The Role of Service Animals

Coping Strategies, Help for friends, family, and significant others, Help for sufferers, Posts

As you probably already know, service animals are truly an asset to our society. Search and rescue, airport security, plus the ever faithful guide dogs for the blind, in fact, there’s even a canine department for the police- but you know that, right?

The thing is, we know that animals, and dogs in particular, can be very useful in helping us humans out when we need it most. Well, today I will be talking about a few specially trained animals who can help out chronic illness sufferers, including a few, uh.. more unusual species that can help.

The ‘Standard’ Service Dog– If you suffer from debilitating symptoms which make your day to day life difficult to do alone, you may find it helpful to get a service dog. Nowadays, most service dogs are trained to carry out simple household tasks that you would otherwise find difficult. For example, if you struggle to bend over without pain and stiffness, your service dog can help you by retrieving things from low surfaces, doing basic sorting and tidying tasks, and even loading and unloading your washing machine. Dogs such as these can be trained to use special grips in order to open doors and cupboards, as well as being able to identify the objects you require. One of my favourite clips from the internet shows a guy who has trained his dog to fetch him beer from the fridge- although very lazy, this is a brilliant example of how service dogs work.

Emotional Support Animals- Sometimes your illness might be less physical, and more mental. Or maybe the symptoms of your illness, whether physical or otherwise, are difficult to cope with emotionally. In these cases, an emotional support animal may help. Any animal can be a service animal, but usually, dogs take the lead.

Take Drew Lynch, for example. He is a brilliant comedian who suffers from a neurogenic stutter following an accident in his 20’s. You might know him from his 2015 appearance on America’s got talent, or, like me, through his Youtube channel. He has an absolutely beautiful support dog called Stella, who often appears in his sketches and videos. Stella helps Drew simply by being there (and occasionally telling him how stupid he is). As an emotional support dog, it is stella’s job to identify Drew’s triggers as they take effect, and to make sure her human partner doesn’t get too stressed out over it (as well as helping him out if he does).

Often, anxiety can make your symptoms more prominent, which can be uncomfortable and in turn potentially make your anxiety worse. It is an unending cycle which can eventually cause major problems to your health and wellbeing. Having a support animal, however, can help you to identify your problem early on and manage it before it becomes too extreme.

Therapy Animals- There is a third category of support animals which offer support without any training being required. For someone with no access to a professional service animal, this may be the way forward. Potentially any animal can work as a therapy animal, but the majority are usually of the small and fluffy variety.

There are actually services available in which you can sign your pet up to be a therapy animal, meaning that they can visit hospitals and care centres and provide comfort for those in need. Often, care homes for the elderly arrange for various different animals to come in, in order to provide a sensory experience for the residents. I’ve even heard of shetland ponies doing rounds in children’s hospitals.

There have been endless studies into the role of animals as therapy, and it is widely accepted that petting a purring cat or cuddling a dog greatly increases endorphins such as the happy hormone serotonin and the love hormone oxytocin. Furthermore, it has been proven that not only do you feel this, but the same process happens to your pet, too. It’s a win win situation.

For me, my animals have always helped, especially Carmen, my 10 year old Albino Corn- Snake, who is surprisingly relaxing to hold. She likes to sleep in my jumper too, which is, admittedly, a love it or hate it experience. She’s a bit like marmite, apparently.

Anyway, what I really want to tell you about, and what I have probably mentioned a few times before, are my very first self-owned furbabies, Cleo and Layla. My partner and I decided a year ago that we would get a kitten, and after my mother in law mentioned her friend’s new litter, we got very excited. Cleo and Layla’s mum is a farm cat who keeps getting pregnant before her owner can spay her, thus, the kittens needed a home asap. After plenty of deliberation, we decided that two was better than one, and haven’t looked back since.

Our kittens are pretty much inseparable, and spend the majority of their time trying to swindle their way onto my lap (I don’t complain). Needless to say, I checked off the therapy cat idea. However, they have surpassed my intentions, and now actively try to support me. It is as though they have accepted me into their pride to the point where they can identify my mood before I do, and, the best bit, they try their best to help when they see that I am upset. Both cats, but Cleo in particular, will force their way into the room if they hear me crying, and know a few verbal commands, which they obey.

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