Wednesday, February 27, 2013


When I first started thinking about a service dog, one of the things I hoped my dog could do for me was to wake me up at night when I have nightmares.  You can't really train a dog to do that.  Some dogs will do it, but it's usually something they do naturally, not something they are trained to do.  In order to train a dog to do that, someone would have to stay awake all night and watch me for signs that I was having a nightmare, then cue the dog to wake me when that happened.  Someone would have to do that many times, rewarded the dog when he did wake me, in order to train him to do it.  Since I don't know anyone that wants to spend night after night after night watching me sleep, Isaac has not been trained to wake me from nightmares.

I thought he might do it on his own.  I thought maybe if I was restless in my sleep, it would wake him and then he would wake me.  He sometimes sleeps with me, but not always; sometimes he sleeps on the floor or on the loveseat nearby.  I'm sure he sometimes hears me when I have nightmares, if I am really restless or if I yell in my sleep (I used to do that a lot, but don't do it so often anymore, but still do it occasionally).  If I wake up, I can easily summon him, if I need him.  But that's not the same as his waking me from nightmares.

Well, last Sunday morning, about 6:30 am, Isaac woke me up.  I was having a nightmare at the time, but I assumed he was just waking me up because it was 6:30 and he wanted to go out to pee.  I thought it was  just a coincidence that I was having a nightmare at the time.  I was glad he woke me when he did, though.

But yesterday morning, he woke me at 6:10 am.  That's a typical time for him to get up and want to go out.  But I happened to be having a nightmare at that time, too.  Maybe it is just a coincidence.  But maybe he is going to start waking me from nightmares now.  I really wish he would.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Faking a Service Dog in Order to Fly with a Pet

Take a look at this video posted on Youtube: Airplane Dog.

Initially, the poster explained that she bought her boyfriend's dog a service dog vest (you can see the vest clearly says "Service Dog" on it) so that he could fly with her from LA to London in the cabin of the plane.  It's illegal and unethical to claim your dog is a service dog when it's not in order to do this.

When a number of people called her on it, posting in the comments that she was breaking the law and doing something wrong, she then changed her statement to say the dog was her emotional support animal.  She states that she has a disability and that she had a letter from her doctor saying the dog was an emotional support animal and that she needed the dog with her on the flight.  I have no idea if she really is disabled or not.  She probably did have a letter, although I'm guessing it said the dog was a service dog since that's what the dog's vest says, I don't know that for sure, either.

But the fact remains that the dog isn't even hers.  He belongs to her boyfriend.  She was delivering the dog to him in London.  If the dog is not hers, then the dog cannot be her emotional support dog.  She should not have had him on the plane.  She was breaking the law and behaving unethically.  And putting a vest that says "Service Dog" on him, if he was an emotional support animal, is misleading and unethical.

A number of people previously commented on her video, pointing out that what she was doing was wrong, but she has since deleted all those comments.  If you have a moment, though, you might want to go ahead and send her a message, letting her know you disapprove of her dishonest and illegal behavior.  You might also want to report the video to Youtube, suggesting they remove it since it's encouraging others to commit an illegal act by following her example.

Chronic Pain and Social Withdrawal

I've been having more back pain lately.  I don't really know why.  For a while, I was pretty close to pain free.  At least, the pain had lessened so much, I barely even thought about it, except to be amazed occasionally at how easy it was to turn over in bed at night or get out of my car or get up from the couch.

The pain is still less than it used to be.  There have been times in the past when it was so bad, I literally could not get up.  Once I drove home and could not get out of my car.  Just could not.  The pain was so excruciating when I tried that I could not force myself to do it.  I ended up having to call Mike, who was at work, to come home and help me.  I had to sit there and wait for him to get home, then he went into the house and got me some Vicodin, then waiting in the car with me until it kicked in so I could stand up.

That hasn't happened in a long time.  Several months.  I think having Isaac has helped immensely, as I do much less bending and lifting now.  I've also been taking tumeric, which is an  herb that has anti-inflammatory properties.  I suspect that has helped, too.  I've been doing some energy work, and I think that has helped.

But for the past week or two, it's been bothering me more.  It occasionally wakes me up at night.  It's not really keeping me from doing things I need to do, at least not yet.  But it wears on me.

I think I have a high pain tolerance, at least most of the time.  When I had surgery to remove my gall bladder, an outpatient procedure, I took exactly one dose of pain medication after I got home from the hospital.  Didn't need anymore.  I had a natural childbirth when I was 17.  Didn't feel the need for any kind of pain medication during my 17 hour labor.

But I do sometimes feel the need for pain medication for my back.

Unfortunately, I've been out of pain medication for about a month now.  And with my new, emergency room-induced fear of doctors, I can't go see my back specialist to get more.

A friend was kind enough to call the back specialist yesterday for me, to ask for refills on my Vicodin and Flexeril.  He agreed to refill the Flexeril but not the Vicodin.  Flexeril is a muscle relaxer and I use it when I have muscles spasms in my back, which I have occasionally but not very often these days.  If I had to choose one, I'd much rather have the Vicodin.  And it's not like I was taking it often.  I got 45 tablets in October and am just now requesting a refill.  That means I took about 11 pills per month.  I'm not drug seeking.

But he says I have to make an appointment and go see him before he will refill the Vicodin.  And I can't do that.  I just can't.

Living with chronic pain is different than living with temporary pain.  If you have surgery or injure yourself or something, you know it's going to hurt, but only for a while.  When it's a chronic condition, when you know it's probably going to hurt forever, that's much harder to cope with.  The coping skills that help with temporary pain don't work so well with chronic pain.  It's depressing, but it also engenders great fear in me sometimes.  I wonder how I'm going to live with this for the rest of my life.

And I tend to withdraw, socially speaking.  Dealing with the pain takes a lot of energy.  I don't have much energy left for socializing, for hanging out with friends, even for talking with friends online or on the phone.  I'm preoccupied with my pain, but I don't want to bore or annoy people by talking about it all the time.

And the last week or so, I've been sleeping a bit more than usual because, when the pain was gotten really bad, I've been taking a sedative.  I'm out of pain meds, but I have plenty of sedatives and sleeping pills.  Yes, I know those aren't supposed to be used for pain.  But if I really need some relief from the pain, then I take one of those and I sleep for a couple hours.  Of course, sleeping half the day messes up one's social life, as well.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Do You Need Help Getting Disability Benefits?

I've been on disability (Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI) for a little more than nine years now.  Getting disability was... well, it was an incredibly stressful experience.  I had to fill out a gazillion forms, providing information I didn't know or remember, including a list of every single job I'd had in the last 15 years and how much I earned there and how many hours per week I worked, etc.  Once I got a form in the mail, a seven page form, with a letter that said they had to receive the completed form by a certain date, which was only a couple days from when I got the form.  In order to make sure they received it on time, I stayed up all night long completing the form.  They were not short answer questions, they were essay questions, like what do you do all day, how does your disability affect how you get along with other people, and what kinds of help do you need doing activities of daily living.  Just looking back at that time is stressful for me!

But I learned a lot about Social Security disability, and how to get approved.  I did a lot of research and I talked with an attorney that specialized in disability cases and got some excellent advice.  Fortunately, my disability claim was approved in just five months, which is super fast.  I did not get turned down, did not have to appeal, which frequently happens.

So a few years later, I decided to write a guide for people applying for disability benefits.  It's an 18-page booklet that covers the entire process, including who qualifies, how to apply, when to apply, what information Social Security will need from you and how to gather than information, information about things Social Security might not ask for but that you can submit anyway to increase your chances of approval, how your doctor can help you get your claim approved, and tips to get your claim approved as quickly as possible.  The guide also talks about when you can get Medicare, what happens if you want to try going back to work, what to do if your claim is denied, and when to get a lawyer.

In addition, I included a section on what to live on while you wait for your disability benefits to begin.  That was information I was unable to find anywhere when I was applying for SSDI, and since it often takes several months or longer to get approved, it's an important issue.  The attorney I spoke with told me that  many of his clients ended up homeless while waiting for their benefits, living with friends or family members, or in shelters, or in their cars, or on the street.  I was terrified of becoming homeless and having to live in my car.  So I wanted to include information about sources of assistance that might be available to people waiting for disability benefits, and that may be the part of this guide that I'm most proud of.

Since Social Security typically makes small changes to SSDI and SSI (both of which are covered in this booklet) every year, I update the booklet every year.  I haven't updated it this year yet, but all of the information in it is currently accurate except possibly information about how much money you can earn and still qualify for benefits and how much you can receive in SSI.  The information about how to get disability and what to live on until then is all still good.

I typically sell this booklet on ebay but it finally occurred to me to offer it for sale here, as well.  It's only $2.99 for the booklet, plus $1.99 for shipping and handling, so a total of $4.98.

Email me at poet_kelly at yahoo dot com if you have questions or would like to order a copy.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Friday, February 22, 2013

Depression is an Illness

Yeah.  That's why it's called a mental illness.  Because it's an illness.  But for some reason, in our society, we tend to treat some illnesses differently.  Mental illnesses aren't thought of as "real" illnesses.

Let's compare depression to cancer.  Both are very serious illnesses.  Both are life-threatening.  Both can last a very long time, and even if you go into remission, the prospect of relapse is always hanging over your head.

But if you have depression, people will tell you that you should get over it.  They'll tell you that you just need to have a positive attitude.  They'll tell you that you just need to try harder to get better.  They will tell you that everyone gets depressed sometimes, which isn't true; yes, everyone feels sad sometimes, but feeling sad is not the same as suffering from clinical depression.

If you have cancer, people will not tell you to just get over it.  They  might tell you to have a positive attitude, but they probably won't think that a positive attitude will cure your cancer.  They won't accuse you of not trying hard enough if you don't get better fast enough.  They certainly won't tell you that everyone gets cancer.

If you have depression, people will think you could get over it if you really wanted to.  People won't think you have cancer because you don't want to get well.

If you have depression, people will think it means you're weak, or stupid, or crazy.  No one thinks that if you have cancer.

If you have depression and die from it (depression can be fatal; people with depression commit suicide), people will think you're selfish.  If you have cancer and die from it, people would never dream of calling you selfish for dying.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Honoring the Fear

I'm not sure I'm going to make much sense here.  Sometimes I think on paper, or rather, on my laptop.  It's the equivalent of thinking out loud.  It's difficult to put some thoughts into words, especially in such a way that other people can follow them.  You know, people that don't live in my head.

A thought occurred to me today, as I was driving down I-71.  I find long drives to be the ideal time for thinking.  I mean, what else is there to do?  Sometimes I talk on my cell phone (yes, I do know you aren't supposed to do that) but when your friends all have jobs, sometimes there is no one to call.  So I am left to think.

Plus, the sound of the tires on the pavement is sort of meditative, I think, and today the sky and the land were both greyish-white and it was like being surrounded by white noise, both audible and visible.  Like I said, ideal for thinking.

Those who know me well know I've been highly anxious lately.  For those that weren't aware of that, well, you are now.  A lot of my recent anxiety stems from a very traumatic experience back in November in which I was treated at my local emergency room for self-inflicted lacerations of both forearms.

Note: My local emergency room, if you're wondering, is MedCentral Hospital in Mansfield, Ohio.  I highly advise not going there, especially if you need care for anything at all related to a psychiatric condition.  The care is worse than bad.  Do yourself a favor and go to one of many other nearby hospitals where you can expect compassionate, quality care.  For instance, go to Samaritan Hospital in Ashland, or Galion Community Hospital, or Bucyrus Community Hospital, or Morrow County Hospital in Mt. Gilead, or Fisher-Titus Medical Center in Norwalk.  Of course, the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals in Cleveland, and Ohio State University Hospital are all nearby and you can expect to receive state-of-the-art care there.  If you think you need inpatient psychiatric care, Windsor Laurelwood in  Willoughby, Ohio is an excellent hospital.  All of these are far better choices than MedCentral.

All right.  I feel better now.  Maybe I'll tell you more about my experience at MedCentral another time, but that's not really what I wanted to write about right now.

I wanted to tell you about fear.

Well, when I was treated at the emergency room at MedCentral, the care I received was appalling.  To make a long, painful story as short and simple as possible, I'll just say that I was treated with a lack of compassion, dignity, or respect, and that the emergency room physician closed wounds in my arms with surgical staples without giving me any local anesthesia to numb the area first and then refused to give me any pain medication for almost five hours after that.  As you might have guessed from my note about other area hospitals that provide better care than MedCentral, I'm a bit angry about how I was treated.  But I'm also afraid.

Since that experience, I've been afraid of seeking medical care.  It simply doesn't feel safe to me.  A couple days ago, I finally went to see my primary care provider, a nurse practitioner that I really like, because I'm had an upper respiratory thing going on for about six weeks now.  I didn't go sooner because I was afraid.  I realize it seems illogical to be afraid of her.  I knew she was not going to perform any painful procedures at all, with or without anesthesia.  I knew she was not going to attempt to admit me to a psychiatric ward against my will.  But I was still afraid.  Medical professionals no longer seem safe to me.

It's a post-traumatic stress reaction to the traumatic experience I had at MedCentral.  I recognize that.  And I'm pissed that I went to that emergency room without that fear and left with it.  Recognizing it doesn't make it go away, though.

My friends keep telling me I don't need to be afraid.  My therapist keeps telling me I don't need to be afraid.  I keep telling them that they just don't understand.  I start getting angry at them, for not believing how afraid I am, for not understanding, for not respecting my fear, for not acknowledging the danger I now see when I think of going to a doctor for something.  I start doubting myself, wondering if I am just crazy.  I start thinking they must believe I'm nuts, or I'm stupid, or both.

While I was driving today, I remembered an experience I had about ten years ago.  I was in the hospital, at Forest View in Grand Rapids, Michigan (an excellent hospital with a fantastic treatment program for people with trauma-related disorders, such as PTSD).   It was nighttime, the nurses were passing out bedtime medications, and I was afraid of going to bed.  People with PTSD will probably understand this.  I knew I was safe, knew there was nothing to be afraid of, but just the thought of going to bed in that dark, quiet room terrified me.  I didn't want to take my medication because I knew it would make me sleepy, and I didn't want to get sleepy, because I didn't want to go to bed because I was so scared.

I didn't know what to do.  Finally, I went to one of the mental health technicians, and told her I was afraid.  I expected her to tell me there was no reason to be afraid and to take my meds and go to bed.  But she didn't.  She took my fear seriously.  I think that may have been the first time in my life that anyone ever did that.  She started suggesting options to me.  Did I want to skip my meds?  I could, if I wanted to.  Would it help to sleep in the quiet room behind the nursing station?  Would I like to sleep in the patient lounge, across the hall from the nursing station?

I was so surprised.  She didn't think I was stupid for being afraid.  She wasn't telling me to just do something anyway, even though I was terrified of it.  She was giving me choices.  I ended up choosing to sleep in the lounge, where the light and soft voices and quiet laughter from the nursing station filtered in all night, making me feel safer.  But really, I think a big part of why I felt safer was because this mental health tech didn't dismiss my feelings.

She honored my fear.

What if I did that myself?  Because I don't.  I haven't been.  I've been trying to make myself go to appointments, even though I'm terrified.  Not surprisingly, I haven't been real successful.  I've just ended up disappointed in myself, feeling like a failure, feeling embarrassed when I had to tell friends that no, I did not keep the appointment with my psychiatrist, I was too scared to go.

But what if I quit doing that?  What if I just honored that fear?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rest in Peace, Mindy McCready

I'm sure by now everyone has heard about the death of Mindy McCready.  I wasn't a huge fan, but I watched her a few years ago on Celebrity Rehab.  I know, I know... but sometimes I like reality television.  I admit it.  I think her music was OK, but I was really impressed by how hard she was working to get her life together.  She'd experienced a lot of loss and trauma in her life and was fighting hard.

And she didn't make it.  It's sad.  I guess it's not surprising, but it's sad.

She shot herself, which I guess goes to show you how serious she was about wanting to end it.  Shooting yourself isn't always fatal, but it often is.  Women tend to overdose on pills or cut their wrists when they want to commit suicide, which is why, while they attempt suicide more often than men, they are less likely than men to actually die.  Men are more likely to shoot themselves, so when they attempt suicide, they are more likely than women to actually die.

Something that is scary to me, though, is that it is possible to survive a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and if you do survive, you're probably going to be very, very miserable.  I have a second cousin that shot himself in the head many years ago.  He lived.  He's brain damaged, has the intellect of a child now.  But he's alive.  My neighbor shot himself in the head almost a year ago and blew off most of his face.  But he lived.  Nearly a year later, he's still in a nursing home, being fed through a tube, unable to eat or speak, but alert, aware of what's going on around him and where he is and what is happening to him and to his family.  How awful is that?

But  Mindy McCready died.  She shot and killed her dog before turning the gun on herself.  I understand that.  She didn't want to leave her dog behind.  I know this sounds awful, but when I've thought of killing myself (and no, I am not suicidal now), I've thought of taking Cayenne with me.  I was worried about what would happen to her if I left her behind.  Mike has promised me that if something happens to me, he will take care of Cayenne.  But she is diabetic.  I don't trust him to remember to give her the insulin shots twice a day.  She pees all over the place.  I'm not sure he would want to continue to put up with that, if I was gone.  So I've thought of taking her with me.

When I first heard of Mindy's death, I thought immediately of her song, "I'm Still Here."

I'm okay, I'm alright
Hurricanes and train wrecks only last one night
Would you believe all I've been through?
Had the hands of tempted fate
Oh, if you only knew
What it costs, how I wait
What I got, what I gave

I'm still here...
After the heartache, after the storm blew through
I kept me and it saved me
I'm still standin', right where you left me
On a cold dark cloud, with nowhere to fall but down
Like a single, naked unrelenting tear...
I'm still here

There was darkness, all around me
There were times I was sure I was drowning
There were people, who tried to reach me
But no matter how they loved me, I kept sinking
I got tired of my own hell, I reached inside and I saved myself

I'm still here...
After the heartache, after the storm blew through
I kept me and it saved me
I'm still standin', right where you left me
On a cold dark cloud, with nowhere to fall but down
Like a single, naked unrelenting tear...
I'm still here

This time I can survive.
I ain't dying on nobody else's cross
I ain't sufferin' no more unforgivin' loss
Oh, no.

I'm still here...
After the heartache, after the storm blew through
I kept me and it saved me
And I'm still standin', right where you left me
On a cold dark cloud, with nowhere to fall but down
Like a single, naked unrelenting tear...
I'm still here
I'm still here

But this time she couldn't save herself.  It's just so sad.

The Cutest

Is this not the cutest face ever?

Look at those floppy jowls.

Bed Thief

I get up at half past midnight to take Isaac out, because he insists he has to pee.  Mind you, it is 15 degrees out there.  We get back inside and before I even get my shoes off, look where he is.

Stole my pillow and everything.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Videos of Isaac Helping with Laundry

Not long ago, I wrote about how Isaac helps me with laundry, and included some photos of him doing this task.  I finally got the chance to get some video clips of him doing this task, as well, so here they are.

The first one is Isaac handing me clothes to put in the washer.  For some reason he was especially enthusiastic about that today.  You can see him shaking items when he pulls them out of the laundry basket before giving them to me, which he isn't really supposed to do.

The second one is Isaac taking clothes out of the dryer for me.  He's calmer in this one.  See how happy he is, though?  See that tail wagging the whole time?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

They Said What?

Check this out to see some of the ridiculous things people actually say to people with service dogs.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I Guess We All Have Days LIke This...

Isaac was happily gnawing on a gross-smelling, and disgustingly slimy, beef-flavored rawhide bone when the dryer buzzed.

Most of the time, I try not to interrupt Isaac when he's involved in something like a good bone.  If I interrupt him to do a quick task for me, he might go back to his bone afterward.  But he might not.  He might instead decide that he needs to go outside, or wants to take a walk, or wants to play with me with the tiger with the squeaky butt.  I enjoy the time when he's occupying himself because then I can get things done.  Today, I was busy writing about eating disorders.

But you know what happens when you leave clothes in the dryer too long?  They get wrinkled.  And I hate to iron.  I decided Isaac would have to take a short break from his bone.

I have said before that Isaac loves his job.  He is always happy to work.  Always excited to be asked to do some task for me.  Well, change that to most of the time.

Today, he looked at me like I was just silly.  I could see him thinking, "Hey, do you see this bone here?  I'm busy."

I had to call him a couple times before he picked up the bone and carried it over to where I stood beside the dryer.

I suggested he put down the bone.  He walked away from me.  I called him back and told him firmly to drop it.  He looked at me, like he was considering it, but decided against it.  So I bribed him with a doggie treat.  I held the treat out to him, told him to drop the bone, and when he did, rewarded him with the treat.  I put the disgustingly slimy bone on top of the dryer, where he looked longingly at it.

Isaac did get the clothes out of the dryer for me, but he required much more encouragement than usual.  He kept looking back at that bone, then giving me the sad puppy dog eyes.  Poor mistreated boy.  Has to work so hard.  You're not feeling sorry for him, are you?  He got plenty of treats for taking the clothes out of the dryer.

He got the rawhide bone back after he tugged the laundry basket out to the living room for me.  He's now happily devouring it again.

I guess I need to start making more of a point to interrupt him sometimes to do tasks for me.  I think it's a matter of him understanding I am the dominant one in this pack.  I get to decide when it's time to work and when it's time to relax with a bone, not him.  Plus, there are just going to be times when I need to do something now.  So part of his training will now include being interrupted to do tasks when  he's relaxing and entertaining himself.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Biscuits and Bones

See this bone Isaac is happily gnawing on?

It's hollow inside.  So I stuck a couple pieces of cheesy bacon flavored doggie biscuits in there and wedged them in good.

He managed to get most of them out but there is still one stuck in there.  It's driving him crazy and keeping him occupied for quite a while.

Videos of Tasks

I finally got the chance to make a few videos of Isaac doing some of his tasks.  I hope to make a few more soon.  For some reason I was unable to put the videos directly on my blog, but you can watch them on Youtube.

Here is one of Isaac picking things up for me, including a hair brush, an ink pen, and a piece of paper.  See how excited he is about it?  Sometimes he gets so excited he lets go of an item before I have a good grasp on it, like he does in this video with my brush.  Then he has to pick it up again.

And here is one of Isaac opening the refrigerator door, which is not actually one of his tasks because I am fully capable of opening the fridge myself.  It's something the trainer did teach him to do, though.  See the rope he pulls to open the door?  That's the same type of rope he pulls to pull the laundry basket for me.  It was easy to teach him to pull the laundry basket because he already knew that "tug" meant to pull a rope like this.  I use the same command to tell him to pull the basket.

And here is one of Isaac bringing my medication to me.

Cute Kitty Picture

We haven't seen enough of these lately, have we?  That's because my cat have been in hiding since Isaac moved in. 

Cayenne mostly stays in the back bedroom, although she has been venturing into the bathroom if I am in there without Isaac.  Since Isaac thinks it is his job to shadow me constantly, though, that very rarely happens.  She also ventures out to the kitchen to demand dinner if she's hungry enough.  Otherwise, I take her food to the bedroom for her.  I was bringing her out to the living room periodically, but the last two times I did, she hid under the couch and and refused to come out.  I mean, she was under there for hours and hours.  Then she pooped under there.  Mike and I had to move the couch to get her out and clean up the poop.  Fun times, those.

Today I was putting away laundry in the bedroom and discovered Cayenne has found a new place to sleep.
Cute, isn't she?

I think the reason she looks annoyed is because Isaac is sitting behind me, looking at her.

In My Dreams

I've noticed something interesting recently.  Several times lately, I've had dreams in which Isaac made an appearance.  But the interesting thing is that the dreams weren't about Isaac.  He was just there with me.  For instance, last night I dreamed I was walking down a busy city street, trying to figure out where to catch a bus.  Isaac was beside me, in his service dog gear.

I think that's interesting.  I think it's like when you dream in another language.  The dream isn't about the other language, but in the dream you're fluently speaking another language.  I think that's a sign you're getting pretty fluent in another language.  I've dreamed in sign a few times before.

Anyway, I think these dreams with Isaac are a sign that I'm getting pretty fluent in "Isaac."  A sign that we're bonding, that we're really becoming a team.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Get the Meds!

One of Isaac's tasks is to bring my medication when I am having an anxiety attack.  I have meds I take on an as needed basis, and they usually stop an anxiety attack in its tracks, or at least calm me down enough that I can take other steps to help myself, preventing subsequent self-injury or even suicidal impulses.

In addition, those anxiety attacks tend to spiral out of control and go on and on and on.  Something very small can trigger them.  For instance, say I am making dinner and accidentally burn the garlic bread.  The rest of the meal may be fine, but I probably won't be able to eat it, because I will be so upset and angry at myself for burning the bread.  I know that's not exactly anxiety, but I don't know what else to call it, so I refer to it as an anxiety attack.  Instead of being disappointed that I burned the bread and then moving on, I will have urges to hurt myself.  I will cry, for a long time.  I will be unable to do anything else all evening because I will be so upset that I burned the bread.  There is a good chance I'll wake up the next morning very depressed, feeling guilty about everything, still angry at myself, not even thinking about the bread anymore but feeling incapable of doing anything right.

Getting my medication at the beginning of one of these episodes can prevent all that.

The problem is, when I'm having one of these episodes, I usually cannot think clearly enough to remember to take the medication myself.  If  Mike reminds me to take it, I will, and it almost always helps.  But he's not always here, and even if he is, he doesn't always think of reminding me to take it soon enough.

In comes Isaac.

Initially, his trainer taught him to respond to the command, "Get the meds!"  My medication for anxiety is kept in a little vinyl pouch that is easy for him to spot and carry to me.  Having the medication in the pouch also assures that the bottle won't accidentally come open and spill, and he cannot accidentally eat any of the pills.

The trainer tried to mimic my behavior when I start to have an anxiety attack, which often includes rocking back and forth and crying, and she did teach Isaac to bring her the medication pouch when she did those things, but I guess her fake anxiety attacks didn't resemble my real anxiety attacks, because while Isaac would respond to my command of "Get the meds," he didn't respond to my anxiety attacks, real or fake.

So I would rock back and forth, make sure I had his attention, and after a minute or so of rocking, tell him to "Get the meds!"  I didn't bother with fake crying because I figured my fake crying wouldn't sound like my real crying, anyway.  Isaac now responds to the verbal command or to my simply rocking back and forth by getting the medication pouch and bringing it to me.

I usually keep it in the same spot all the time, but occasionally I put it somewhere else for some reason.  So lately we've been working on putting it in different places on purpose so that he has to look for it.  He will go to its usual spot first, and if it's not there, look around the room.  If he can't find it after a minute or two, I will give him a hint by pointing in the right direction.  So far, I haven't asked him to get it in a different room, only in the living room.  We'll work on other rooms later.

I have a certain spot on the couch where I sit most often, but I do move occasionally, so I've also been working on sitting or standing in different places in the living room and giving him the cue to bring the meds.  Later, I'll work on asking when I'm in another room and he'll have to go to the living room to get them.

Isaac likes to bring me my meds.  He likes doing all his tasks, really, but this is one of his favorites.  In fact, sometimes he brings them to me when I don't need them and haven't asked.  I think maybe he is just hoping for a treat when he does that, since he usually gets a treat when he brings them on command.  If I didn't ask him to bring them and I don't need them, though, I just take them from him and say, "Not now."  No treat.

One night, he'd brought them to me unnecessarily several times and it was starting to get on my nerves, so I put them up where he could not reach them.  Later, I started to have an anxiety attack.  Isaac knew where the meds were but couldn't reach them, and he got very upset about that.  He really, really wanted to help me.

Updated to add: I was finally able to get a few videos of Isaac doing some of his tasks, including bringing my medication to me.  For some reason I was not able to put the video itself on this blog, but you can watch it on Youtube.


Here's Isaac, on his treadmill.

Yep.  That's how I feel about exercise, too!

Unlike me, though, he does actually use his treadmill sometimes.  It's pretty cute.  He likes sleeping on it, too, though.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


This morning, Mike was grumbling about having to go grocery shopping.  He said he wished he didn't have to do chores on his days off work.  Yeah, well.  Me, too.

I commented that Isaac likes doing his chores.  Which is true.  Unless you count getting your toenails cut or getting a bath as a chore.  He loves doing laundry, though.  He loves turning on lights for me.  He loves picking up things for me.  He loves bringing me my medication.

He also loves going to the store.  As I explained to Mike, a trip to the store involves a ride in the car, which Isaac loves, the opportunity to pee on a new bush or post before going into the store, the chance to sniff lots of interesting things in the store, and then a second car ride.  What's not to like?  Of course, when Mike goes to the store, he doesn't get to pee on a new bush, but otherwise...

Anyway.  I then added that a trip to store typically involves a few treats for Isaac, as a reward for doing something or other well.  I suggested Mike get a few cookies, break them into bite-sized pieces, and carry them in his pocket.  Then he can reward himself periodically as he does the shopping.  I think he thought I was kidding, but I think it would really work for him.  How about you?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Toys Stuffed with Treats

That green thing used to have a squeaky thing in it.  Isaac ripped it out, naturally.  So I put a crunchy doggie treat in it, wrapped in some cloth scraps, and sewed it shut.  It's driving him crazy, trying to get to the treat.  I'm sure he'll get it out soon, but in the meantime, he's having fun and letting me type!

Notice how he's lying on his beheaded bear while he's chewing on the green thing?  I think it's so cute when he can't decide what he wants to play with and lies on one or more toys while playing with another.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Are You Training that Dog?

I get asked this question a lot.  I guess people assume I must be training a service dog for someone else since I don't look disabled.  I don't get asked that question every time I go somewhere with Isaac, but I bet I do at least half the time.  Probably closer to 75% of the time.  It gets annoying.

The conversation usually goes something like this.

Random Stranger:  Are you training that dog?

Me:  Nope.  He's already trained.

Random Stranger (looking confused):  Oh.  Um... is he your dog then?

Me:  Yes.

Random Stranger:  Oh.  But is he a service dog?

Me:  Yes.

Random Stranger:  He's your service dog?

Me:  Yes.

Random Stranger:  Oh.  Well... what kind of dog is he?

Me:  He's a yellow lab.

Random Stranger:  I meant what kind of service dog.  Like what does he do?

Me (sighing):  He helps me.

Random Stranger:  Oh... well... but how?

Me:  Come on, Isaac.  Time to go!

Seriously.  At least 50% of the time when I go to the grocery store or the library or the thrift store or Applebee's, I have this conversation with a stranger.

I understand people are curious.  But I get tired of it.  Wouldn't you?

Entertaining Your Dog

Does your dog ever seem bored?  Isaac sure does.  Here are some fun activities for entertaining your dog.  Rather, they are things you can give your dog to entertain himself.  Isaac likes them all, and I like them, too, because as much fun as I have with Isaac, sometimes I need to get some work done, or write on this blog, or just relax in front of the television.
  • Stuffed toys.  Things like Kongs and Nylabones can be filled with peanut butter, cheese spread, yogurt, or other spreads.  Your dog will spend a long time trying to lick it all out.  Kongs can also be stuffed with treats or pieces of hotdogs.  
  • Stuffed socks.  Isaac loves these and they are easy to make.  Take an old sock and stuff it with stuffing (I reuse stuffing that Isaac pulls out of stuffed animals) or scraps of cloth.  Put a crunchy treat or two in the middle.  Then tie the end of the sock closed.  Watch your dog go crazy trying to get the treat out.  You can also stuff crunchy treats into stuffed animals and sew them shut; I do that sometimes after Isaac rips open a stuff toy (which he does regularly).
  • Squeaky toys.  Not all dogs like these, but many do.  Since they squeak when chewed, they give your dog feedback that provides entertainment without your involvement.
  • Puzzle balls.  These toys are typically balls, but may be other shapes, too.  They have little holes in them and you fill them with treats.  Your dog has to figure out how to roll them around to get the treats to fall out.  Isaac had one and loved it but eventually chewed a hole in it.  I need to buy him another.  He used to bring it to me every morning after he finished eating breakfast, wanting me to fill it for him.  The bigger the treats, the harder it will be for your dog to get them out.  Make sure they aren't too big, though; occasionally I made that mistake and Isaac could not get them out at all and finally he would bring the ball to me, wanting me to get them out for him, which was no easy task.
  • Hide the treats.  Hide some doggie treats around the room.  You can tell your dog to sit and stay while you hide them so he sees where you are putting them or you can put him in another room so he can't see where you put the treats.  To make the game easier, let your dog watch you hide them and put them in easy-to-reach places.  To make it harder, don't let him watch you hide the treats and put them in harder-to-get-to places.  Isaac loves this game, but even when he watches me hide them, he tends to forget where I put them all.  He can remember two or three but then gets confused.  However, he will happily spend a very long time searching.
  • Hide the toy.  Hide your dog's favorite toy and let him search for it.  If you hide something like a Kong stuffed with peanut butter or hotdogs, he'll be entertained twice as long.  To get your dog to search for a hidden toy, you can teach him the name of the toy and then tell him, "Find the Kong!"  You can also let him see you hide it, then try to distract him for a few minutes, then let him go and see if he remembers to look for it.  If you stuff it with something like hotdogs, he'll probably smell it and start searching frantically without being told to do so; Isaac can smell a hotdog from anywhere in the house.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

He Killed the Squeaky Head

Isaac finally destroyed his squeaky head toy.  I rescued the squeaker out of it before he chewed that to bits so I could put it in something else.  I ended up putting it in his tiger's butt.

Yep.  In the tiger's butt.  Isaac has a stuffed tiger that he's had for a couple weeks and has not yet destroyed for some reason.  Stuffed animals usually last him less than one day.  He pulled off the tiger's tail, but that's all.  So I stuck the squeaker in the tiger's butt and sewed it shut.

Isaac loves it.  It took him about two minutes to figure out exactly where to bite it to make it squeak. 

Leave the Dog Alone!

It's not unusual for people to want to pet Isaac or otherwise distract him when we are out in public, but today takes the cake. 

We were at the thrift store, where I go regularly to buy him stuffed animal. We got in line and this lady came running over, saying "Hi baby, hi baby," to Isaac. He started pulling on the leash, trying to go greet her. 

I told him no, and she said it's all right. I said "No, it's not all right, he's working right now, he's not supposed to be socializing." Of course, I also meant that she was not supposed to be socializing with him, but apparently that was too subtle for her. 

She then started petting his head and telling him to behave. I moved so that I was between her and Isaac and told him to sit. She then moved so that she could continue to pet him and she started telling him to sit, in a really friendly, excited voice that to Isaac I'm sure sounded like "Let's play." And she would not stop. I finally put the stuffed animals down, told Isaac to come, and walked out of the store.

I was not having a great day before that, but now I am really annoyed.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Snow Dog

It is snowing.  Again.  Isaac likes it. I do not.

I wish I had a fenced in yard so he could run around off leash in it.  He wants to run and pounce and jump in it.

He also likes to dig in it.  Well, what he actually does is rout around in it with his face.  Seems like that would be very cold and unpleasant, but he enjoys it.  Of course, he did unearth a frozen McDonald's cheeseburger once.  Maybe that makes it all worth it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

More Pictures of Isaac

Because he's just so cute.

That is Isaac killing Clifford the Big Red Dog.

That is Isaac killing the Easter Bunny.

That is Isaac killing a tiger.

Notice a theme here?

Friday, February 1, 2013

How My Service Dog Has Changed My Life

The other day, I asked  Mike if he thought I was "doing better" since getting Isaac.  I know that's a pretty vague question, and I got a pretty vague answer. 

Me: Do you think I've been doing better since getting Isaac?

Mike: Yeah, sure.

Me: In what ways?

Mike: Oh, just generally.

Me: But like what?

Mike: You seem more upbeat.

Me: I seem more upbeat?

Mike: Yes.

Me: Can you say some more about that?

Mike: Just more upbeat in general.

Me: OK.  What else?

Mike: That's about it.

Me: Sigh.

I actually think many things in my life have improved thanks to Isaac.  I just wanted some confirmation, I guess.  Here are the good things I've noticed:
  • My back hurts much less than it used to.  In the last three weeks or so, I have take exactly three pain pills.  I used to take two a day, most days.
  • I am seldom afraid of walking into a dark room.  Sometimes that's because Isaac goes ahead and turns the light on for me, but I find myself frightened less often even if he doesn't turn on the light for me.  I just feel safer.
  • I'm not afraid to take a shower at night or when I am home alone.  Well, at least, not most of the time.  Isaac sits in the bathroom with me while I shower.
  • I am able to do more things independently, like I don't have to ask Mike to carry laundry to the bedroom for me, because Isaac does that for me.  But because my back feels so much better, I am able to do other things for myself that I sometimes had to ask Mike to do in the past.  For instance, last night I made a pizza for dinner and was able to bend over to take it out of the oven, something I used to have to ask Mike to do because it hurt too much to bend over.
  • Anxiety attacks usually don't last as long as they used to, I assume mainly because I get my medication right away since Isaac brings it to me.
  • I am much more active.  I walk a lot with Isaac, weather permitting.  I also go more places, because I like taking Isaac places because he likes to go places.
  • I get less anxious when I'm out somewhere because Isaac is with me.  I want to write about this in another post, but when things happen that in the past left me panicking and in tears, now I might feel pretty anxious, but I'm able to deal with them.  Isaac doesn't really do anything to make me less anxious most of the time; just having him there makes me feel better.  Now, that is not a trained task and isn't something that makes a dog a service dog, but it's an added benefit of having a service dog.