Over the past couple of years we have seen a rise in the use of therapy animals for people living with psychiatric illnesses and traumas such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and PTSD. Traditionally “service animals” have been used to assist individuals who live with illnesses such as seizure disorders, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, the visually impaired, as well as the hearing impaired.
This new breed of Service Animal, called anything from “Therapy Animal” to “Emotional Support Animal” varies from Country to Country, State to State under which guidelines and/or training they are required to meet the criteria to hold such a title, and actually be registered as such. According to The Canadian Service Dog Foundation, an Emotional Support Animal, one used for psychiatric disabilities and trauma is NOT considered a Service animal. They are “Emotional Support Animals” They are a companion to a disabled person. They are there for companionship and emotional support. The owner of the animal must be under the care of a doctor and/or psychiatrist and still well enough not to be considered fully disabled.
Meet Capone. My Best Friend.
I have a dog. He’s not just a dog, he’s my very best friend, and his name is Capone. Capone is a bull mastiff. He’s big for his breed, weighing in at a whopping 170lbs. They are often referred to as “The Gentle Giants”, and I couldn’t agree more. Capone is not registered with any organization as a service dog, or a therapy animal, or an emotional support companion, but that’s exactly what he is.
Bull mastiffs were bred to be “silent watchdogs” they pin and hold rather than go into full attack mode. Ever been pinned by a dog that size? He does this to me when he senses my more heightened shifts in moods. If I’m sitting in a chair, he will come up, place his front paws on the chair, lift himself up, and push his head into my chest. It’s the classic Capone move. If I happen to be restlessly pacing he will follow me, get in front of me and sit, again pushing his head into me. These small gestures make me stop, be present and spend some quality time loving up my best friend, something we both enjoy.
It amazes me how he just knows, sometimes before I even do, that things are shifting. I’ve had Scotty ask me how I’m doing just because of the way Capone reacts to me in certain moments. He’s always by my side, even as I sit here and type this right now, he’s snoring beside me. But, during those moments when things aren’t so great, he does his job, whatever he’s decided that job is, and he does it very well. Animals are amazing creatures, put here to show us what true unconditional love is. We could learn a lot from them if we just took the time to stop and observe.
By Nicole Lyons