by Alison Skillin
(Stirling, Scotland, UK)
Bear and I at the zoo
I would like to share with you a little bit about my present service dog Bear Totem. Or we'd call him an Assistance Dog here in Scotland. He is a British Timber Dog.
I really wanted a rescue because I love them and I wanted a dog that was a young adult to train. This way I would not have to wait for the dog to age a lot to be able to do certain tasks.
I looked for about a year for the right dog in different rescues. Some would not respond to me or told me a flat no. Afraid I would abuse the dog I assume. I looked through a range of different breeds.
I was mostly looking for a dog that was between 1 and 3 years old that was pretty balanced. I have had many dogs that I have rehabilitated. My previous Service Dog and Service Dog in Training were ones. But I wanted a dog I could run with without having to address previous problems first. It made me feel guilty but I felt with my level of disabilities it was the way to go.
I ended up adopting Bear through a rescue I had been a part of when my previous dog was alive. So they knew me and were willing to make a leap of faith in me.
They had me foster Bear at first to see if we were a good fit. This is part of their normal practice and not just something because of my special circumstances. I would highly recommend it to anyone because I was able to try Bear in a number of situations and with certain other things to make sure he was the right dog. I didn't trust my heart but I was sure by the end of week one that he wouldn't be going anywhere.
I have had Bear for a year and a half now and I graduated him to full Service Dog about 6 months ago. He's 2.5 years old now or thereabouts. He does a lot of things for me. Here are just a few:
I suffer from Functional Neurological Disorder, Fibromyaligia, ME and a few other related conditions.
I specifically trained Bear to help me in all aspects of my disabilities. From not being able to step forward sometimes to staggering or tremors, pain, loss of focus, cataclysmic fatigue, speech problems and so on. I don't know how I'll be from one moment to the next.
Bear alerts to what is coming and is trained in ways to keep me calm.
He is a trained Guide Dog. Due to Neurological problems I can lose my sight entirely when there is too much light or too little. I also have extreme tunnel vision and night blindness. Bear is trained to be my eyes in these situations and has a special harness he wears. His harness is not just for guide work but also has a mobility handle on it so that if I need balance assistance I can have a bit of a lean on him. This is handy as I can get dizzy if there are too many items on display or too much activity around. Bear usually brings me to a seat if he can in such situations. In stores I need the handle though.
Bear is trained to Alert to dissociative seizures and respond to them as well. I get these due to the same neural condition as the blindness. He will tell me when a seizure is coming, usually giving me a five to ten minute window. If we are out walking he will take me to a bench or somewhere I can sit. Then he is trained to hit pressure points in my body with his paws that I have noticed can stop the seizure from happening or reaching its full potential. That's for the bigger ones, for smaller ones he will stop me from stepping out into traffic and things like that.
Bear also helps me in the house. He helps me balance to do house work and will lead me around clutter so I don't have to focus that much on where I am putting my feet. He brings me things from my husband and gets things for me. He opens cabinets and doors and helps me take my clothes off and on. He helps me make the bed.
He is a wonderful dog who enjoys learning! Don't listen to people who say that sled dogs are too stubborn to do tasks like these. I like them because of that independent mind. A good service dog is one who can think for himself. Bear has saved my life many times already by quick thinking.
To learn more about Bear I have set up a public blog for him on Facebook. Mostly so his rescue could keep tabs on his progress but many people have found it enjoyable. I'm glad to share. Bear Totem FND Assistance Dog