If you don’t know me personally you may be thinking “Peyton, why do you need a service dog?” And the answer is quite simple. I suffer from a pretty severe case of POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, which you can read about here), as well as hypermobility and some other chronic illnesses. These are my main disabilities that put me in a position where I could benefit from a service dog.
Not every disability can be aided by a service dog, and not every patient with my diagnoses can benefit from having a service dog.
A service animal is defined in the American with Disabilities Act as a dog (or miniature horse in some states) task trained to an individual to mitigate a disability. If you are not disabled, you do not qualify for a service animal. At the same time, just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean a service dog is right for you! If you are unsure whether or not you are disabled, this is a conversation you would have with you doctor. My doctor came to us with the idea of a service dog, describing how I could benefit from one, and that’s where everything started for me!
Once we got to the point that I had greatly altered my lifestyle to accommodate my illnesses, tried more medications than I can count, worked with physical therapy, and tried infusions in attempts to manage my POTS, we decided that a service dog was the right direction for me. Some of these treatments helped more than others but none were giving us great improvement. A service dog is just another part of how I attempt to manage life!
Having a service dog is not fun or cool, it’s necessary for independence and everyday function.
It is important to do extensive research before deciding that a service dog is right for you – it may not be and that’s okay! A service dog is regarded as medical equipment, it is not a pet, and if you see someone in public with a service animal the last thing they want to hear is that they’re so lucky they get to bring their pet everywhere. Trust me, they wish they could function without it.
Peggy’s work falls under two categories: medical alert and eventually mobility. I separated the descriptions of her work so as to not confuse them! Some dogs only do mobility work, and some dogs only do medical alert, but Peggy does both! We only have a few mobility related tasks at the moment, but in perhaps the next year or so I may start to use her for tasks such as bracing, momentum, and counterbalance when and if she is cleared for such work.
Syncope – fainting, or temporary loss of consciousness caused by a drop in blood pressure
I faint or collapse multiple times daily, with little to no warning.
This makes being on my own extremely dangerous. Peggy is a very intuitive dog, and she has easily picked up on my syncope episodes and began alerting – in short, one of Peggy’s tasks is to alert me before fainting so I can safely lie down, and let my blood pressure and heart rate sort themselves out. The severity and frequency of my syncope has caused me to stay home from school, because it became a dangerous environment. The risk of injury was too great and the fear of when I would faint or collapse next made school all the more difficult. I was essentially housebound because of this. Peggy has given me the opportunity to safely attend college without worry of when I’m going to pass out next, who’s going to be there to help when it happens, or if I’m going to hurt myself in the process.
If Peggy ever misses an alert, she is trained in how to respond. The public likes to rush and crowd and call 911, but fainting is commonplace for me and there is absolutely nothing the ER can do to help me; it’s really more of a hindrance. Having Peggy working with me helps to keep me out of those situations. If I were to ever need emergency medical attention, she knows how to take care of that too.
With hypermobility, I experience dislocations of joints all over my body. These dislocations cause pain and can make getting around difficult. One of Peggy’s tasks will be to retrieve items for me when I am unable to do so for myself. Picking up dropped items, finding my phone when I need help… We even plan to work on locating people, exits, and specific vehicles.
Retrieval is also a task that will aid in minimizing the effects of my chronic dizziness caused by POTS. I am always dizzy, and bending over causes loss of balance. Peggy will also be able to do things such as close drawers, open doors, retrieve water from the fridge, take laundry out of the dryer, and hold whatever I need her to.
Lastly, general mobility. Once Peggy has been fully grown for a while and is cleared by a vet, we hope begin mobility work. I often need support when walking for a variety of reasons, including chronic fatigue, and the aforementioned dizziness and hypermobility. Peggy will be able to not only offer a counter balance, but provide momentum while walking. She will support me when I stand and sit and I will not have to rely on a human for these tasks.
I would like to make it clear that these are not all of the tasks which Peggy will learn to perform to give me just a bit of the independence that I crave. A service dog is always in training, and she will be learning new tasks as my disabilities change and evolve.
If you’d like to read about my first month with Peggy, you can read that post here.
If you want to see Peggy’s everyday adventures, you can follow Peggy on Instagram here.
If you are curious about service dogs and want to learn more, I would be happy to talk to you! You can contact me on Instagram here, or via the form below!
I’ve been really lucky to have Peggy by my side, as she has truly changed my life. I would not be attending university without her! I’m really fortunate that things have worked out the way they have. Some people get a service dog and find it to be worse for their health, but for me that has not been the case at all. She is able to keep me safe in ways no other being could.