How a Psychiatric Service Dog Helped Me Become My Best Self

I have been so blessed since a psychiatric service dog has come into my life. My PTSD dominated my life for a decade and robbed me of joy prior to the recommendation of a psychiatric service dog. I was house bound for 2 years because of the terror my mind experienced daily.

My body and brain were so closed off, therapy wasn’t reaching me. I was struggling with getting the right medications that wouldn’t give me terrible migraines, hallucinations, or other terrible physical symptoms. –Yes, I am very medication sensitive. –

And while I met with various doctors, therapists, and pastors; I was not getting relief. And unlike physical illness, I couldn’t just get a test to reveal the culprit.

Enter my psychiatric service dog. The changes in me have been profound since a loving ball of fluff came to my aid. This list is composed of the ways my life has changed for the better since introducing a psychiatric service dog into my life.

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disclosure

While I have hacked mental health for over 20 years, that experience does not make me a mental health professional. I am just a girl living with mental illness. This content is educational and informative and is not to replace the advice of your mental health team or doctor. Try these tips at your own risk.

For more information, please see my disclosure.

For you to have a legal service dog, you need to have documentation from YOUR mental health doctor or therapist stating how a service dog will improve your life (not a fake online registry or an online doctor that is trying to scam you out of your money). Please consult YOUR personal doctor to add a service dog to your treatment plan.

For more information on psychiatric service dogs, contact a disability lawyer or visit the Official ADA Website.


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Benefits of life with a psychiatric service dog
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Life With a Psychiatric Service Dog

My life with a psychiatric service dog was a big change. But the alternative was to remain scared, isolated, and lonely. It was not a good life.

It sounds fun being a hermit, but it is a depressing life watching the world go by without you in it. It felt like being dead for me, but I was still here.

Living with a psychiatric service dog has helped me reach my mental health goals, calm my ptsd, and heal from trauma. And while my trauma will never leave my memories, my response to them is MUCH better.

It’s given me my life back!!

But this life isn’t all dog kisses and wagging tails. So if you haven’t read 10 Cons of Life With a Psychiatric Service Dog, do so. I talk about all the challenges that I have encountered in this lifestyle. –Some of it is pretty intense!-

How A Psychiatric Service Dog Helped Me Become My Best Self

I have helped save rescue pups.

When a psychiatric service dog was recommended for me, I started research into getting one from a service. What I saw there was a bunch of poodles, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and Labradors that were bred in their program for the specific training they would do. Large purebreds work for their program, but I wanted something different.

I live a nomadic military life and pack up and move every 3-4 years. Having a more portable dog was important to me. Their dogs just did not fit my lifestyle. Most programs do not have smaller dogs in their program. I required a dog big enough to body block for me, but small enough to fit into bed with me while not pushing me and my husband into the floor.

I had been training dogs for 3 years prior, and had a little GSD mix named Zeak that was suited to the work. He was a perfect size and temperament for me, topping out at a nice medium dog at 60lbs. He was just tall enough to brush up against my fingertips, and just heavy enough to help me benefit from deep pressure therapy. Bonus, he was a rescue dog.

-If you want deep pressure therapy at home, here is a wonderful weighted blanket!-

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I love dogs, so having a rescue dog as a psychiatric service dog felt like a perfect fit. Much like me, they had something happen to them and were left alone. I knew we could be amazing together.

Zeak was the perfect service dog for me. This guy was a street pup, and came to me full of anxiety and problems. But we learned about how anxiety works together, learned the ins and outs of psychiatric service dog training, and became that amazing team I had dreamed of.

He became an advocate for the potential of a rescue dog, helped other rescue dogs with their training, and was essential in their journey to become loving, adoptable dogs. By the end of his career, he had helped over 200 dogs find their homes.

He gave me a dog training career for a decade and helped me grow confidence in myself as an advocate for rescue dogs. He gave me purpose when the fear had taken mine away. To save as many pups as we could together. I have to say we did outstanding!!

And while my dog training career is over now –I tore my rotator cuff.- I still help rescue dogs.

And when Zeak passed in April 2021, I honored him again by saving the life of another dog: Koda.

And just like his predecessor, Koda is also becoming an ambassador for rescue dogs. He is showing the world that not only are rescue dogs trainable and loving, but they can do big jobs.

Our teamwork inspires others to adopt pups, and I couldn’t be happier.

Service Dog with rescue puppies
Zeak LOVED helping a mama rescue dog take care of her babies. Aren’t they cute!!

My anxiety and panic attacks have decreased because of early detection & prevention.

Ptsd makes it difficult to really do the work. My flight or fight response is severely exaggerated and makes those memories especially painful.

In past years, when I would work on my therapy exercises and my PTSD workbook, I would frequently end up re-traumatizing myself.

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I would end up in a terrible head space surrounded by paranoia, nightmares, headaches, and a fear so intense I felt death was around every corner.

It would take me weeks or months to feel comfortable enough to work on myself again. It was 1 step forward and 4 steps back for me.

Now my psychiatric service dog has helped me work on my trauma in small steps by alerting me to the physical cues and body language I exhibit when I am anxious.

He reminds me to take care of myself and him, so we both can thrive.

Psychiatric Service Dog Zeak helping handler work
Zeak helped me feel safe enough to photograph a friend’s wedding!

I regained my independence and self reliance.

At 18, I was attacked in my home while I slept. I nearly lost my life. And while I survived this incident with minimal injury, this incident left me terrified and ashamed.

I hid my pain for years. From my family, and even my future husband to be. I recently told my mother about this incident. The overwhelming guilt and shame were too much for me at the time. I couldn’t bear her pain and my own together.

And when my life turned upside down with an international move at 20, I was left without a support system. I was without friends and family, alone at home in a strange country while my husband worked 15-17 hour days, and I didn’t have the courage to tell anyone what had happened to me. And on top of it, I was pregnant for the first time. Another scary experience to go through alone without the moms in your life.

When I sought help, and got an official PTSD diagnosis. I was relieved, but also still terrified. Those few years overseas, left me very isolated. I lived my life as a hermit during that time.

We moved back to the USA and my new therapist recommended a service dog after reviewing my file and hearing my story.

Now believe it or not, there was once a time where my husband told me he would be my service dog. He wasn’t completely sold that a dog could do something he couldn’t. Especially when my other dogs hadn’t cured me.

He didn’t realize what a full time job it would be for him. Every panic attack, every terrible thought, every nightmare, every trip to the store; he had to be available for me. He would have to leave work, come home early from business trips, trade shifts with co-workers, etc.

Can you imagine actually having to drop everything every single time someone summoned you? Day or night, forever? It may sound like love and dedication, but it’s very hard on the caretaker’s mental and physical health.

My husband resented me. He was so agitated that I didn’t learn to conquer my fears. We ended up in therapy to resolve his feelings and mine about my mental illness.

For the record, my husband is an AMAZING supportive guy. He just suffered from burnout like all caretakers do. He is my husband, not my caretaker, and he deserved to have a wife that could take care of herself. And while I still rely on him for those big panic moments when I need verbal LOGICAL feedback, I no longer need him to soothe my every thought. He is free to do his job as an Air Force soldier to the fullest, and he now doesn’t have to worry about me anymore. I have my psychiatric service dog.

Having a service dog saved my marriage. And my sanity.

My service dog has never asked me to give more than I can. He isn’t in a rush; he doesn’t care if the movie is boring. My SD is just there for me. He is that extra support I need to get through my day without ending it in a puddle of tears and anxiety.

He has never turned down a trip with me. Koda’s only two interests are: “Can I eat that too?” and ”When are we going?”

And while my husband is still my favorite person, my service dog gives me the independence to be confident and self sufficient again. I get to be a wife to my husband again, and not a burden.

Psychiatric Service Dog in car with handler
Koda helps me have the confidence I need to take on the world.

Life with my Psychiatric Service Dog keeps me active: physically & socially.

I was stuck in the rut of anxiety and depression for a long time. But life with a psychiatric service dog has helped me break the cycle of isolation.

A service dog is still a dog and they have needs.

During Koda’s first year, we explored the human world together. We visited parks, pet stores, fairs, my therapist and more so he could be social.

And when he is with me, I am more social.

Even in passing, people smile more at me and Koda. People instantly light up when they see a service dog.

People ask me questions about my pup, and I am happy to chat. Most of the time we end up talking about a great dog they had in their life and how good dogs are for mental health. Sometimes people are in awe that Koda is actually a husky mix and isn’t acting like a howling banshee.

And because I need an active dog, I am also more physically active. My very smart dog LOVES to be active. He is a husky mix, after all!

We play inside; we go on hikes and walks. We find places to explore, swim, sightsee, and have fun. He is involved in all my hobbies!

I want to give my psychiatric service dog a wonderful and exciting life on top of his work with me. So I find some amazing dog experiences for him.

I took my former service dog to Busch Gardens with me!! He LOVED it! He had a great time walking in new areas and loved the smells I allowed him to investigate. Not going to lie, I think his favorite part was watching the performing pets!

My psychiatric service dog and I are experiencing life in the way it is meant to be: with people making amazing memories.

Psychiatric Service Dog on a hike
Zeak loved our hikes!

I have been able to decrease my medications.

There was a time in my life I was on 14 different medications to control all my severe symptoms my poor mental health was causing. Honestly, I felt this was too much, but I did not have the courage to contradict my doctor.

Just for comparison, I was taking as much meds as transplant and cancer patients. That’s a TON of medication. It’s a very complex routine that requires a TON of dedication to maintain.

And with that many mental health meds, suffering an overdose was a CONSTANT worry. Adding another stress to my life. Would I actually wake up in the morning? Or would one slip in the medication routine kill me that night?

I was still anxious, still depressed, and still a hot mess. My mind was no longer capable of positive thinking. And now I was physically sick from all the chemicals in my body.

Having my psychiatric service dog helped me reduce my medications. He helps me boost my body’s own chemicals and combat anxiety naturally.

The depression vanished because I was no longer alone and isolated.

The panic attacks got so much better, I didn’t need emergency meds anymore. He helped me with deep pressure therapy and reoriented me to him.

I could reduce my sleeping meds to occasional use. My pup helps me feel secure while I sleep as well and will wake me from nightmares. And if sleep paralysis takes me, he’s there to orient me and keep me calm.

One by one, each medication was taken away, until my current specialist settled on the diagnosis of ADHD and PTSD. I have one medication for the ADHD, one for the PTSD, and one for the sleeping issues from my PTSD.

And while I give a lot of credit to my mental health team, I could not have done it without my psychiatric service dog. And while my mental health still fluctuates, my service dog has reduced the amount of medication in my life DRASTICALLY!

I will always have to take something for my mental illness, but my dosages are much lower than before. I no longer worry about dying from my medications. And I am physically healthy again.

Cute sleeping psychiatric service dog in bed with owner
Sharing my life with a psychiatric Service Dog keeps my depression at bay.

I get to have fun styling my psychiatric service dog.

Boots, and vests, and collars, OH MY! There is an entire niche dedicated to creating your own personalized service dog look.

Groomers offer doggie dye jobs after service dog handlers started requesting them to deter theft. –If you didn’t know service dogs are often targets of theft. So handlers started fighting back by dying their pooch. It’s a safe way to make your dog remarkable and deter thieves. No one wants to steal an easy to identify service dog.-

Life with a mental illness is hard enough, and can rob you of a lot of joy. But your service dog is trained to wear gear! And while the ADA does not require a service dog to wear gear, it can be a lot of fun!

Etsy is my absolutely favorite place to buy service dog gear. From themed patches, custom vests, leashes and collars; there is something for everyone. You can tell as much or as little about yourself as you want.

And give your service dog some style! So when people stare (and they will… no one expects a dog to be out in public, ever.) you will give them something to look at! I have our Instagram handle @withloveandfluffs on Koda’s vest so people can follow his journey.

And you can help other small business owners with disabilities, too. The wonderful woman making gear for me has her own service dog, so she understands the challenges of life with a service dog.

During October, my former service dog Zeak used to wear cute little hats around town. As well as a comfortable costume on Halloween. The rest of the year, he wore a little doggie tie. And during the winter, he had his own coat, boots, and wet weather gear.

Koda will be getting a custom gear set created just for him in the Fall of 2022. We are doing a Toothless theme.

Psychiatric Service Dog wearing a fun hat
We found this hat at Target!

I have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

There was a time in my life when I was suicidal. My Ptsd was the worst it had ever been. My mental illness surrounded me in pain and suffering.

When I got my service dog, I worried about him. Who would take care of him if I was gone? Would anyone love and appreciate him like I did? Who would give him his favorite lunch snacks? Who would know to let him out to potty when he asked?

No one is going to love and appreciate him like I will. No one will put in the work like I will so I can care for him and get better so he can have adventures. He gave me purpose and the strength I needed to do the work.

And now Koda literally pulls me out of bed each morning by thumping his tail against my leg and licking me wildly. Mischa helps him by head butting me. And Chloe joins in on the fun and snuggles into my chest and wiggles happily.

My dogs are always so grateful I am alive. Instead of waking up to a lonely empty room, I am waking up to pure love. It is enough to keep me going even in my darkest times. I know that no matter how bad things are I am going to wake up to love and happiness.

Waking up with Psychiatric Service Dogs in Bed
I wake up with TWO pups each morning.

I became an advocate for psychiatric service dogs, mental health, and have helped others start their journey.

My life with a psychiatric service has been so amazing, I started helping others on their journey.

I have meet with therapy patients, by request, to help them learn the options of getting a psychiatric service dog.

I have helped our nation’s heroes who suffer from PTSD get matched with an appropriate program that will get them a free service dog. –Free service dogs are only for war combat veterans.-

I have helped others pick out the perfect service dog from rescues and help them retain services of a professional trainer or training course to help them custom train their dogs.

I educate the public on our outings. When strangers ask me questions, I give them answers. I hand out cards that will show them ADA guidelines, and will write down links for them to get the answers they seek.

And now, I help others here on With Love, Me. I talk about my journey so you can do better than me. So you can start your journey informed and ready to meet the challenges head on. And you can get back to living a life you love with the people you love.

My service dog has inspired me to help those that are struggling, just like I was.

Conclusion

Looking back on my life and my mental health, I can see the struggle and the pain. I needed help in my life. And I wouldn’t change anything because that put me on the path that I am on now.

I know that sometimes life sends you a guardian angel to love you during hard times. And sometimes that angel has 4 paws and a wet nose.

There is no greater love than the love of a dog.


Join me on the journey to better mental health by subscribing. You’ll also get a sneak peak into Koda’s psychiatric service dog training.

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Krystian Howe

Hi Lovelies! My name is Krystian and I’ll be your guide on this self care journey. Our destination: positive mental health so you can start living a life you love. We will discover tips & tricks of mental health together, and I’ll give you an exclusive peek into life with a service dog. Get ready to improve your mental health, one step at a time.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for all the info you provided. I’m so glad your dog is so helpful to you. It’s great to hear of how far a service dog has brought you.

  2. I have always loved dogs as pets, but I believe dogs are more than just pets, they are the best friiends who gives and keep giving without asking for anything back.
    It`s sad that my appartment block does not allow pets, it`s the first time I don`t remember not having a pet dog but im sure if I change house, a dog will be my first must have.

  3. What a beautiful post ❤ I think it’s so incredible how your service animals have helped you so much and how you have helped them! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, they are so valuable!

  4. Wow, thank you for sharing your personal experience with us. I admire that not only you have been able to improve with your service dog, but also that you help others, in particular those who sacrifice their life for us. Thanks again!

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