If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health you can contact this national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
For anyone that wishes to contribute, and we absolutely do not expect anyone to feel pressured to, they can do so through our GoFundMe page.
Update: As of June 2017, we have paid a little over $2500 out of pocket to secure our place in line for our service dog candidate puppy. We have another $900 due in July for the first wave of advanced training, with more to come in August and then throughout the next 2 years. This does not include medical care, food, transport, etc. Thank you for your continued support! We are so grateful to those willing to help us lighten this immense financial burden.
We’re pregnant! Sort of…
We’re trying to calm our nerves, but it feels like we just found out we’re pregnant and … I guess we sort of are? Well, not really. But it sure feels like it!
It’s official, our potential service dog candidate puppy will be (hopefully) born in the middle of May!
We haven’t discussed this much because we wanted to wait until we knew we were closer to it actually happening, but we decided about a year ago that we wanted to pursue owner-training a service dog candidate from puppyhood through adulthood for Patrick.
As most of you know, Patrick was raised overseas primarily in Indonesia (he’s an MK or missionary kid). In fact, those of you that follow us on Instagram know that we’re taking our family there later this spring. This is a big trip for us, bigger than we’ve shared so far. In fact, it’s incredibly coincidental that we just learned that our potential service dog candidate may be born while we’re returning to the country where the event that essentially led us to this moment occurred.
While Patrick was born and adopted at birth in the U.S., he was raised as the child of missionaries primarily overseas on Lombok–one of the many islands in Indonesia. He has some fond memories of his time there, but there were numerous things that happened to him that were completely terrifying and almost cost him his life. He was put in terrible positions no child should ever be faced with–abuse, exposure to violent environments and people, near abductions, etc. Living there became a game of survival. As if that wasn’t enough, after many years of living overseas his family had to flee during the riots that broke out in 2000 in Indonesia. People were being hunted and killed in the streets and their only option was to run for safety. While he’s thankful that growing up overseas gave him a unique, global perspective, the effects of the abusive situations and people he came in contact with have stuck with him as much as the positive memories. Some scars simply take longer to heal. As a result, he has suffered from anxiety and PTSD since I was a young teen.
While he doesn’t regret growing up in a country that had so many amazing qualities (there are many islands in Indonesia and they differ greatly–some of his best memories as a kid were made in Bali), the mark it made on him was both positive and negative. Patrick has suffered from anxiety and PTSD for quite some time.
Just a quite side note, we are not returning to the island Patrick grew up on. We are going to an island Patrick’s family vacationed on while living in Indonesia (next to the island he grew up on), where he has only positive memories. He has been prepping with his therapist and is as prepared as he can be to return. He is focused on the positive side of showing his family a place he really loved when he was a kid. Our hope is that this will be a very healing experience for Patrick and a really cool experience for the rest of us!
What is PTSD?
PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America describe PTSD as:
“A serious potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, war, violent personal assault such as rape, or other life-threatening events.”
There’s no shame in talking about mental health, yet somehow as a society we’re still not comfortable with openly discussing it. When you hear PTSD people automatically assume you rock in a corner and can’t leave your house. This isn’t the case for plenty of people that suffer from PTSD. Someone that looks totally bubbly and happy on the outside, might be having a panic attack on the inside while talking to you. It’s amazing how good one can become at “managing” outward appearances to cope.
While we’re big believers in therapy and medication to assist with alleviating some of the burden that is PTSD, we’ve been talking for some time about what more we can do to help Patrick. Even with the best combo of meds, not every day is great (in fact some weeks are completely miserable) and the side effects can be a major bummer … and even scary.
I began researching psychiatric service dogs (specifically for those that suffer from PTSD) after I read about someone who had one. The more I learned, the more hopeful I became, so we began messaging people, watching videos and Patrick even consulted his therapist as well as his regular doctor who both agreed it was a great idea. In the end, it looked like a service dog would be a really great option for us to pursue.
I remember the first time I brought it up to Patrick his entire face lit up! That sealed the deal for me. Sometimes hope is the best medicine.
Keep in mind, a psychiatric service dog is not the same as a therapy dog or emotional support animal. They have different purposes, go through different training and while one has certain privileges in public places, the others do not. We are pursuing service dog certification, not therapy dog or emotional support animal training. We’ll touch on why in a later post!
We know that the service dog journey is rarely an easy one. For those that pursue adopting one from an organization the wait and cost can be substantial.
For others like us, who pursue owner-training, the costs are also great and the amount of dedication necessary is incredible.
There are so many steps to choosing the route we have. Our service dog candidate puppy to-do list has looked a little something like this:
- Research different types of service dogs/service dog tasks (narrow down our goal tasks)
- Find the right trainer(s) & come up with a plan
- Find the right breeder (with a history of producing service dog candidates)
- Find the right puppy from that breeder (that puppy will have to pass certain temperament/personality testing)
- Bring that puppy home at the appropriate age and begin training
- Work through puppy and advanced training
- Achieve Canine Good Citizen
- Work through service dog training
The list may not seem that long, but working through it will result in close to 3 years of work by the time we’re done. Right now we’re between steps 2 and 3. We’ve found a trainer we want to work with, we’ve found a breeder we want to adopt from (they have a history of producing amazing service dog candidates), we’ve placed a deposit with our breeder to secure our spot in line and now we’re waiting to see if the right puppy is born in one of the upcoming litters.
Now comes our big announcement. We’ve just received word that our breeder has confirmed she will have 2 litters due in mid-May!
This is amazing, especially because they don’t produce many litters each year (they are extremely picky about producing the right puppies and not over-breeding their dogs) and 2 litters ups the chances that one may pass all of the temperament and personality testing necessary for him/her to be considered a good service dog candidate for us!
So what does this mean? This means that hopefully our puppy will be born in May. We’d like our puppy to do advanced training with our breeder, which would mean he/she stays for several extra weeks and then our puppy would come home around the end of summer or so (we think based on our calculations?). This advanced training can really help give our puppy a good foundation to succeed in more advanced training and eventually service dog training.
The Decision to Work with a Goldendoodle
As many of you may already know, goldens and poodles are both popular choices for service dogs. While technically any dog with the right temperament and ability to learn can potentially be trained to be a service dog, the odds of succeeding are already stacked against you as so few actually make it. For this reason, many people choose to adopt from certain breeders so that health, history, temperament and potential abilities are slightly less unknown. Many of the services out there that place fully-trained service dogs with those that need them use service dog candidate producing breeders or have their own breeding programs.
There are no guarantees. Plenty of service dog candidates wash out (which is when a dog in training is determined not to be able to become a certified service dogs), but working with a breeder that uses the best practices in his/her breeding program, employs highly researched puppy development programs and enrichments and who understands what you in particular will need in your puppy candidate can definitely help your odds.
We debated a lot about the breed to move forward with (or whether to adopt a rescue). In the end, for a number of reasons, we’ve chosen to move forward with an F1b goldendoodle service dog candidate puppy (75% poodle, 25% golden) and we found an amazing breeder with a history of producing some great service dog candidate puppies.
We’re big fans of golden retrievers’ lovable, devoted personalities (many of you have “met” our golden Shadow on our Instagram account) and poodles are highly intelligent. Both goldens and poodles are regularly trained to become service dogs, which is why goldendoodles are becoming popular choices as service dogs. We feel confident that we’ve made the right choice for Patrick’s needs and for our family.
We’ll get into this decision in detail in a later post, but you can learn more about our amazing breeders (a mom and daughter team) through their website. Make sure you check out their videos documenting how they raise their puppies, it is truly extraordinary!
The Costs & The Debate to Fundraise
Update: As of June 2017, we have paid $2560 out of pocket to secure our place in line for our service dog candidate puppy. We have another $900 due in July for the first wave of advanced training, with more to come in August and then throughout the next 2 years. This does not include medical care, food, transport, etc. Thank you for your continued support!
Adopting a service dog candidate puppy from the right breeder, who takes their time to really raise their puppies to be strong, confident little puppies willing and eager to learn, is an investment.
The total cost to adopt our service dog candidate puppy (who will have successfully passed certain temperament tests) and undergo around 2 years of training is about $6500, if things go according to plan. We’re hoping to raise a little over half of that–$3400–through fundraising and the rest we’ll pay out of pocket.
This doesn’t include all the vet care, food, grooming, etc. This is simply the cost of adopting our service dog candidate and doing the necessary training. There is always the chance our puppy will need additional training if he/she requires it.
These are all things we calculated out upfront. We know the costs and we still feel this is the best option for Patrick.
However, service dogs (though likened to many of the tools used to help increase accessibility and/or functionality for someone with a disability) are not covered by insurance. In fact, we haven’t seen a single program provide assistance for someone in Patrick’s position to help alleviate some of the costs and we’ve read stories of plenty of others coming against the same issue.
Originally, we weren’t going to even attempt to raise any funds towards this pursuit. I grew up in a family that definitely didn’t believe in taking what they considered to be hand-outs or even asking for help in general.
But since discussing our plans with a few people (we’ve kept this mostly to ourselves with the exception of a handful of close friends and family) most have asked why we aren’t trying to raise some funds to alleviate some of the costs. They were baffled we weren’t even thinking about it and pressured us to consider it.
I don’t know what my mental hang-up has been; there’s no shame in taking help when it’s offered and we’ve always tried to help others whenever/however we could.
After much thought, soul-searching and introspection we’ve decided that while we’re not going to go crazy with trying to raise funds, we are going to provide a way for anyone that wishes to contribute to do so.
We don’t expect anyone to, but we are blown away and incredibly grateful that people would offer to!
For anyone that wishes to contribute, and we absolutely do not expect anyone to feel pressured to, they can do so through our GoFundMe fundraiser page.
Regardless of whether or not you want to financially support us, we hope that you will emotionally support us as we pursue this path! We’ll be sharing updates here regularly and can’t wait to see how this journey unfolds.
We know there will be plenty of challenges and we’re well aware of how high the failure rate is, but we’re dedicated to trying our hardest to succeed in fully training a psychiatric service dog for Patrick.
If you want to follow along on our service dog journey make sure you check back as we’ll be documenting our process from this point forward! We’ll also be discussing things like some of the different tasks you can teach a service dog for someone with PTSD, why we chose the breed we chose, etc.
If you or someone close to has a service dog we’d love to hear your story! It’s been so amazing to read the stories of people that owner-trained and/or have service dogs.
Sometimes a dog isn’t just man’s best friend, he’s also his saving grace. <3
Thanks again for the support, guys!