Archives for posts with tag: a service dog for Crohn’s disease

Thank you to all the people who do not stare at me when I am in public.  Thank you for not trying to determine if I am blind, and since I am not, thank you also for not trying to figure out what the fuck is wrong with me that I need a service dog.

Thank you to all the people who hold the door open for me and Sky, even the ones who say, a little too loud, I am holding the door open for you, because they think I am blind.  I know you are trying to be kind and for that, I thank you.

Thank you for all the people who tell me how beautiful and attentive Sky is but don’t try to pet her and don’t have a conversation with her.

Thanks to all the mothers who tell their children they can’t pet the doggie because she’s a working doggie.  Well done!

Thanks to all the restaurants who welcome service dogs and their partners and seat them appropriately, where the dog can tuck in nicely and not trip the wait staff.

Thank you to all the waiter and waitresses who bring water for a dog on a hot day.

Thank you to all my providers, doctors, dentist, trainer, who understand that I need to have my dog with me even when they can’t see her doing a thing.  Sometimes help comes in at the eye.


Thank you to all the bus drivers who don’t yell at me for getting on the bus with a service dog and thank you to those cab drivers who stop for me.  As for the drivers that speed away when they see my small, well-behaved service dog, can you say fuck you on the internet?  Yup, you can.

Thanks to my incredible shrink for understanding that all rules are left in the waiting room and that he can pet Sky all he wants to.  And thanks to Sky for understanding that sometimes rules have to be put aside for one reason or another. Intelligent working dogs have the mental flexibility to understand that, in certain circumstances, kindness counts for more than rules.

And thank you all for stopping by.


Sometimes I find myself thinking that my previous service dogs did a better job than Sky is doing.  They seemed more aware of when I was in pain and more willing to spend long periods of time pressed against me to chase the pain away.  And then I realize, taking the same fox hole again and again as we humans tend to do, that the reason Sky seems less aware of when I am in pain is that, since she has become my service dog, I am hardly ever in pain.

Having a service dog can work like having a pain patch or those patches that help you to quit smoking or perhaps a morphine drip but one that leaves you alert and able to function well.  The drip drip drip is the dog changing your body chemistry and keeping things humming as well as they can hum considering the fact that you have a chronic illness, whatever illness it may be.  Whether the way I am now is a function of Sky’s magic, the magic all dogs have, or a function of the fact that like any other endeavor, we tend to improve with practice, I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s both.  But over the years, I noticed that the time it takes for the dog to chase away pain has gotten shorter and shorter.  It could be akin to what happens during meditation or bio feedback.  A kind of trust in the method develops and gradually, you no longer need all the steps to get where you are going.  Gradually, you let the dog do what dogs do so well, cause a relaxation effect that allows our bodies to release their good chemistry, the stuff that diminishes the feeling of pain and increases the feeling of well being.

When I am swimming, Sky waits at the foot of the pool.  If suddenly there’s pain, I just have to look at her and the pain goes away.  Sometimes I don’t need to take the same fox hole again.  Sometimes I understand how things work, that all the seeds planted by the service dogs who came before her have blossomed.


If  you need a service dog whose job will be to react to something happening in your body – pain, low blood sugar, an oncoming seizure, a coronary “event,” the inability to move – it works well if you are able to train the dog yourself.  After all, how would a healthy person get the job done?  What would the dog learn to react to?

The best way to help the dog to understand what her job will be is to start with a young pup and have her with you 24/7.  When I brought Sky home from the North Carolina farm where she was born, I kept her with me as much as I could.  I had applied for her credentials before I even brought her home so that I could start taking her on the bus, to restaurants, into stores etc right away, getting her used to all the places she’d have to go with me when the job became hers and getting her used to our partnership which tapped into her natural mindset – the pack takes care of its members.  Thus, she began to wear a service dog cape, at least part time, when she had yet to grow into it and into her future job.

Starting early lets the dog become accostomed to new things at the age when that’s easy.  I keep things as unstressful as possible during the fear period, approximately 8 to 10 weeks of age.  But if you watch your dog, you will see when she can handle change and when she can’t.  I had no problem picking up my puppy when something overwhelmed her.  I’d carry her inside my jacket, the way her breeder, Denise Wall, had done down on the farm.  Denise called it coat cuddling and knew that for the two dogs flying to their new homes, it would be a great help in the airport.  And it was.  But it also helped when Sky saw her first New York City dogs, two dachshunds wearing coats.  She turned around and asked to be picked up.  She loved the dogs on the farm and Flash, the dog she came to live with, but dogs in outfits?  Not so much.  Of course, over time, that changed.  All the things we practiced when she was young became easy, became second nature.  In a short time, she would ride the bus, lie down near the table in a restaurant, navigate the Eileen Fisher store on Fifth Avenue, wait on line at the bank, all as a normal part of her day.

Also normal was that we were together a great deal of the time and so we came to feel each other’s moods.  That is the beginning of a dog knowing when something’s wrong, or, more miraculously, knowing before something goes wrong.  So starting with a pup and patiently helping her to know that when she notices that you are not well that this is indeed her job is one way to begin training your own service dog.

For basic obedience and beyond (good manners, games, problem prevention, even a few well chosen tricks), my new ebook will do the trick for you.  Here’s some great news:  my friend, Maxine, downloaded the free Kindle app and then bought the book and downloaded it, in full color, onto her computer.  Then, opening her black and white Kindle, she found the book there in black and white.  You can’t download directly to a black and white Kindle, but you can get it on your b & white by first downloading the free app and then the book to your computer.  Dog Smart will give you all the basics.  If things are going well and you need the specifics of training your own service dog, that can be gleaned from the memoir I wrote with Denise, Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep?  It’s the story of how her dog, May, learned her place and her job on the sheepfarm where the pups were born.  And it’s the story of how Sky learned to be a service dog.  Everything you need, in just two books.  Ain’t life grand!


Every day, some of you search for a version of the above question.

Every single day.

And if you are searching because you have Crohn’s disease or your sister, wife, husband, child, neighbor, best friend has it, I am sad to hear this but there is help available.  The help I am talking about won’t fit in your pocket or purse. Moreover, it has to be fed.  And it needs walking.  But it has changed my life so radically that I wrote a (half of a) book about how it all works.  The book is called Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep? and it’s about several things.  It’s about two totally adorable puppies and how one, May, grew up on the farm where she was born to take on the work her mother, her grandmother and all her ancestors before her did, the work of herding sheep.  It’s about how she learned her job and how she learned to work with her person, Denise Wall, who wrote the other half of this book.  The book is also about the other puppy, Sky, who left the farm where she was born to become a service dog for Crohn’s disease, to become my service dog, in New York City, a far cry from the place she first saw when she opened her eyes for the first time.

The stories weave back and forth between May on the farm and Sky in New York, describing the pups as they grow up and grow into their life’s work .  In my chapters, I explain in detail how I prepared Sky to be alert and unobtrusive in places where pet dogs are not allowed so that she could be with me, ready to help when I needed her, all the time.  My chapters also explain how I let Sky know, each time she took a step in the direction of her future work, that she was doing exactly what she was supposed to do.

Can a service dog help if you have Crohn’s disease?  Yes.  And also if you have any of the other so called invisible disabilites.  It was hard for me to write about the disease I kept secret for most of my life.  It was hard to say how I felt and how the dog changed things for me.  But I did.  I wrote the book I wish I had been able to read decades ago when I was diagnosed.  And now it’s there for you, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and from the publisher, Outrun Press.  I hope it helps you.  I really, really do.