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What to Remember If You See the Story of the Dog Who Saved the Suicidal Woman

Recently, first responders in the U.K. shared a story on Twitter about how their “defusing” dog, Digby, helped save the life of a woman who was suicidal. According to the thread, multiple agencies were responding to a woman who was thinking of taking her own life. A fire agency member thought to bring out Digby to the scene because of his experience working with individuals with trauma as a therapy dog. The presence of Digby, and the conversation they were able to spark about his role with the fire department, ultimately helped the woman calm down, and the crisis situation was diffused.

As somebody who has experienced multiple suicide attempts, I can say that my emotional support animal has saved my life. Maddie, the corgi-beagle mix I rescued on recommendation by my doctor who was treating me at the time, helped me stay on this side of life and stick around for her. At my lowest, when I was ready to take my own life, her comfort, her need and her presence was what I needed to reach out to my support system and call for emergency services to get me to a safer place.

I now have two dogs, Maddie and Griffey, my service dog. (He helps for both my invisible illness dysautonomia and my anxiety and depression.) I can say with all my heart that if it weren’t for my two pups, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Not only do they give me purpose to crawl out of bed on my worst mornings, they bring a smile to my face and remind me to live life in the moment, that no hardship cannot be worked through. Dogs (and other pets as well) are truly mankind’s greatest companions and something we do not deserve. I applaud Digby and his work in this precarious situation.

There is something important to remember, though: Although stories like this can raise awareness about the amazing work therapeutic dogs can do, when they’re told like this, without the voice of the person who was actually helped, it can turn the suicidal person into a prop for a “feel good” story. It can be easy to forget that there are real humans behind the struggle with suicidal thoughts and suicide itself, and that can’t be lost in the message.

This story teaches us to approach suicide prevention with a compassionate mind and heart. Each individual that struggles with suicidal thoughts has their own story and cannot be compartmentalized into just another person struggling with mental illness. When it comes to first responders and handling a suicidal crisis, there is no one size fits all approach. The example of Digby shows us that sometimes, an alternative approach needs to be taken. Digby and his handlers show us how thinking outside the box can help save the life of somebody who is struggling, demonstrating how compassion and kindness can be a tool in the tool box of suicide prevention.

Let’s keep in mind, while not all heroes wear capes, there is an individual with real struggles and feelings behind this story. Let’s not forget that in the midst of trying to bring light to the work that Digby did, the person he helped is still human and deserves the privacy and respect to her situation. Rather than try to inquire about how the woman is doing and tracking every step of her recovery, let’s give her the space she needs. Suicide prevention does not end here. This is just the beginning of the fight.

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