Invisible Illness: How Animal Therapy Can Be Life Changing

And Why We Need To Open Our Minds To What A Service Animal Looks Like

By Vjosa Isai

animal therapy for invisible illness

“I’ve had veterans who have called me and said, ‘I just wanted to let you know my dog just saved my life. I had my gun out. I was going to end my life, and my dog got between me and my gun, so I’m still here’.”

It’s calls like this one, from a veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), that make Elizabeth Baker’s job as director of the Thames Centre Service Dogs impossibly gratifying. “The rewards are infinite,” she says.

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Baker’s center provides dog services for people with varying medical issues, particularly those suffering from psychiatric disorders.

While physical disabilities like blindness more obviously demonstrate the need for a service dog, the animals can be trained to serve a host of people with invisible illnesses as well.

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These service dogs learn how to respond to mental health issues including PTSD and social anxiety; detect silent conditions like irregular heartbeats or blood sugar levels; and provide emotional support for victims of sexual abuse.

The views on service dogs need to be expanded

However, given that many of these conditions do not have the characteristics of a physical disability, owners are sometimes left feeling discriminated against (Get Leashed Magazine readers may already be familiar with Diane’s story).

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Credit: Instagram / @airporttherapydogs

In 2014, Alberta soldier, Sgt. Shirley Jew, was asked to pay the pet fee upon boarding an Air Canada flight with her pug-schnauzer-terrier. An airline staff member told Jew that her condition, PTSD, was not counted among its disabilities requiring a service dog.

“I never thought I would be treated like a third-class citizen like I was with them. It was a slap in the face,” Jew told the Canadian Press. She boarded a different flight for her trip.

Air Canada later refunded Jew’s ticket and issued a statement in apology for what they called a “misunderstanding.”

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