Lexi Easter, Staff Writer
For those who have ventured onto North Campus, you may have noticed a fuzzy, four-legged, chocolate beast roaming around. His name is Moose and his title is a psychiatric service dog in training. This means he helps his handler with her psychiatric impairment. Moose’s handler struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder II with psychotic features.
Daily, Moose alerts by pawing his handler when her anxiety rises and grounds her if the anxiety becomes too much. A way of doing this is called Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT), where his handler is sitting or laying, and Moose lays across her lap. Moose also has to be extremely aware of his handler’s rise in voice tone, because this can mean a manic episode. He knows that when his handler’s voice starts to raise it’s time to paw and apply DPT. Sometimes when his handler becomes too overstimulated, she dissociates. This is when she becomes “disconnected” from her state of being. It’s like zoning out, but she cannot rezone back in. Moose can pick up on the blank stare and will continue to paw. If that is not enough, he will jump on her.
Psychiatric service dogs are only one type of service dogs, according to the American Kennel Club. There are approximately six other types: guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs, diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert/response dogs and autism support dogs.
When you think about service dogs, my guess is that you think about guide dogs. These dogs help the visually impaired navigate through everyday life. They are the eyes for their handler. For people with hearing impairments, these hearing dogs assist their human to hear noises such as alarms, doorbells or crying babies. If the dog picks up on one of the noises they are trained to listen for, they will touch their human and lead them toward the noise.
The third type of service dog is mobility assistance dogs. These dogs perform tasks for people with a wide range of mobility issues. Things these dogs can do include fetching objects, pressing buttons for automatic doors, and serving as a brace. They can even help pull a wheelchair! Another popular service dog is a diabetic alert dog (DAD). This type of service dog alerts their hander to chemical changes in their blood sugar. They are able to do this by the scent changes associated with hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic events.
The most controversial among the service dog community are seizure alert/response dogs. There are only a small number of dogs that are able to alert to an oncoming seizure. Many of the dogs are more apt to respond to a seizure. In events where the handler is having a seizure, the dog is trained to bring his handler medication.
Autism support dogs can also be a big help for children who have trouble connecting with classmates and they can be trained to comfort the child in stressful times. Autism support dogs also can be trained to keep children from running away or track them if they run off.
When Moose and his handler finally decided to adventure to school, it was an easy process. She met with the advising office and disability office. She explained, she would come next semester with what she called her “superhero.”
“It was such an easy process,” she said, “I only had to tell them. I did not have to fill out any paperwork.” She went on and explained that she was worried about what her teachers would say. A week before her classes started, she let her teachers know her and her superhero were coming to class. She could not have been more excited by how accommodating they were.
I know this story so well, because I am Moose’ handler and he is my superhero.