Thursday, January 26, 2012
For those of us who are writers, comments from our readers are special. We write because it's something we love to do, and having an opportunity to write about the pets we love makes it even better. Sometimes a reader will ask a question or make a suggestion that sends us on a quest to find more information. My topic today, dogs that help humans with invisible disabilities, was suggested by a reader. After doing some research on it, I discovered another wonderful example of how important dogs are to us.
My mom developed Rheumatoid arthritis when she was pregnant with me. In the early stages, she didn't really show any outward signs of the disease. She worked outside the home, took care of three kids, was active in our church, and appeared to be perfectly healthy. As I grew, her pain increased and the crippling effects of the disease began to take hold. By the time I was in grade school, she was spending more and more time in and out of the hospital for operations to repair damaged joints and continuous monitoring of new arthritis drugs she was taking. Mom was a fighter and refused to let her arthritis get the better of her, but I saw how hard it was for her on her worst days. As an adult, she told me on many occasions how important her dogs were to her. Without them, there would have been a lot of mornings she never would have gotten out of bed. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the invisible disabilities.
One important lesson I learned growing up is that just because someone looks fine on the outside, inside they may be dealing with crippling and life changing disabilities. Diabetes, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, lupus, sleep disorders, Lyme disease, food allergies, PTSD, epilepsy, lactose intolerance, chronic pain, autism, and ADHD are just a few of the invisible disabilities people live with every day. An invisible disability is any disease or disability that affects normal everyday life and hinders a person's ability to perform daily activities, and it isn't obvious to people who don't know you.
The Invisible Disabilities Advocate (IDA) began in 1997 by founder and President, Wayne Connell and it was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2004. Their mission is to educate people on the chronic conditions millions of people deal with every day even though they look healthy.
We've all seen a blind person or someone in a wheelchair with their service dog by their side. Deaf people are aided by their dog to alert them to a knock at their door. For some people, living an independent life would be much harder or impossible without their service dog. Because dogs are so tuned in to our emotions and needs, we can train them to perform specific tasks for specific needs to help people live with an invisible disability.
Dogs learn specific tasks like retrieving, pulling, leading, being alert to changes in blood sugar or the beginning stage of a seizure, and they're trained to help provide balance to keep their owner from falling. They are also taught basic commands and must be well socialized with people, properly behaved when out in public and able to follow commands.
My mom had two dogs and two cats. The dogs weren't service dogs, and her cats were just ordinary house cats that loved to stretch out and sleep in the afternoon sun. However, they were just as important to her as a service dog would be, because they kept her going when she didn't feel like getting up and moving. I learned how important my mom's pets were to her as her arthritis became more crippling over the years. She always knew I was around to help out when she needed an extra hand, and I always knew her pets would help give her courage to get up each morning.
Mom never complained about her disability, she never asked for pity from anyone, and she did her best to move from one operation to the next and keep a smile in her heart despite the pain she had to live with everyday. I know firsthand how hard life can be for someone with an invisible disability. I also know how important a dog or cat is; even if they aren't a certified service animal, they can make all the difference in the world for people who live with an illness other people can't see.
Photo by Chris Dixon
Read more articles by Linda Cole