering about me and how they think I’m being selfish and controlling about Laddie and I’m thinking about giving him back.

I’ve been trying really hard to bond with him, but let’s face it, I’m not the easiest person to bond with. A lot of my triggers are from physical contact and there are times when I don’t want to have physical contact with anyone. Yet, here I am being forced into bonding with this beautiful dog when he clearly doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. Part of the bonding ritual is getting down on the floor and cuddling with him for an hour in the evening, but every time I reach out to touch him, he shrinks away. In fact, the only time he lets me touch him is when I have treats in my hand!

I get it, he’s been with other handlers and he’s not sure if I’m his forever home, or if I’m just another teacher. The first home he stayed in was with a foster family and he was with them for two years. While he was there, he learned all the basic commands, then he went back to National Service Dogs (NSD); the premiere service dog provider in Canada, to learn the skills he needed in order to help me with the symptoms I get from PTSD. By the time I get him, he’s lived in at least three different homes and now he needs to know that he’s mine; that he’s supposed to bond with me, and only me.

Bonding is extremely important when it comes to a handler and their service dog because the handler is putting their life in the hands of their service dog whenever they go out in public. They are counting on their service dog to block them from people or situations they feel threatened by. They are counting on their service dog to be watching their every move, so that if their handler is about to have a seizure, or in my case a full-blown panic attack, their service dogs are aware of what is going on so that they can go into full-fledged working mode.

There can’t be any question as to who the service dog bonds to, it has to be the handler! There also can’t be any question as to who the service dog is listening to when he/she is out working because if the team is out working and you are distracting them, they can’t do their job …and what do you think happens then? The team is out, the handler (me) is just about to have an anxiety attack and the service dog isn’t responding because you’re distracting him. He doesn’t respond to the handler (me), or what he is supposed to be doing, and I’m absolutely losing my shit and here is this lifeline not doing what he’s supposed to be doing, so then I slowly lose faith in him and his ability to work for me and I stop going out …again.

So, when I say, no touching, no talking, and no eye contact with my service dog, I’m not saying it to be a bitch. National Service Dogs (NSD) has been training dogs to be service animals for over a decade, and they have found that these rules work best at helping the team form a bond and work together. When you distract a service dog, it is unable to do its job and when a service dog can’t do its job, their handler is unable to do their job or get out into the world; their invisible illness makes it almost impossible.

Like I mentioned, National Service Dogs has been training service dogs for quite awhile and they are accredited by, Assistance Dogs International, Inc.

“ADI sets standards for the worldwide assistance dog movement, with the purpose of improving the training, placement, and utilization of Assistance Dogs, as well as staff and volunteer education and management. Members of ADI meet regularly to share ideas, attend seminars, and conduct business regarding such things as educating the public about Assistance Dogs and the legal rights of individuals with disabilities partnered with them, setting standards and establishing guidelines and ethics for the training of these dogs, and improving the utilization and bonding of each team.”

As members of ADI, NSD dogs, must pass a strict, and I mean strict, Public Access Test to become certified, so the rules have to be strict, but please know that the dogs are loved, respected and well taken care of.

Trust that National Service Dogs (NSD) know what they’re doing and stop asking me stupid questions like does he get any downtime to be a dog?! Do you really think that he stays in his jacket, by my side, 24/7?! Prior to having a service dog, I’ve almost always had a dog and the main reason is I love to walk, and dogs make excellent walking companions, plus he gets off leash time outside every day, except of course, when it’s too cold. We have an hour of cuddle/play time on the floor each night and even though he is free to go anywhere in the house, he is almost always at my feet. Which brings me to the next really dumb question, do I love him? Did I mention that I love dogs, because that’s my first answer? Secondly, Laddie; my incredible service dog has gotten me out of the house more in the last month than I have been out of the house in the last decade. He follows me everywhere I go, he’s the first thing I see in the morning; standing there wagging his tail and licking my face and when I sit down during the day; no matter where it is, he lies at my feet. So, of course, I love him!! Truthfully, I would have to say more than most humans.

No, you can’t make eye contact with him, as I’ve mentioned before, eye contact is about trust and bonding so the only person he should be making eye contact with is me. He needs to know what my next move is – not yours, so he needs to be watching me.

NO, you can’t touch or pet him! Yes, I know that he’s cute, but so is your husband, would it be okay for me to touch or pet him (I wouldn’t, but I’m sure you get the point)?! Laddie is concentrating on my every move, watching and working to help me keep my shit together and if you distract him, he won’t be able to do that!

Last, but certainly not least, NO – you can’t talk to him! He is listening to the commands I’m giving him; his handler. He is also watching my body signals to see if he needs to stand in front of me and block me because he can see how much you’ve triggered me, or if he needs to nudge me to get my attention because I’m showing all the signs of a full-blown panic attack.

I am not trying to be a bitch. I didn’t make these rules, so please stop questioning what I’ve been told by NSD; they are the professionals, so stop putting the hate on me. For the most part, I fucking hate my life and I know that from the outside everything looks pretty normal. I smile, I write, I pretend, but I’m sick of pretending. I hate that I have an illness I can’t control. I hate that… fuck, I just hate this miserable existence!

Yet, as those words appear on the page, I feel bad for my husband because he’s incredible. He’s everything anyone would want in a partner, but sometimes being so incredible is not enough. It’s not enough to get me out of my head and away from my illness because the doubt I have in my mind is endless, and it’s loud; ear-piercing, in fact, blaring at me telling me that I’m not worthy, that he deserves so much better than me because I don’t even know how to appreciate him because I don’t know how to appreciate anything…

Honestly, I’m so messed up in the head, and all this controversy over Laddie and how I’m “acting” while I’m around him, makes me just want to disappear. I really thought that Laddie would be the cure. I waited so long to get him, and I put so much onus on him solving all my problems, but right now I feel like he’s the opposite of a cure; he’s a hindrance. He’s drawing attention to me and I don’t want attention. I don’t want people looking at me, or passing judgment on what I’m doing or how I’m living my life. I’m sick of all the questions and all the attention and I’m here to tell those of you that are uneducated to do the research!

Instead of reaching out and saying what a cute little puppy, ask yourself why he’s in a grocery store or a bank? I’m pretty sure, you’ll all come up with the correct answer and that is, he’s a service dog and everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY knows that means he’s a working dog – so piss off! Do not touch him, do not talk to him, do not make eye contact with him! You are hindering my progress to make myself feel worthy and a living breathing part of the community.

Stay safe and stay strong! Thanks for following, as well as for listening to me rant about what it’s like to live with an invisible illness, with a very visible dog.