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  • Writer's pictureJessica Paulsen

Side Effects of a Service Dog

A service dog seems like the perfect solution to disability. A furry friend to cure any ailment, following you around all day? Side effects of headaches, nausea, dizziness, insomnia need not apply. So you do your research. You talk to your doctor. You jot down the many tasks a service dog will help you accomplish. It's all looking good until that dog comes home and suddenly a long list of side effects you never accounted for rolls in. But this time you have no choice, there is no stopping this medication. At the very least you'll be taking it for walks and feeding it daily for the next 10 years...

Well, first let's talk about the obvious, dogs need love, care and exercise. A person with limited ability to care for themself may find it very difficult to take on the responsibility of a dog. It would be unfair to take in an animal knowing that you cannot commit to their daily needs. Fortunately, there are ways around these issues. Dog walkers, automatic feeders and at-home caretakers step up to take on some of the responsibility of having a dog. Still that comes with a literal price to pay, so be sure to add it to your monthly bills. A dog that is under exercised and improperly cared for is likely to have years of their working life shaved down, which means having to find new treatment that much sooner.

Anxiety and mental illness do not go hand-in-hand with this "medication." It is common knowledge that dogs provide relief in numerous ways to those who suffer from psychiatric illness; grounding, tactile stimulation, pressure therapy, interruptive behavior, medication retrieval, the list goes on. I, myself, have generalized anxiety disorder and clinical depression and can attest to how life altering it is. I can also attest to the ways in which a service dog can greatly lessen the symptoms. As great as it would be for a service dog to be an invisible cure they have quite a large presence, regardless of size. What does this mean? People stare. Should they? Well, its a dog. It's to be expected and all service dogs should come with a massive label stating, "IM CUTE PEOPLE WILL WATCH ME." You can disagree. You can be angry. But that won't change. I often hear people say, "Well you wouldn't stare at a wheelchair," okay well I also wouldn't pet, exercise and love a wheelchair like family because its not ya know, a DOG. Wheelchairs are not inherently cute, they don't cast accidental glances in your direction, they don't generally bring unbridled happiness to those around them. My point? It is not the same. Not even close. If you are unwilling to accept that this "medication" will bring staring, unwanted conversation, polite AND impolite whispering, many questions, smiles, eye rolls, judgement and running children toward you then this medication should be avoided. If your anxiety surrounds issues just like these then how much is a service dog really going to help? At the very least it could bring about just as much anxiety as it mitigating. All of this without even mentioning the fear of having your service dog make a mistake with tons of people watching. All of this without mentioning that a service dog is like a giant beacon, blaring, "IM DISABLED!" We can educate the public as best we can on the ways to behave around a working dog, as to not distract them from their job, but we need to be just as understanding of them as we want them to be of us. Imagine your doctor saying this medication WILL CAUSE " " don't expect to be the exception, there are no exceptions to this side effect.

Finally, there is the stigma attached to service dogs. A service dog is a big deal. It's a long commitment. I, personally, don't view it as a "last resort" but many people do and I understand that. A service dog says, "I expect to be in this or worse condition for the foreseeable future." It is a treatment that affects all of those around you, particularly those that live with you. If this were any other medication you could keep it between you and your doctor, no one has to know your personal medical information. But a service dog? People are going to judge you. People are going to feel sorry for you. People are sometimes going to be angry with you for taking such a large and unchangeable step. People are going to wonder what the heck is wrong with you. For this side effect? I find it lessens with time. As a service dog begins to really help you and the people around you are able to witness that, it changes (not always but often). As you begin to feel like your abilities are broadened by this animal at your side you will remember how you once doubted you and your dog. You'll remember how scared you were in the beginning. All of the people judging you, they're either only getting part of the story or they're only getting the beginning of it. In my experience, eventually that story comes full circle and you'll realize that they might never see it or understand it and that's okay.

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