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How Having a Service Dog Both Worsens and Heals My Anxiety

There are certainly many wonderful things that come along with having a service dog. You have the assistance of a companion to help you with tasks throughout the day. You have a friend who will put their life in the line of fire to make sure you are safe. Along with these wonderful gifts of having a service dog, there are also some hardships of having one in your everyday life. Don’t get me wrong, in my personal experience, my service dog saves my life on a daily basis. She prevents me from having seizures and and saves me from my own body’s advances. She also comes along with her own share of challenges. There is a saying in the service dog communities that states, “Service dogs aren’t robots.” This is very much true. Like people, service dogs have bad days and sick days.

My service dog is a Belgian Malinois mix, Lil’ Bit. She is a rescue from a shelter in South Carolina, and is 2 and a half years old. Lil’ Bit is a diabetic-alert dog and is also trained in PTSD Alert and Response. She alerts before my blood sugar gets dangerously low and prevents seizures from low blood sugar. She was owner-trained by me and was quick to pick up on training. She truly defines the saying “Who Rescued Who?” She has rescued me in more ways than one.

woman with her service dog

Now when I say having a service dog causes anxiety, this anxiety is not at all at the fault of the dog itself. Most of the time it is just because it’s an off-day for them. In other cases, it is just the ignorance of other people. Being someone with severe anxiety and depression, when people go off on me it really triggers the part of my anxiety that not a lot of people see. I have severe social anxiety, and so dealing with the general public is a challenge.

I have had a many people come up to me and just start petting Lil’ Bit without asking. It took the longest time for me to build up the courage to say something to the people guilty of this. I use to have too much fear that people would lash out if I told them not to pet or distract her. I felt so accomplished when I finally had the courage to stand up to these people and stand up not only for myself but also for my dog.

I then had to learn to deal with people bringing fake service dogs into non-pet friendly places. I always held my tongue when running into a situation like this. I finally said something the day Lil’ Bit was attacked by another dog in a food establishment.

I now had only one more challenge to face in public: access. This is a situation I still to this day have trouble with. I always tense up when going anywhere with my service dog for fear of discrimination. I have gotten better dealing with these kinds of situations, but at first I would cancel daily plans when running into an access problem. I have multiple people who are uneducated on the laws or have taught their employees incorrectly about the federal law regarding service animals. I constantly would pull out my phone and show them the Americans With Disability Act (ADA). I have gotten to the point now where I just stand up for myself and basically tell them it’s my legal right to have her, and I try to educated the uneducated.

Though all of these situations can be extremely triggering and can cause major anxiety, each of these experiences has made me stronger and helps me be better equipped to handle these situations in the future. My social anxiety has gotten so much better since getting my service dog. I have better communication when in public now, and my social anxiety is almost non-existent. I am better with the public in general, and I try hard to educate as opposed to getting defensive or brushing people off.

This is why a number of people with anxiety and depression do not get service dogs. They have a fear of the attention that will be drawn to them and fear the social aspect of it. Let me tell you from experience, yes it can be hard at first to deal with how the public reacts and treats you when being accompanied by a service dog, but just know they have no right to tell you you can’t have your service dog with you. Also, don’t let people distract your service dog. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself, and stand up for your medical rights as a disabled person.

Photo via contributor.