In this guest article Julie is writing about her experiences with a service dog. Julie is from Denmark, so her original blog post is in Danish. Therefore, I (Nici) translated it for you. But that means, that there are probably different rules for how to get a service dog in your country. However, I felt like, it was interesting to share Julie’s story with you anyway.

About Indy and me
My name is Julie, I’m 21 years old and the lucky owner of a service dog. I have autism and ADD. I live in a group home and I’m really happy to live there. I love animals, have two rabbits, that can move around freely in my apartment, and of course my service dog Indy. He’s a black Labrador, who’s nearly three years and I have had him for two years. I really like practicing with all my animals and teaching them tricks.

My life before Indy
Before I got Indy, my everyday life was full of massive self-harm. I rarely got out of my apartment. Mostly, I just wanted to give up. I was afraid of being in my apartment on my own and I didn’t dare to sleep, if I didn’t know there was a staff member close by. A trip to the city to get groceries or go to the movie theatre, was nearly impossible. I was really dependent on the staff at my former group home.

How I got Indy
One day I sat and watched tv and there was something about a veteran, who told about, how a service dog helped him with his problems. I thought, that it sounded really interesting, and I wondered, if a service dog also could help with my problems. So, I started to look into it. After thinking about, if I could take on the responsibility for a dog, I decided to apply. I wrote an application together with a social worker from my group home and sent it to my case worker. It was a really long process, until I got an answer: half a year. There were a lot of people involved and they all recommended for me to get a service dog. And then finally, right on my birthday, I got a call, that they decided to grant me a service dog. It was the best birthday present I could have wished for! But first, everything needed to be sent to the organization that trains service dogs. So, I had to wait six more months, until I finally got the dog. I first needed to verify, that I could take care of a dog. And then they needed to hear about my problems, so that they could know which dog would fit best to me. That’s how Indy and I got matched.

Starting phase
The day, I got Indy, was definitely the best day of my life. When you get a service dog from the organization, where Indy was trained, you also get three days with the coach who trained the dog. That’s right at the beginning, when you get the dog. The coach explains and shows, what the dog can, and tells you how to get the dog to do those things. And then you also go out and practice, what the dog has learned. It was a bit difficult, but very important to know how to use the dog.
For me it was really exhausting to get a service dog right at the beginning. There are so many new things to learn and you have to get used to the responsibility. But after a couple of months it’s not that difficult anymore. Also, a service dog has learned many things, when you get it, and its tested. The dog knows all the basic stuff, so it’s definitely not as difficult as it would be to get a normal dog.

Training
Even though a service dog is well trained, it still needs ongoing training, which you have to take care of, after you got the dog. Therefore, it’s also important, that you enjoy training the dog. There are definitely periods, where I don’t feel well, and I don’t train as much with Indy as I usually do. So, there are periods with less training, but it never stands still.

What Indy can
I often hear, that people are surprised, that you can get a service dog, when you’re not blind or physically disabled. And I frequently get asked, what tasks the service dog has then. Even though I can pick up stuff from the floor or open doors myself, Indy still has some important tasks. He can do some exercises, where he either puts his head on my thigh or he lays down on me. That helps me calm down and it can stop me from getting into a meltdown or get more afraid or insecure. He can also do an exercise that’s called “block”. There he sits for example behind me, when we wait in line at a shop. That gives me space around me so that I feel save. Normally, standing in line is one of the things that can make me quite anxious. I also taught Indy to get my phone, so that I can write to someone, when I feel bad and need help. A very important thing, he also can, is poking at me, if I hit myself on my head. He can also sit on me. Both things stop me from hurting myself. That’s some of his tasks – the ones I feel, are most important.

Disadvantages of a service dog
One of the things, that can be really annoying about having a service dog, is that people look a lot at you when you’re outside. You often get confronted, that dogs usually aren’t allowed a lot of places. So, you have to explain quite often. Sometimes there are some people, who are really curious and want to know, why you have a service dog, when you don’t look disabled. I have to admit, that that can be quite annoying, when I actually wish to be invisible when I’m in the city.

Indy makes a difference
A service dog isn’t a miracle help and life is still sometimes really difficult for me. Once in a while I still just feel like giving up. But then Indy comes, looks at me and maybe gets me to go for a walk with him. Then I remember, that I can’t just give up, because I have him. He relies on me and I’m responsible for him. And even though it can be hard to have a dog, that needs activities and walks, the advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages.

After I got Indy, I definitely noticed, that I feel better and that I’m happier. I’m also much more independent now. I can easily be in my apartment on my own now and sleep without having a staff member close by. I go to the movie theatre and shop for groceries each week, with help from the staff. Last October, I was out travelling for the first time in 5-6 years and Indy was of course with me. And there are of course also other advantages of being a dog owner. I’m in a much better shape, because I walk so many kilometers every day. And I have something to wake up to every morning, because Indy needs his walks.