A helping hound
I’ve been struggling with mental illness for years, some of which I used my psychiatric assistance dog, Delilah, to assist me with. Devastatingly, Delilah was diagnosed with health issues that meant it was unreasonable for her to continue her career as my assistance dog. I had heard about the great pets that greyhounds made and was considering one for a future pet when I started seriously considering one as a future assistance dog. Many people at this time were a bit unsure of my decision of a Greyhound and encouraged me to look at more traditional options such a Labrador or Golden Retriever, particularly as Delilah is a Golden Retriever x Labrador. However, after seeing the success of other greyhounds as assistance dogs within Australia (and doing a lot of research!) I felt comfortable a greyhound would be the right fit for my needs. I worked closely with Greyhound Rescue who matched me with the appropriate greyhound and Avery came into my life.
Avery learnt quickly and adapted to life as a pet. We then eased into training slowly and worked hard together, learning the basics of being an assistance dog. We undergo our training with the support of mindDog, an organisation that assists people with a psychiatric condition to train and accredit their own dog as an assistance dog. A lot of people ask what Avery does as my assistance dog, particularly as mental illness is an invisible illness and it’s often hard for people to imagine how an assistance dog helps with it. Avery’s training means his job is subtle and I may ask him to do something using hand signals in order to not draw attention to myself. Some helpful things Avery does for me is that he positions himself in front of me (called “blocking” in the assistance dog world) to stop people from getting too close to me and triggering a panic attack or may face behind me while I retrieve cash from the ATM to “cover” me. I would say Avery’s favourite job is leaning into my leg to “ground” me, essentially providing pressure to help reduce the symptoms of panic and lessen the effects of dissociation. Avery’s training will always be ongoing, even an experienced assistance dog will always be learning new skills and refining the ones he already knows.
Avery has been very successful with his training as an assistance dog and enjoys “going to work” with his tail wagging madly as soon as his assistance dog vest comes out! Together Avery and I volunteer for mindDog Australia, attending fundraising events and doing education on assistance dogs. We also spend time at local markets selling recycled products to raise money and awareness for mindDog. I am so thankful every day for the role Avery plays in keeping me healthy and helping me engage with the community.
- Emily Smith
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