“People who suffer from mental health issues can experience a range of problems, from anxiety and panic attacks to agoraphobia (fear of public places). Animals have been found to have a calming influence on many people who suffer such issues. One example of this is Minddog, a group that provides service animals to mental health sufferers, much in the way guide dogs are used to assist the blind.”

Our four legged friends can be much more than “just” a companion

Cath, one of the founder members of Minddog, has Bipolar II Disorder. This is the story of the early beginnings of Minddogs

Cath discovered that she could cope better with issues such as anxiety, agorophobia and difficulties arising from her Bipolar II Disorder when she was with her three dogs.  The problem was that her dogs couldn’t be with her everywhere! The solution? She needed to get one of her dogs registered as a service dog, so he or she could accompany her and give her the support she needed.  One of Cath’s dogs, Cath chose Buddy – a ridgeback with a difficult history – and started the journey to get him registered as a service dog. It was not the easiest choice. Buddy was a gift to Cath when he was a puppy of six months old. His life had been in a paddock when he had no dog training or socialization. He ran as free as a bird. As a result his instincts reigned, and he could be aggressive with other dogs, as well as killing off the odd chicken.

However over time, with patience, love and help from a trainer and support from her other dogs, Cath managed to get Buddy on track, and up to speed as a candidate for certification as a service dog. The next hurdle was that there was no organisation or trainers to assist with the certification. Cath persisted, and eventually she located a Mali Rolph who had worked with Guide Dogs in Canada. So finally Buddy was tested for his suitability as a Minddog. He passed with flying colours and the rest is history!  Cath was able to organize an ID card for Buddy and get a public transport pass, and Buddy is now a “dog with a job”.

Because of this experience, Cath joined forces with a small group of friends and professionals and Minddog came into existence so that other who suffered like Cath could also have the official support of their four legged friends.

Mental health sufferers often find the world a very difficult place to deal with. Anxiety, agoraphobia, panic attacks, flashbacks can all compromise the ability of individuals to carry out routine tasks, hold down jobs, catch public transport or do ordinary activities, such as going to the supermarket.

A certified Minddog can help to solve these problems. The Federal Disability Discrimination Act ensures that people who use service dogs to alleviate the effects of their disability have access to all public spaces and transport.

Minddogs are trained to deal with the kind of situations that their handler may find themselves in when using public spaces. Someone with agoraphobia can go shopping with their dog in its Minddog jacket and be calmed and reassured by the dog’s presence. People who suffer panic attacks can have their dog take them to a safe place or, simply having the dog with them can prevent the attack from happening. Minddogs can make sure that medication is taken on time. When their handler has flashbacks, the dog provides an anchor in real time and space.

There are no particular breeds that make good Minddogs. It depends absolutely on the handler’s needs. Sometimes a pure breed dog would be the right choice and sometimes a shelter dog maybe just what the doctor ordered. Minddog can help individuals to select a dog if they don’t already have one. Selection of an appropriate dog is a complex business and the wrong dog can cause all sorts of problems and expense.

Minddog also ensures that any dog it certifies is safe and well cared for. Some people might imagine that giving it to “a mad, violent loony” could endanger a service dog. This is far from the reality. Minddog goes through a detailed process including liaison with the handler’s supervising psychiatrist to ensure that any dog it certifies is both safe and genuinely needed. There is ongoing contact between Minddog, the dog, and the handler. The bonds that are developed between Minddogs and their handler’s can become incredibly strong.

There are also many other benefits of adopting a pet for those who are in recovery.  The Recovery Village in the United States is a great example of an organisation that promotes and supports the adoption of pound pets by those in recovery.  Great idea for Australia – it’s win-win for sufferer and the pet that gets rescued!

If you would like to know more about Minddog visit their website on www.minddog.org.au. And you can learn more about pet insurance options here.

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Liz Walden

Liz has a passion for all things cat and dog, and was one of the first in Australia to bring Pet Insurance to the market. She has headed up Petsecure marketing for the past 10 years, and is committed to promoting and supporting the amazing work done by rescue groups around Australia, and those who work to promote a better life for all animals