Tag Archives: dogs

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?



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

a dream sixteen years later

Dreams. It’s been a long time since I’ve had dreams that I’m actually passionate about and could see myself reaching someday. But in the past week or so I’ve begun to allow myself to open up a childhood dream that I said goodbye to the day I decided to study psychology at a four year school in 2007.

Growing up my mother filled out a sheet each year that had questions like “what is your favorite tv show”, “what is your favorite book” “who would you trade places with” and at the top our height and weight (yeah that one haunts me. I like to go back and look at that periodically to torture myself. And mother please don’t go back and erase them like you threatened I promise I won’t do it anymore. I’ve confessed now.). The last question was always “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. Until senior year of high school I always answered a service dog trainer or an author.

At that point in time I had absolutely no idea that years down the road I would have my own service dog. Never, in a million years had it crossed my mind. Psychiatric service dogs weren’t around then and even if they were I wouldn’t have assumed I would need one. After all nothing was wrong with me (I was wrong about that but oh well). I did many research and 4-H projects about service dogs. I trained my own dogs in obedience, agility and showmanship and enjoyed reading about all kinds of working dogs. Oh, the irony now that I have one but perhaps I was being prepared to look outside the box to having my own.

Anyways, as I prepared to graduate high school my mind was naturally on the subject of ‘what did I want to be when I grew up’. Well, author was out. I didn’t write well enough and the idea of being an English major terrified me. I can’t spell (you know this if you read my blogs) and I dont’ have very good grammer (again you probably know this). Also, who really makes it as an author so I marked that career off my list. Then I looked at being a service dog trainer or working with dogs in some way. And this…this was what I wanted to do. But how? It wasn’t like I could go get a degree in service dog work. I could possible major in animal sciences at K-State but I didn’t want to go to a big school. That left biology. But I didn’t do honor’s bio or science so I marked that out. I wasn’t smart enough or good enough. Also, who gets a job training service dogs? No one so I flushed that dream down the drain. And how did psychology come about? I wanted to help people. I genuinely did. I wanted to help people with mental illness but I think the driving force that I didn’t even realize was there was that I knew something was wrong with me and I just didn’t know what. And I hoped in some deep corner of my brain that I could figure it out and fix it.

So now, out of college and faced with the very real reality that I am probably never going to go back and get the degree I planned on getting or my other ‘back up degrees’ and also very aware that there are other ways to exist in life without going with the ‘safest option’ I’ve begun to allow myself to dream a little. This is new. As in just in the last week. It started with meeting with another dog trainer in the area who has a service dog. She’s helping me a bit with some training issues with Ben. I realized that Ben can learn more things. I can keep training him. He and I can keep growing as a team. I love training dogs. And I can keep training Ben! Ben may have come trained as a full service dog but this doesn’t mean we can’t keep learning and training. And it’s opening up that part of me that has been closed and locked away. The part of me that loves working with a dog, brainstorming to find ways to change their behavior and get them to learn new skills.

And then it happened….the other service dog handler (OSDH) told me her dream is to one day train service dogs. And it opened up my dream again. And suddenly we were talking and brainstorming. That little dream. That passion. That thing I’ve always wanted to do was suddenly out in the open. I was giving myself permission to think that perhaps it could be a real thing. That I didn’t need to go with the ‘practical’ route or the route that guaranteed a traditional job but could perhaps follow a dream I’ve had since I was eight.

I’m not going to lie since leaving school this last time I’ve been a bit directionless. However, since discovering Ben and I could learn new things I’ve slowly added more activities into my life. We go to obedience class and will soon start agility as well. I am meeting on Thursday’s with OSDH for training and coffee talking. And now with the addition of a dream my life seems a little bit more complete. And I like that. Who knew that an eight year olds dream could perhaps show up again sixteen years later.




Filed under Ben, coping skills, dogs, eating disorder, eating disorders, friends, Hope, Identity, Job, New Life, Recovery, the past

the Ben effect

Tomorrow, ends the first week of school. For me that has meant three different courses, two therapy appointments and some wonderful (and much needed) friend time. Oh and also a lot of Ben bonding. 🙂

Ben has in fact settled into school easier and quicker than I have. He starts waiting at the door fifteen minutes early and loves prancing through campus or the halls. It’s so interesting to observe how people respond to him and I. Today was the third day of school and I talked to three girls who asked about them. I even told one girl that he was a mental health dog instead of my alert dog (which is the truth but a mental health dog is dog is what he really is) and told her I had severe anxiety. She told me she had several friends who had struggled.

And I’m learning a dog is a great equalizer. No matter race, class, gender (which is a constructed concept as I learned today) or age people tell me that Ben is beautiful or that he is such a great dog. Dog lovers and other people cannot help but react to Ben no matter who they are. Ben also brings out people’s vulnerable side as they talk or pet to him. I disappear as Ben becomes the object of their affection. An older gentlemen came all the way out to my car in the parking lot so he could say hi to Ben. Students who are so intent on keeping people away let their guard down when they pet or whisper things to Ben. I see a vulnerable side of people that I am learning to call the Ben effect. And this vulnerability  has two sides to the same coin. For some (many students) they have perfected a facade that on the outside says everything is fine but when they pet Ben I can see all that fall away and realize like me they are hurting in ways too. And then there are the people who are obviously hurting. When they pet Ben some of that sadness falls away and is replaced by joy.

I spent two years as a psychology major thinking I was learning about what was wrong with me (yeah…that didn’t work) and how I could someday figure out what was wrong with others but for Ben this takes two seconds. And all he does is wave his tail, melt when petted or give them looks of adoration. And I just stand back and watch Ben do what comes naturally to him – love others.



Filed under Ben, depression, dogs, friends, Hope, life events, New Life, survivor

the missing puzzle piece (a service dog post)

Darcie, Ben and I

Team training is done. Ben and I are now officially a service dog team. We passed our Public Access Test and the Heeling Allies Team Training Test Review. One of the things that was so special about this past week was not only did I spend time with Ben but I spent time with one of his trainers and the director of Heeling Allies, Darcie. Heeling Allies is one of the only programs that travels with the service dog to their new handlers homes. Darcie met my family and extended family, saw my hometown, met my therapist, saw my parent’s home and my apartment and met Shona and Mandalay.

I had many conversations with Darcie ranging from dogs to all other subjects including the challenges in my life. I came to a new understanding and one that will probably continuously change about what impact Ben will have in my life. I knew Ben would not enter my life as a perfect dog. There is no such thing just as there is no such thing as a perfect person but I also had no idea of the skills he would have nor did I have any idea of the complexities that are that of a service-dog/handler relationship.

Ben and I are a team. I knew this from the beginning –  “Oh yes we will be a team. Yes, yes I know’ –  but honestly I had no idea what this could even begin to look like. I see a peek now. Ben is my comforter and in turn I am his. He helps me relieve my stress and I help relieve his stress. We nurture each other emotionally.  Each day I will rely on him to go to work and he will rely on me to give everyday a fighting chance. No easy way outs. No short cuts.

Perhaps this is what I had not fully grasped although I think I thought I had. Ben is more than just a commitment or a signature on a safety contract. He is mine. He relys on me. He needs me and I need him. I haven’t felt needed in many years. I have stayed alive (at times reluctantly) but failed to see how I was needed. And you know what I was completely fine with not being needed. Not being needed meant that I was exspendable and I found comfort in that thought as horrible as that may be. But now? I’m not expendenable. I  have a bond with this dog that I have never felt for anyone or anything else. I don’t know where that bond came from. From that moment in the airport when I saw Ben trotting beside Darcie’s side I felt like a piece of me was suddenly being fitted back together. And for me this is really big. I picture myself as one big puzzle that has strewn pieces about everywhere by my own carelessness, by other’s cruelty or some other cosmic reason. I knew (although I did not have the words) that Ben is one of those puzzle pieces. One that I have needed but never had nor even knew I needed.

And that puzzle piece? Well, he’s sleeping here beside me as I write this. Today we ventured out into the world without the knowledge that Darcie would be waiting for us later in the evening. I felt like I was learning how to walk again except it didn’t feel like something I had never done before but something that I had been waiting for. It’s hard make no mistake. Handling a service dog is no easy task and I am sure we will make many mistakes but I am letting Ben be my teacher. And I am trying to trust.

I haven’t trusted anyone completely 100% for many, many years but Ben is asking for that trust. He is asking me to rely on his training and trust that even through our mistakes he will continue to be at my side. How can I believe that? How can I take that leap to look at another being and say I know you aren’t going to leave me. You aren’t going to purposely hurt me. You love me with no conditions. I don’t know exactly how or when I will get fully there but I am determined to try and trust this dog completely.

You see my life depends on it. In order to keep living I must learn to trust those closet to me. Trust them to carry some of my emotions, fears, dreams and struggles. And it starts with this big, black sweetheart of a dog.


Filed under Ben, coping skills, dogs, faith, family, Hope, Identity, life events, New Life, PTSD, Recovery, trauma

the road to ben

I’m sitting on a ledge right now waiting for my word to change. Ben (service dog) will arrive in just two days and I have a feeling nothing will ever be the same. It’s been such a long, long journey that has led me to Ben and as I have reflected the past several days I realize it was a journey that began in childhood.

My first dog kiss from Liesel my first day home from the hospital

I think in fact it perhaps began as a baby on the first day home from the hospital where I was greeted with a sloppy kiss from Liesel and failed to even make a sound. It ventured on from then as I dressed Liesel up in hats, clothes and sat on her like she was a horse. Liesel never complained. When she was done with my antics she simply got up and moved.  And it was Liesel who gave me my first lesson in loss and that the fact that I will always outlive my best friends.





Amelia entered my life when I was six and joined Liesel whom she would know for about two years. As I learned to read I discovered a


love for all things dog related. I would read everything I could get my hands on about dogs. I read above my grade level so I began to read things about service dogs. Guide dogs mostly as that is primarily what service dogs were used for at that time. I became obsessed with the bond that a dog could have with a person and the way they could help them. When I was eight my country 4-H project was a research project about guide dogs.







At the end of elementary school Connor joined our family and my love affair with all things dogs continued. Posters, magnets, book after book, cards, wrapping paper, stuffed dogs etc. were scattered all over my room. I learned how to train and show dogs and gradually began to teach beginning obedience where I got to pass on (by that time a wealth of) knowledge to children. I loved it. I saw bonds form between children and their dogs. Most memorable was that of an autistic child and his dog Bugs.

I was again researched service dogs for a school research project. By this time I was fascinated to lean that not only were there guide dogs but there were seizure dogs, wheelchair dogs, deaf assistance dogs and diabetes alert dogs. I made it my goal to someday work to train these gifted animals and watch them be paired with a handler that was desperatley in need of them.

Fast forward to college where I decorated my dorm room with dog posters and kept more pictures of my dogs around than I did my family. For the first time in my life I was away from my dogs and it hurt. My comforters were gone and I felt immedienatly lonely although I was surrounded by many people. At this point I knew even more surely that nothing could ever take the place of dogs in my life.

Two years later everything imploded. Feelings, emotions, fears and abuse that I was barely managing through the first 19 years of my life suddenly became too months. Enter treatment stay number one. I had to relearn how to socialize here. How to talk to people about things other than my anorexia. My therapist wisely advised that I talk about dogs. I told her no one wanted to hear about dogs all the time but she told me to do it anyways. And so I babbled on about Amelia Bedelia, Connor and Liesel. I wrote in my journal night after night that I was choosing recovery for them. The bond I had with my dogs now was not only something that I loved but it was literally saving my life.

Ten months later I came home and immediantly adopted Shona. Shona who makes me laugh, is an utter clown and pulled me out of a deep depression. I left three months later for treatment stay number dos but again it was for Shona I was recovering for. I arrived home and there she was waiting for me. Since then Shona has been my rock. I haven’t spent a night away from her except when I have been hospitalized. It was when I realized the effect she had on me that I suddenly discovered the concept of a mental health service dog.


And so I researched. Could a service dog really help me? All those years of appreciating dogs and I not only qualified for one but drastically needed the support they could provide. I was blown away and so I began making calls. That was when I found Heeling Allies. And now over a year later and many thousands of dollars raised I will be receiving my service dog. That intial bond with Liesel, followed by my love for Amelia and Connor, my research and admiration of service dogs and finally my motivation for recovery has finally come to a point that it can all be combined and used to help me become well.

When I think about it too hard I become speechless. Dogs have always been my best therapist even without proffessional training and now I am going to be joined with a campionon whose job is to help me function. It’s weird the way things sometimes fall into place or perhaps not so weird. Perhaps God knew all along.

p.s. In a bizarre twist of fate Ben looks very similar to Liesel. I’m in love with him already.

Liesel and I



Filed under coping skills, dogs, eating disorder, eating disorders, Independence, life events, New Life, Recovery, the past

thank you Shona

A few post back I posted about triggers. I’m going to get back to that subject but I’m still trying to formulate how to approach it so until I do I’m afraid you are going to have to listen to me go on about dogs….:)

Dogs are obviously important in my life. I’ve posted about them here, and here and here (and many more). But tonight I want to talk about my girl, Shona. I arrived home from Laureate in July of 2010. I can’t remember exactly when or by whom it was decided that I would get a dog. I suppose it was kind of expected. I had Connor (my moo dog) already but the plan was for me to move into my own apartment (well I did…just a year and a half later…) and Connor was set in his ways and really wouldn’t be able to leave home (or the basement for that matter). We also knew I would need a little bit of a smaller dog as I knew apartments tend to balk at anything over 30 pounds.

Sooo, my mother and I headed off to the humane society with the intention to look (note: Givans’ do not ‘look’ at animals – we take them home). We wondered the cages for awhile and then I spotted her. It was her eyes that grabbed my attention. Shona has these beautiful doe like eyes that are so expressive.

And so as you can probably guess I signed the papers and about ten days later she came home with me.

I didn’t have much time after that. I was deteroirating mentally and physically. I wasn’t ready for recovery and I felt out of control, scared and hopeless. In those next few months before I entered the Center for Change, Shona helped me hold onto sanity.

She did this by providing so much laughter:


Companionship and Unconditional Love.


But then I had to learn one of the most important and hardest lessons in recovery. Nothing can make you recovery. Not a person and as I learned not even a dog that I loved more than I loved myself.

So I left Shona. One of the hardest things I have had to do and went to The Center for Change.

And while I was over there I learned to live for myself. Not for anyone else but for myself. But there are still days when I need motivation to live and that is when Shona steps in. She saves me. I know this sounds overly dramatic but it is true. Shona saves me on a weekly basis. Knowing that she loves me when I can’t love myself is what sometimes gets me through the night. And so I’m thankful for my girl. I’m thankful that I have her and that she has stuck by me for this season of my life.




Filed under coping skills, dogs, eating disorder, eating disorders, New Life, Recovery

a year of recovery in pictures

My second day home - February 25th 2011

This post chronicles my life the past year. Each picture links to a blog I wrote around that time. Feel free to click around, look at the pictures or whatever. I must confess that this post is mostly for me. A chance to look back and see my life moving and the happy times I had this past year. Maybe yesterday’s date (my recovery anniversary) will mark my own new year each year instead of January 1st. I wanted to look back at the blogs I wrote (this blog will be one year old in April) and see that I had times where I hurt but also times of great joy. So it’s a reminder post and a memory log. Love to all of you.


The first time I saw Chris - spring break March 2011

Miss Olivia and I at Easter

Summer in a bathing suit!

Mandalay comes home June 2011

Papa's birthday in July

Family pictures by Joy Baker - July

Adelynn and I at Charles' birthday party

Grandpa, Mama and I at the fair - September 2011

The dogs go to Denver - October 2011

My Birthday shared with Adelynn

Playing at the park with A. (October)

Shona and I move into my apartment - November

The breaking of the Wishbone with Grandma - Thanksgiving

Visiting the Giraffe at the Comosphere (November)

Reunited and it feels so good! - December

Family Christmas! (note: the cheeks represent The Rockette Christmas Show and are for cousin Mary!)

Washington DC - January 2012

Reading with the little girls - Janurary

Exploring at Great Plains with A! (February)

Newspaper article runs - January 29th 2012

One year! February 24, 2012


Filed under depression, dogs, eating disorder, eating disorders, family, friends, Identity, Independence, life events, New Life, PTSD, Recovery, survivor


I’m home and boy am I glad to be home.

I stepped out of the Wichita airport yesterday and I was so glad to breathe air that was unfiltered, did not smell of cigerett smoke or was trapped underground in metro stations.

I always forget how weird it is to step into the world again after having no contact with it. I don’t feel that well today. A consequence of cramming a lot of info into my brain, spending a day traveling and sleeping in hotels. Not to mention two and a half weeks of learning how to sit with my trauma.

I’m back with my bed, laptop (that is rapidly falling apart on me), control of the television remote, car (that I can drive!), within an hour of A (with a friend date planned for Monday), and one puppy on my lap – the other leaning against me.

I am now faced with the challenge of again recreating my life. This will be the third time that I have left treatment with the challenge of building a life from scratch. I suppose life isn’t the wrong word. I am alive and that in itself is no small thing. I am faced with the challenge of creating the structure of my days.

When I was at Laureate structure was hugely emphasized. Basically, structure is what you fill your days with and for any human being this is important. It gives us motivation to get out of bed, places we have to be and thing to look forward to (and sometimes dread). When I left Laureate I filled my days with school (or I tried to – it didn’t work out), when I left CFC I managed to fill my days with volunteering, dog class and adjusting to society again (which was a full time job). Now it’s time to find things to fill my days with again.

I realize however I need acountability. My intial reaction is to stay at home and hide away from the world. But this is not what I need or ultimatly want. I’m going to school in the fall but that is still months and seasons away.

I am planning on looking into a Bible Study that I found in Wichita. It is a women’s study that emphasizes how God fits into our lives when they are filled with pain or grief. A very relevant topic for me. I want my faith back. It’s still there but I’m struggling with somehow understanding my trauma through God’s eyes. I don’t want to give up and taking the steps to actual register for the study will be huge. Oh and also attending.

I would like to take a tai-qwon-doe class (I can’t spell that) or self-defense class. I think it would not only challenge me to be aware of my body but also give me confidence about protecting myself that I am sadly lacking.

I’m not sure what else is going to come in the next several weeks but I suppose that is a start. I still want a job but am acutely aware of my limitations at the moment when it comes to that area. So, I’m going to begin setting those things up.

In the meantime I guess I am going to have to sacrifice (note the sarcasm) and spend time with my dogs and my days hanging out with A. And I can be ok with that for now.


Filed under coping skills, dogs, faith, friends, Independence, New Life, Recovery, survivor

they’ve impacted my life in unspeakable ways

First of all let me say that I’m not at home. I’m in Washington DC for Trauma Treatment. Hopefully, my blog is posting this when I told it to, if not you probably have all these blog entries at once. If that’s the case – my apologies.

I skyped with  Darcie from Heeling Allies the other day. She wanted an update on how I was doing as well as a chance to get to know me and my needs a little better. The conversastion was interesting and I think productive. My dog will be in the January group of dogs and will arrive probably in August. Orginally, the date was set for May but due to several factors including a command that will take longer to teach, Darcie and my future dog will arrive three months later than what I thought. This is disappointing only because I am so excited to begin my life with my service dog and experience the opportunities that my dog will open for me.

I thought for those of you dog lovers and anyone else interested I would give you an overview of what tasks my dogs will perform. Here in Darcie’s words are a simplified task list:

  • You would like to add a get help command..  It will be helpful for you to be able to give your service dog a command so that he/she will be able to get someone’s attention.  
  • We are going to train your dog to a mobility harness.  You will be able to feel the motion of the dog walking with you by holding onto the harness.  Keeping your hand on your dog’s harness while you are out and about will help you to stay present and hopefully decrease the likelihood of you disassociating completely.  
  • The other things that we will train your service dog to do are: provide deep pressure by laying across your chest when you ask — this will help to extinguish flashbacks.  Paws up command to help you when you disassociate or have anxiety.  Crowd control commands to diffuse anxiety and increase feelings of safety in public places. 
Isn’t it amazing what dogs can be trained to do? I know I’m probably biased but I think that when God created dogs he knew that they would be so much more than a simple animal. They would become pets, friends, workers, healing and helpers.
And soon my service dog will join these dogs that have impacted my life in unspeakable ways


Filed under dogs, New Life, Recovery, survivor

a late post from the land of mountains

Here’s a late post. I’m writing it Saturday morning from Denver and will post it when I have internet. I’m borrowing my mom’s computer as I did not bring mine so I could have a break from the internet. I can access it on my phone but that is limited and I’m thinking that’s a good baby step. I have found myself becoming entirely too dependent on the computer as of late and since I am moving into the apartment without internet it’s good practice. I’m going to have to find other things to do and I actually have lots of projects lined up so moving is my chance to get them done.

I’m enjoying seeing my grandmother and catching up. It’s been a year since I last saw her and almost three years since I have been to Denver (other ummmm…”things” got in the way). I will see the rest of the family tonight and my mom’s best friend tomorrow so I am looking forward to that.

The car ride down was definantly an experience. Mandalay was traumatized the entire way and really was only happy when she was laying on my Brookstone (!!) blanket and hiding her nose behind my back. Poor dog. We think that she is convinced that she is going to be left. She has so many fears and I emphasize with her. At times  I think her outright fear outwardly demonstrates how I am feeling inside. I may not express it but I too want to cower in a corner and hide my eyes at times and wish it would all go away. I’m not talking about the trip but just the reality of my life at times.

On a lighter note Shona is well, being Shona. That dog just loves life. If you have met her you know what I mean. She bounces, she runs around, she paws, she loves, she barks and on and on. The car ride went really, really well except she couldn’t figure out her place. Mandalay took up most of the back seat with me and then Shona was very confused about where she was supposed to be so she didn’t sleep much on the way here which made for a very wild dog when we finally got to the hotel room.

It was like she was so tried that she couldn’t even control herself. She paced, she piddled, she barked, she stood up on the cupboards on the table, tried to chance rabbits in the courtyard, pulled mother over to the little Boston Terriers in the parking lot and just generally was not a good dog. In fact, we were ready to give her Benadryl to sedate her when she finally calmed down enough to go to bed. That worked until people were in the hall and she decided her duty was to protect us by barking and growling. Thank goodness once the hotel quieted she slept.

She is better this morning (Thank the Lord) and now we are hanging out with plans to go Ikea which I am beyond excited about and the Christmas store which I am also beyond excited about. I’ll fill you in on the details in another post.



Filed under dogs, family, friends, PTSD, trauma