I may look fine, but I need my service dog

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Service dogs, most people probably think, are for blind people. And maybe for someone who uses a wheelchair. Not so much for those who appear hale and hearty. We don’t realize what a dog could do for someone with an invisible disability such asseizures or diabetes. Or for someone like me — someone with a psychiatric disability who would eventually find my service dog so indispensable that I took him everywhere — even to Target.

I have ADHD (attention-deficit/hyper­activity disorder), TRD (treatment-resistant depression) and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). Because of this alphabet soup of mental illness, I also have panic attacks. An overwhelming sense of doom drops down. My heart races; my breathing hitches. I shake. The attacks often don’t end until I down a Klonopin, a heavy benzodiazepine about two steps up from Xanax. Panic attacks in public are the scariest. As I sweat and shake for no apparent reason, I feel unsafe. I look In Need of Assistance or like That Person You Should Avoid. It would be very convenient to know a panic attack is coming, so I could down some meds and remove myself and my three small children from public view.The help of a dogThen I found another way. After reading up on service dogs, I thought how nice it would be to have one — one who would warn me when a panic attack was about to happen, one who might even get my medication from my purse. My doctor thought it was a splendid idea. We were in the process of getting a German shepherd puppy anyway, so the timing seemed perfect.

I could arrange for my own service dog pretty easily because there’s no nationwide governing body for such animals. When I looked up what I had to do to get a puppy certified, I was astounded: There is no certification. The Foundation for Service Dog Support, a nonprofit, trains golden retrievers, sells vests and certificates, and teaches people how to train their own service dogs. They say a service dog should obey commands 90 percent of the time, not steal food and ignore other dogs. But those standards have no legal standing.

The Americans With Disabilities Act stipulates that to be deemed a service dog, the animal must be trained to perform a helpful task, but the law also states that it’s illegal for anyone to require that the dog demonstrate that ability. So, for example, no one can make me show that Quee­queg snorfs my hand when my breathing changes, alerting me to a panic attack. Legally, they just have to take me at my word that he does it.

Read more at The Washington Post
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