Category Archives: dogs

the end of an era

In fifteen minutes it will be January 20th. In approximately eleven hours Trump will take the oath of office and Obama will say goodbye to the post he’s held for the last 8 years.
 
The last 8 years have been revolutionary for our country. Even if you aren’t a fan of Obama’s you can’t argue that this man made history. As history was made and the future shaped so was my life. And in many ways Obama’s presidency represents my recovery journey.
 
You see 8 years ago the weekend before inauguration day I broke up with my abusive boyfriend with the help of some amazing friends. As Obama was sworn into office I stood in the office of the hall of my college hiding from the man who terrified me. I had no idea what was to come and I’m sure neither did the man who I was watching with his hand on the Lincoln Bible taking an oath that would change his life, his families and many others including my own.
 
In the next 8 years that Obama watched over our country I experienced more change than I thought possible. As Obama began forming his legacy I sat in treatment centers with women who would become life long friends and others who I would mourn their deaths just a few short months or years later. I learned how to eat again. I was taught that I was enough as I was. I experienced flashback after flashback but worked my way through them to see the light that was waiting for me. I received my first service dog and then just four short years later held him as he died in my arm. I trained my second and returned to the show ring for the first time in 10 years.
 
I got the word hope tattooed on my arm. A word that Obama embraced and the thing that saved me when I was in the depths of anorexia.I celebrated five years of recovery. I gained weight instead of loosing it. I ate ice cream whenever I wanted and enjoyed every flavor of Cadbury eggs. I watched Michelle kiss the queen and ate snacks everyday.
 
As Obama negotiated international and domestic conflicts I negotiated my own conflicts of who I was as a person and how I could live this life limited by the confines of my own brain. I began to talk about my trauma in college thanks in a large part to Biden’s work on campus assault. I learned to set boundaries and became a proud feminist who admired Michelle and watched with tears in my eyes when she spoke about Trump’s actions. I watched Obama treat his daughter’s and wife with respect and the belief that they were equal. And I unknowingly absorbed the message for the first time – that perhaps being a woman didn’t make me “less than”.
 
And today as I prepare to go to bed on the last day that Obama is president I realized that this last eight years was the first time that I have lived without abuse. No bulling. No harassment. No rape. No partner abuse. In the entire time Obama has been president I have known that I have not belonged to a man who would abuse and use me.
 
And so as the Obama’s leave and this chapter of history is closed so does a chapter of my own life. Both America’s last 8 years and mine can be explained as chapters of pain, conflict, confusion, unexplainable joy, hope, despair and most importantly freedom and safety.
I’m saying goodbye to the man who has traveled a road at the same time as me. A road that was unknown and unpredictable for both of us. I also say goodbye to two men and one incredible woman that fostered an environment that gave me the courage to begin to heal.
 
Life doesn’t end here for either Obama or I (or for America). It’s just beginning. It’s time to spread our wings and experience a new adventure; one of freedom but informed by experiences of the past 8 years. And so as Obama says goodbye to the White House and the presidency I say goodbye to the 8 years of healing and recovery. It’s time to truly live.
 
 
 
 

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Filed under abuse, abuser, anxiety, Ben, body image, bullying, culture, depression, dog training, dogs, eating disorder, eating disorders, Election 2012, election 2016, feminism, Hope, Identity, life events, Life Story, New Life, politics, PTSD, Recovery, service dog, social change, society, survivor, the past, trauma, writing/poetry

stopping a relapse with support

I’ve been absent (again) on my blog. For awhile it was touch and go with things related to my eating disorder. I’m back on a more level playing field but I wouldn’t call it stable ground yet. I began to struggle a few weeks ago. For numerous reasons that would take a lot of time to go into here and honestly I’m not quite ready to share. Anyways, after a lot of days of little nutrition, negotiations with parents and treatment team I’m at a place where I’m eating again with supervision and my safe foods. We are doing a step by step approach to add on scarier foods each week but this week was safe foods. 

I’m eating because I’m supervised but I do have a choice. I could sit in front of my parents and say “nope. not going to eat that” but I haven’t. I guess it’s because I didn’t go totally downhill. I didn’t loose enough weight for my mind to become crazy and everything rational to be gone. I could still think and what I thought about was Gus. If I had had to return to treatment (which at several points was looking likely as the amount of food I was consuming was not acceptable at all) Gus would not have been allowed to go with me. At this point in our relationship and his training it would be hugely detrimental. We would loose all of our progress and he could potentially not become a service dog. I know this because I’ve done it before.  

In August of 2010, I had adopted a young pup from the shelter. I named her Shona which is the name of the native language my friend from Zimbabwe speaks. I was just back from Laureate’s eating disorder program and was in a fast relapse after being home a month. I loved Shona deeply from the first time I saw her but a month after adopting her I was off to Utah to The Center for Change for another 5 1/2 months of treatment. While I was gone Shona had a great life, living with my parents but it wasn’t the same. They purposely didn’t try to bond with her so she would know she was my dog when I returned and she did but important time was lost. Shona was never meant to be a service dog at that time but those early months of her first year where she would have learned basic obedience and manners were lost and we never quite regained that ground. Shona never quite developed the level of obedience I wished until she was much older. And I believe this was due to my leaving her at a young age. 

If I left Gus now at 8 1/2 months of age when he is so impressionable and our bonding is so important not to mention his service dog training and obedience training I truly believe we could never make it up. We would never become a service dog team. The idea terrifies me. I love this dog more than most things in my world right now and to be without him seems unbearable. So I was close to going back to some sort of treatment be it full inpatient or a partial program with boarding but I managed to create structure with my parents and treatment team where we created our own sort of partial program where I am basically receiving the same support I would had I gone to a partial program. I have meal support and we have defiantly upped the therapy time and amount of time I’m spending with my dietician. 

Without meal support would I be eating? I wish I could say yes, but I can’t. Not right now. My eating disorder is really strong and the grip it has on me seems to be unbreakable. But I’m learning that this can’t matter. I do what I need to do anyways just with help right now. I don’t give myself a chance to skip meals or restrict my intake because I have a support team around me. 

So am I in a relapse? The answer would be yes – if left to my own devices as I was a few weeks ago. Now I’ve been pulled out by other people. I’m letting them do the work right now while I comply and follow directions. I’m letting myself go on autopilot for awhile. I don’t have the motivation for complete recovery. I do have the motivation to allow others to help me. And this is the first time I’ve gotten to this place and allowed others to break into the dark, isolated world that my eating disorder has created. Progress. 

And so I’m going along. Still living and existing. Starting school. Beginning a pet sitting business. Working with Gus both on obedience and service dog skills. Teaching him to swim. It’s nice to keep these things going and not have to loose them all while I go sit somewhere and relearn how to eat in an artificial environment. I am hugely grateful that my family has made it possible for me to remain in my world and still receive the help that I need. Hugely grateful. And so thank you family. Thank you for allowing me to stay home and remain with my Gus. 

 

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Filed under dog training, dogs, eating disorder, eating disorders, family, Gus, Hope, Independence, psychiatric service dog, Recovery, service dog, Shona

benny has epilepsy

I’ve been putting off writing this post. I’ve been doing a lot of crying and a whole lot of mourning the past couple of days. On Friday, Benny had a seizure followed by several more in the following 72 hours. What does this mean? Well, it means Benny probably has epilepsy which changes his life in many ways and also means it immediately moved him into retirement from service dog work.

Watching Benny have a seizure is one of the scariest things I have had to witness. The seizure itself is scary but the aftereffects even more so for me. He is confused, seems to forget where he is and can hardly walk. He is uncomfortable and moves from the floor, to the chair, to the couch and back again. The only thing he wants seems to be me. He is extremely clingy.

After his first seizure I loaded him into the car almost as soon as it was done. At that point I didn’t really know what had happened. On the way to the vet it dawned on my mother and me that he must have had a seizure as he appeared to be coming out of whatever happened to him. The vet confirmed this. Blood was taken and the preliminary diagnosis is epilepsy. Within 48 hours Benny had had two more seizures (one serious, one less so) and another one later.

On Thursday Benny and I will travel to Kansas State Veterinary Clinic to meet with a specialist and to determine if it exactly is epilepsy and hopefully get him started on a medication regimen. More than likely Ben will have to take meds for the rest of his life.

I expect Ben to by and large live a happy and full life. Yes, it will be marred by seizures (hopefully only occasionally) but they can by and large be controlled by medication is what I am told. He can no longer be my service dog something both him and I must come to terms with but he can live his life out as a loved and spoiled pet (and trust me he’ll be spoiled).

I would have liked for our partnership to end with Ben retiring in old age but it is not to be. I will have to mourn this for awhile. I will miss my boy but I do have Shona to work (and someday another dog). I am extremely lucky in that I have my Shona girl to step in. I am also lucky that I can keep Ben and have him with me everyday. So yes, I am sad. Devastated really but Ben and I will move forward as a team and face this together just as we have faced every other challenge placed before us.

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Filed under Ben, dog training, dogs, psychiatric service dog, service dog, Shona

a service dog in a psych hospital

So I recently wrote that I had been admitted to the psych ward twice (the first time just short of three days and the second time just short of a week). What I failed to mention was what I did with my service dogs, Benny and Shona, while I was admitted. This was deliberate. There is so much criticism in the service dog world about how people treat their dogs and represent service dogs as a whole. In fact, there is a whole Facebook page dedicated to finding “fakers” or people they deem irresponsible or misrepresenting service dogs and publicly exposing them. I was reluctant to share my decisions in how I handled my stay and my dogs in fear of judgement and bullying but I am choosing to in order to perhaps help someone else think through how they would like to handle a similar situation. 

First, I need to say that I always consider my dog’s needs first before my own. The hospital I go to is a safe environment with a well trained staff. In addition, it sits on a large area of grounds and easy access to these for potty breaks at anytime. In addition, I could take my service dog for short ten to fifteen minute walks. Staff was more than accommodating day or night in allowing me to take Ben or Shona out. Before staying at the hospital I considered my dog’s temperate. Ben is a dog that is not easily effected by other’s emotions. If Ben is a dog that naturally picks up and feels all the feelings around him a psych. hospital would not be the place for him. But Ben is very emotionally stable and stern. He loves people but their emotions don’t effect him negatively (Shona struggles with this more) so Ben was the dog I chose to take with me. 

Ben did not remain “on duty” the entire time he was at the hospital. He was allowed to visit with the other patients, play and act like a dog. If he had remained “on duty” the entire time he would have become worn out and burnt out. Instead he had time to just be Ben and be a dog. There were times I needed him on duty but I also made sure he could be Ben. I deliberately made sure I spent time in my room during the day so he could sleep just like he would at home and wouldn’t be overstimulated. This way he got enough rest. 

I considered the population of patients. I was not in a severe mentally ill unit. For the most part there were not psychotic patients. Most were struggling like me so Ben was in no danger. He in fact provided much needed relief to these patients and when not working was allowed to be petted, cuddled and hugged. He served as a therapy dog as much as anything. This is important to note. If you are considering taking your dog inpatient you need to be clear to yourself before going in what your boundaries will be. Will you enforce the no petting rule? I did when Ben was on duty but when he was not I allowed him to be petted like a normal dog. This will require interaction. People naturally want to pet your dog. They will ask questions. You will have to be near them. This was hard for me. But Ben craved their attention and in order for me to make the stay positive for him I allowed him to have the attention he desired. 

Another factor that made the hospital stay feasible was my parents were able to visit every night. My dad took Ben out for a thirty minute walk each night. So Ben got plenty of exercise and a chance to run. Each day when they were there I evaluated his mood, attitude well-being, exhaustion and stress level to see if he was able to stay another day. If he had indicated he was stressed at all I would have sent him home immediately. 

To sum up my experience with Ben  I made the right decision to take him with me. It worked for us. It’s not going to work for every situation. It’s a combination of having the right hospital, the right population of patients, the right timing, the right access to resources and the right dog. Ben has come out of his stay a better service dog. His behavior is more focused and concentrated. He learned a lot from his time there. And how do I know he was not harmed from his stay? Every-time I return there for outpatient Ben wags his tail and becomes increasily excited thinking we are returning to the hospital. He would like nothing better. Sorry buddy if I have anything to say about it we are staying far away. 

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Filed under Ben, coping skills, depression, dogs, psychiatric service dog, service dog, Shona

welcome back to work, Benny

In May of this year I announced that my psychiatric service dog, Ben, would be retiring. At that point I didn’t know if it would be temporary or permeant. In the meantime I was very blessed to have another dog (Shona) to step in and fill his duties. In five months since then Shona has become a great service dog in training who has learned, grown and proved to be a great partner. Our bond has grown and she has proved that she is meant to be a service dog. However, in the last month or so Ben began to indicate a desire to work again. I was cautious for many reasons. Ben was retired due to some fairly serious problems but at the time I also wasn’t completely convinced it would be a permeant retirement due to the adolescent period labs go through, our relatively new partnership and a variety of other factors. So when he began to show interest I cautiously began introducing Ben to non-stressful working environments around the beginning of September.

Since then Ben has shown that he is truly ready to be a service dog. He is a different dog than he was four or five months ago. He is now a focused, secure dog that shows little to no signs of stress when out. Of course he still retains that goofy temperament that makes Benny, Benny but it is tempered by the attitude of a (mostly) mature dog. A very, very different Benjamin than who he was back in May.  I contribute this to several factors. Benny and I hadn’t even begin together for a year when he began to show signs of needing at least a temporary retirement. We loved each other but really we were still getting to know each other. It’s understandable that he and I needed time to bond and learn to trust each other without the stress working in a public situations brings. Taking time to play, snuggle and spend time together without worrying about going out was so beneficial to both of us. Benny is now my constant shadow. Even more so than when he first arrived. He is more intuitive to my needs (although not quite as much as Shona) and I believe as time goes by he will continue to be.

In addition, I began comprehensive obedience work. I am very confident in this situation. I have shown in obedience since I was seven years old and the structure is comforting to me and familiar. This is a direct contrast to public situations. So this gave Benny a time to trust me. To follow my lead and for me to demonstrate that I was the leader in our relationship. He could relax and follow my lead and he loved it! In addition, the extra training and commands helped Benny to focus his scattered mind and keep him sharp as he took a break.

Finally, the break allowed Benny time to just be a dog and I really think he needed this. He played. He ran with my dogs. He wrestled. He soaked up attention from my grandmother. He was able to be petted whenever he wanted. He was in heaven. But then one day he suddenly wasn’t. He wasn’t okay when I left. He started asking to have his vest put on. And so I put it on him. I took him for a short outing to a low stress place that we could leave at once if things didn’t go well. But they did. And so we went again. And then to a different place and gradually we’ve kept going and I’ve been really proud of him. He’s learning new things (a “where’s the car” command and a “lead out” command where he finds the exit as well as leading me to my parents in the store). And so far he’s been great.

I’m not pushing things though. I don’t work him too much or in stressful situations. I switch him out with Shona and Shona does a lot of the more stimulating and stressful situations (she does well with them). I think Benny will always work part time or quarter time and Shona will fill in the gaps and I’ll never hesitate to retire again and permanently if he needs it but honestly? I think Benny is ready to work. I think he wants to work. He’s happy. I’m happy.

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Filed under Ben, dog training, dogs, Independence, life events, psychiatric service dog, PTSD, Recovery, service dog, Shona

i’m back! and monday mood lifters for September 2nd

Well I’m back officially. I popped in the other day to write this post. There was an event that propelled me to write it that I’ll discuss at a later time but for now I felt the letter was important enough to save above in my pages.

Anyways, onto happier things. I’ll be posting regularly again and I have some big updates but I wanted to welcome September and myself back to blogging with some Monday Mood Lifters (although having a day off rom work/school is probably a mood lifter in itself)

Monday Mood Lifters

NOTE: None of these pictures or videos belong to me (with the exception of ones noted below). However, they should all link either to the original source or a source that credits them if available. If you are the source of a picture please let me know and I will credit you. Thank you.

1) These students performed a flashmob for their retiring principal. His reaction is priceless. Worth a watch. I originally found the video on Upworthy which is a new favorite website.

2) Who spirits can’t be lifted with a little Pooh Bear in their life?

3) This made me chuckle. Also it’s true…I need some books on these things.

4. Fall is coming! Fall is coming!

5. Sunflowers…*sigh* if you’re like me sunflowers will always make you happy.

6. The concept of this quote:

Maybe when we die, the first thing we’ll say is, ‘I know this feeling. I was here before.’

White Noise – Don DeLillo

7. Someone took a picture of their dog for a year and turned it into a gif

8. The fact that this happened somewhere

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 4.54.27 PM

9. This reassurance. I think we all need this no matter what age we are.

10. And of course my Benny boy.

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Filed under Ben, coping skills, dogs, Funny, Hope, Monday Mood Lifters, quotes

i’ll be back in september (in the meantime check out these links)

Well I’m popping in on my blog to let everyone know that I’ve decided to officially take a break from blogging here until September. It’s probably been obvious I’ve taken a break from my lack of posts but I wanted to let you know that I have made that “official” in my mind and will be back starting in September. I’ve been busy working with my dogs, starting my Animal Behavior College classes, continuing Shona’s training and of course attending therapy along with a variety of other things. I’ve blogging some on my tumblr site as it is a very quick way to post and update photos there almost daily (here is a direct link to those photos) and updating my facebook page. Here is the new link to that. I’ll continue updating those throughout August so you can for sure find me and the pups there.

I’ll talk to you soon!

– Kate (and the pups)

Where to find me in the Meantime:

My tumblr – Life with Ben and Shona 

Facebook – Personal (ask to friend with a message of who you are); Ben and Shona – Psychiatric Service Dogs

Instagram – kate_givan

Email – kate.givan@gmail.com

My youtube account – videos of the dogs

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Filed under dog training, dogs, life events, psychiatric service dog, PTSD, Recovery, school, service dog, Tumblr

all three of us are happy – an update on life with shona, benny and i

It’s been awhile since I’ve last posted. I’ve been living life instead of blogging about that and I find that I can’t apologize for that. I have’t *lived* into life and been this busy in a really long time and it feels good. Weird but good.

My life is filled with new things but some things remain the same and these are as always my dogs. Although, it has taken me awhile to see this. For some time I wasn’t sure how to approach the changes within Benny, Shona’s and my life. Benny was moving into full retirement, Shona into full service dog in-training status and me into a two dog mom again. Recently, though I have realized that at heart Benny will always be a service dog. I’ve taken him out of public access, yes. But he still performs his jobs at home. Better even than before. He follows me from room to room. Does deep pressure tasks and takes care of me in a loving and gentle way. He and Shona often “tag-team” at our apartment (although sometimes they do have a few disagreements  about who gets to sit on the couch with me – these mostly look like Shona herding Benny and Benny trying to go around her. I really should try and catch it on video sometime).

I feel so blessed to have these dogs in my life that are so devoted to me. And they truly are. They love the other members of my family but both Shona and Benny truly prefer to be with me. This makes it hard to leave Ben when Shona and I go out but it also reaffirms my decision to continue having him live with me. And so all three of us are happy. Benny is adjusting well, Shona has slipped into her new role effortless and I am at peace.

Could I really ask for much else?

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Filed under Ben, dog training, dogs, Hope, psychiatric service dog, Recovery, service dog, Shona

the minutes, the moments, the months – recovery

At some point I stopped counting the months. At some point I stopped celebrating them. The first year I was home from CFC I celebrated (and usually blogged about – check the archives if you are interested) each month I was home from CFC. One month, I would type into my faceboook status leaving the world to guess. Two, then three and finally the big one SIX MONTHS HOME  IN RECOVERY. I shared then because I had stopped hiding behind any facades. I had a two year gap on my profile from when I was in treatment, no answers from well meaning (or not so) people when they asked what I was doing (I actually started spouting off ‘finding myself’ if I got too irritated) and of course I’d started this blog. Hard to hide when you have a blog with your real name attached …And that was just it I didn’t want to hide anymore. So I didn’t. And I shared each of those milestones on here….seven months.eights months. nine months….ONE YEAR.

And after a year I continued celebrating. I didn’t count the months on facebook or on my blog. In fact, I didn’t count them for myself unless I delibratingly stopped and thought. There was a rough patch. A long one right after six month mark and into the year and a half mark while I waited for Benny to arrive. It’s seems like I spent more time in the psych. hospital than out while we tried to get me mentally stabilized and diagnose me correctly and a short stay at a trauma facility. But I never relapsed back into my eating disorder. I came close a couple of times but somehow I kept a hold of my recovery.

And then this year I celebrated my two year recovery anniversary – this past February actually. My parents and I went out to dinner (how appropriate and wonderful way to mark a recovery from an eating disorder). They gave me a sweet gift and so did Ben (:D).

And so I’ve continued. I’m not counting the months anymore. I suspect I’ll always mark the year. Maybe not publicly  Maybe not with anyone else but to me February 22nd (or aroundish there) will always be a day of rebirth. But the moments, the minutes, the months that I stay in recovery? Oh, I let those fly by.

Except I stopped the other day. I was handing cash to a person in a drive-through and I looked down at my left wrist where I have  a tattoo that says hope with the o replaced by the eating disorder recovery symbol and was suddenly stopped dead in my tracks. And as I drove away from the drive-through I replayed it in my head. Slowly.

I. Am. In. Recovery. From. An. Eating. Disorder. That. Almost. Killed. Me.

I’m here. Handing cash to a person through a little window. Driving with the windows down and a dog’s head stuck out the back. Bad music coming from the radio. Not in a sterile hospital room. Not running laps around the block. Not dead. I am in recovery. 

There are a thousand other scenarios that could be taking place today had I not stumbled onto hope and held onto it and let it lead me into recovery. But I did hold on. I did make it here. And I realized that yes, I do celebrate my recovery once a year perhaps it is something I should remind myself more often how precious it is. Not only is the reminder tattooed on my wrist it is around me in every way. All I have to do is look.

IMG_0072

 

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Filed under Ben, depression, dogs, eating disorder, eating disorders, family, Hope, Identity, life events, Life Story, NEDA, New Life, Recovery, service dog, survivor, the past

life moves ever on and on (note the Lord of the Ring reference :D)

Soooo, I haven’t really had anything of interesting to say as of late. My life is moving along of it’s own accord. I’m busy and I’m not overwhelmed with the business nor do I feel on the verge of a breakdown which has occurred every single other time I’ve increased my activity level. It’s weird but really nice. I’m at the Kennel Club four days of the week and am loving the training I am doing with the dogs. Ben is in Rally Obedience and advanced obedience on Wednesdays. Shona is finishing up a basic obedience class and is in agility. I am also taking a dog through basic obedience for someone at the club to help her out and improve my training skills. That started today and I am loving the chance to work with another dog and learn from that experience. Also, the guy is a sweetie.

I also just recently started taking online classes through the Animal Behavior College to become a certified dog trainer. I’ll also take some specialized courses which is the part I’m most excited about including “Training Shelter Dogs”, “The Art and Selling of Private Lessons”, “Pet Sitting and Dog Walking” and the most interesting and unique one (also a growing industry) “Pet Massage”. In addition, I’ll be working with a mentor who is already certified and has experience in the field of dogs and shadowing he or she as they work with clients and also working with shelter dogs in my area. These will be towards the end of my classes (which approximately take a year). After, I graduate  I will begin working towards joining the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. The certification is not required for joining the association but I believe that it will give me confidence and preparation as I venture further into dog training. Therefore, I’ll take the steps to begin joining the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (which really does carry more weight in the long run) after I have completed the school and worked more on my skills, confidence and very basic knowledge base.

Let’s see – other news of my life…my therapist was gone this week so I expected it to be a “take it easy week” but between various errands, two separate trips to Wichita, a Kennel club monthly meeting and various other things it ended up being a much busier week than planned. Shona’s training is progressing well and  I’m proud of what she has accomplished. We still have a very long ways to go but I feel like we are on a good schedule. Benny is adjusting slowly but better than I anticipated although he made it very clear yesterday he needed some individual attention. Shona did move in with Benny and I and that has helped a ton. I feel like I have time to devote to the two of them and also time to devote to service dog training and obedience and rally training as well. We are all happier living together and I feel much less guilty with the changes happening in Benny’s life.

Recovery wise – things are well. I was very stressed at times this week and my body image has suffered but I have kept trucking along. It has amazed me that come August I will have a year without any hospitalizations. This is quite a feat considering last year I was in at least once a month. I have Benny to thank for this. However, lacking he may be in other areas he has kept me hospital free and that in itself is worth so much more than I can express. I love this dog.

That’s about all that is happening in my life. It may not seem busy to you but to me it is. After almost two and a half years of very little to do except trying to keep my head above water living a life of any kind is amazing and wonderful to me.

 

 

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Filed under Ben, dog training, dogs, Hope, Identity, Independence, life events, psychiatric service dog, Recovery, school, service dog