Being a psychiatric service dog handler is hard, humorous, rewarding and life changing. Did I say hard? Yes. Let me repeat. Being a psychiatric service dog handler is hard!
Being on the placement waiting list is rough. I found handler training even tougher. My first two months home were even more taxing than being on the placement waiting list or handler training. I will try to cover these and other topics over time.
Today I will talk about my experience of being on the placement waiting list.
As many have experienced, being on the placement waiting list is difficult. I am frequently asked, “How did you handle the wait?” At first, not well.
Initially, I spent a lot of time looking at the dog bios. I would get fixated on which dog I wanted and why that dog should be mine. I ruminated of how much better my life would be if only I had my service dog immediately. I quickly realized that when I was feeling like I needed my dog and I needed it now, I was looking for a simple solution to solve the psychological pain I was having in that moment. I did not understand what it meant to be a psychiatric service dog handler.
I eventually let go of the fictitious time table I had created of when I thought I should receive a dog. I knew other service dog organizations had a 3-5-year placement waiting list. Knowing this helped. When I let go of my preconceived timing and accepted that I would receive my dog when it was time, my stress lowered. Life became easier. My wait time seemed to fly.
I decided to spend my wait time differently. I educated myself on being a psychiatric service dog handler. I journaled of how I thought a service dog would help me in my mental health journey. I cross matched my expectations with what a psychiatric service dog can do.
Through this process, I learned an important lesson. My expectations needed adjustment. A psychiatric service dog does not solve psychiatric issues or psychological pain. A psychiatric service dog is not a replacement to my current treatments or a quick fix for my mental health. A psychiatric service dog is an additional tool to help me through a day of living with mental health issues.
Being armed with new information, I spent my wait list time continuing to build the other tools I utilize in my mental health care. Exercise, eating right as well as continued psychological and psychiatric therapy are critical for maintaining my mental health.
When Mollie and I were matched, I was in a good mental health space. Even though I felt mentally strong, the first few months were difficult. Mollie was highly trained, I was not. I had to learn how to be a psychiatric service dog handler. This does not happen in the short two weeks of handler training.
Psychiatric conditions vary greatly. LASD cannot train for specific psychiatric needs. (See Katie’s blog post on alerting). LASD does an awesome job of training the basic and advanced commands. During handler training, I was taught how to work with Mollie to train her to recognize my specific needs. I then had to work on a daily basis at home with Mollie to learn how to be a service dog handler and to fully utilize her as an additional tool in living with mental health issues.
It is kind of like running a marathon. Once the decision is made to run a marathon, consistent and long-term training is required to finish a marathon and to continue to run long distances. Just because I made the decision to run a marathon, doesn’t mean that I can jump into any race at any time. It takes time, training and patience.
I see having a psychiatric service dog in the same manner. I received two weeks of basic handler training with LASD. It was then up to me to continue that training and to develop a bond with Mollie so that I could fully utilize her as a psychiatric service dog.
If I could turn back the clock, I would not have spent as much time on the placement waiting list dreaming and hoping that I would receive the call that my service dog match was ready. Instead, I would have spent even more time than I did adding and strengthening the other tools I utilize to continue to improve my mental health.
As I stated at the beginning, being a psychiatric service dog handler is hard! Especially, the first few months. Having every tool and support system available at the time of being matched can only help ease the transition into being a successful psychiatric service dog team.