A local news outlet, Hometown Sevier, approached me about writing a story for them about PTSD service dogs after seeing my fundraiser. I don’t know when they’ll post it on their website, but I’m going to post it here for now.
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While I grew up in Georgia, my home is Sevierville. Some of my best friends still live in Georgia, but then so do the people that treated me in ways that led to my post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and agoraphobia. I was abused sexually, stalked, and harassed.
One of my best friends, Brandi Paul, is the owner of DreamRun Dog Training in Clayton, Georgia. DreamRun offers many different training services, including group obedience classes, private lessons, trick training, and service dog training. DreamRun has experience with training diabetic alert dogs, hearing alert dogs, psychiatric service dogs, and mobility assistance dogs.
It is a common misconception that all disabilities are visible, and that only war veterans suffer from PTSD. I would also like to clarify the definition of a service dog. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Psychiatric service dogs are not therapy dogs or emotional support animals. Service dogs are granted public access rights. The ADA states that places must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where the public is normally allowed to go. By law, service dogs are not required to be registered. Therapy dogs are used to bring comfort in places such as hospitals, schools, and retirement/nursing homes. The only special rights emotional support animals have are in housing where policies against pets will be waived, as dictated by the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
A psychiatric service dog is trained to assist those with disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Some common tasks that psychiatric service dogs are taught include deep pressure therapy (DPT) that calms their handler down during an anxiety or panic attack, interrupting self-harm and grounding during a dissociative episode or flashback, reminding their handler to take their medication, and using blocking techniques with the dog’s body to create an area of personal space when the handler feels closed in.
I received my Service Dog in Training, Honey, on January 26th. Honey is a one and a half year old golden retriever, and has already been trained in basic service dog tasks by Brandi. Honey has only been in my life for a month, but she’s already made a world of difference. None of this would have been possible without Brandi and divine intervention.
Before asking for Brandi’s help, I’d done research on where to get psychiatric service dogs in East Tennessee. There were two organizations – Smoky Mountain Service Dogs in Loudon and Wilderwood Service Dogs in Maryville. Smoky Mountain is exclusively for veterans, while Wilderwood charges $13,000 for a service dog plus graduation fees.
The financial situation of my father and I is not ideal, seeing as when we moved to Tennessee we were in a car accident that totaled our vehicle and injured us both. My father missed months of work before finally finding a full-time job at Smoky Mountain Knife Works. He supports the both of us on his minimum-wage income, and we receive help in the form of groceries from Sevier County Food Ministries. I am fundraising for the $500 cost of Honey, and other related expenses (training, supplies, etc). I am owner-training the specialized tasks I need for my disabilities with Brandi’s guidance. I’ve created a Facebook page and a WordPress blog to follow our journey, as well as a fundraiser on GoFundMe.