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  1. Today Sugarfoot’s Service Dog vest came in the mail. I put it on her and adjusted the straps. It seems to be comfortable to her, and is easy to put on and take off. We went to the market at the corner. I have been in there thousands of times. Today was the first time Sugar didn’t have to wait outside for me. Well, she could have come in before. She’s had her certification for a couple of months. But I had no vest or harness that would signal her purpose and status before today. And I felt it would be unfair to the store owner, staff and other patrons to bring a dog inside their store without a clear indicator of why she had the right to be there. Sugar has been a source of help and support to me for a long time. She has been my best friend for years. She has made the most unlivable days possible to get through. She has washed away the tears from my face when I was alone, panicked and frozen. She is always there for me. I can’t imagine what my life would be without her. People who don’t know Sugarfoot see her vest and assume that Sugarfoot helps me in ways that they might not be able to describe. But the vest with the words “Service Dog” somehow confers “all-right-ness” upon her. The smart ones don’t try to pet her. But it’s a little different when people who have seen us together on the streets of my little town for years. They are sometimes a little puzzled. They ask questions. “OK, but what does she do?” Well, she does a lot of things. Some of them are easy to see. She will pick up dropped objects if I ask her to. If I can’t remember where in the house I left my cane, I can say “Sugar, where’s my stick?” And she will go and find it. She stands and looks from it to me. If I ask her, she will bring it. She does this and other things on command. And they are a big help. But the most important thing she does is simply be there. This is what I need really need her for. I have panic disorder and agoraphobia. Which means that every now and then, sometimes often, terror will descend upon me. Often for no apparent reason. As I have heard it described: "You feel like you're going to die. You feel like it's going to be really horrible. And you feel like there's nothing you can do about it." The conviction is intense - even when, intellectually, you know it isn't true. Often there are physical symptoms, much like those of a heart-attack. Rapid, pounding pulse, faintness, dizzyness, hyperventilation, sweating, chill, and even nausea. Pick one. Pick three. Take them all. There are times when I’m out in the world (or at home, for that matter), and out of the blue, panic comes swooping down on me like a murder of malignant crows. It is then that Sugarfoot performs her best work. Sometimes, on the street, people look at me like I'm carrying something fatal that they might catch, and scuttle away, avoiding even eye-contact. Or sometimes people can be fluttering about, offering advice, and asking well-meant but frankly, stupid questions. They are of course, unaware that my concentration is so shattered that I have great difficulty framing a reply. “What happened?” “Should I call an ambulance?” “Why don’t you just calm down?” Right then, Sugarfoot is better than three shrinks and a paramedic. She leans against me, looks into my eyes and says, “I’m here. I love you. You’re OK. You’re not alone. This will pass, it always passes.” (I had to hear it from the Dalai Lama. My dog knew it all along.) And it does. It passes. My heart stops pounding, my veins stop feeling like they’re full of steel wool, my breathing normalizes, and a sigh escapes my lips. “OK. Better now. Thanks again, Sugar.” That’s what she does. And she does it better than anyone.
  2. Link is very consistent with his trained responses (acting as or after my illness affects me) in his service dog work, but not very much with his alerts (before my illness has affected me). I've noticed over time that I usually started to sweat before my illness affects me, of course I usually note this after the fact because I'm not able to pay attention to small things like that at the time. I'd like to teach Link a scent alert, but I've never taught scent discrimination before so any help is appreciated. I'm planning to purposefully expose myself to a major trigger, and put cotton balls in my armpits beforehand, to get the proper scent I want him to alert to. I'd keep the cotton balls in a ziplock bag, and when I give open the bag for Link to sniff, ask him for the behavior I'd like him to do (nudge my thigh). I'm assuming then I'd have to proof the behavior by introducing non-scented cotton balls, as well as some with regular sweat (from exercising), and some with different types of deodorants taken during illness. Or am I over thinking that part? After that would I just wait for him to alert so I can reinforce the behavior?
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