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



When I am hurting badly, because I have Crohn’s disease which causes inflammation and severe pain in the intestines, my service dog will come to help me.  She’ll press against the place that hurts and the pressure and heat of her body help make the pain go away.  More than that, her presence, especially but not only if I stroke her soft fur, causes chemical changes in my body that are nature’s way of reducing pain.

I used to think this was a charitable act on the part of my service dogs, that helping me was the job they did, that they worried when I was hurting, that they felt relieved and happy when I began to feel better.  And this is true.  But what I didn’t know in the beginning, not until Flash, my second service dog had been helping me for quite some time, was that the dog was also getting all those good chemical changes, that he, too, was feeling the wondrous high of oxytocin, endorphins and serotonin.  Tit for tat.  The good stuff flows both ways.

But there’s more.  You know there’s always more, right?  At some time after a dog I rescued from the ASPCA had figured out that I was often in pain and that, miraculously, he could help chase the pain away, we were away together on book tour for my second mystery, The Dog Who Knew Too Much.  Book tour, the thing all authors hope for, is very stressful, particularly if you, like me, are painfully shy.  So it was a wonder to me that in all those days, in all those bookstores, with all those (terrific) strangers I met and talked to, with eating whatever on the fly, with traveling from city to city when flying with a service dog meant getting yelled at before and after boarding a plane, I never got sick.  And in the middle of it all, I discovered why.  Instead of worrying about meeting strangers and hoping book sales would make my publisher happy and getting the wrinkles out of my clothes when my clothes came out of my suitcase yet again and, yikes, going on TV with my dog, Dexter, in Phoenix and then rushing to make my flight to Houston, I worried only about Dexter.  I would get up at dawn and take him for an hour long walk, buy him bottled water so as not to upset his stomach, beg cottage cheese from room service to top off his kibble, brush him, talk to him, cuddle with him and make sure he was comfortable and happy for all the days I was away.  Thinking about him and not about me helped save the day.

Having a dog is a lot of work, no doubt about it. But the fascinating discovery I made on book tour was that everything I did for him not only helped him, it helped me as well. Time spent not worrying about all the ifs in your own life is time well spent.  Over and above the warmth, the laughter, the affection, the protection, the excuse to exercise, the incredible company and devotion we get from our dogs, they are a reason to reach beyond ourselves, to think about other things, to care about and take care of someone else.  Isn’t it lucky that it turns out that all the time we spend caring for them is good for us as well.  Tit for tat.  Everything should work out so well.



Dexter was nearly a blank slate when he came home to live with me so many years ago.  Of course he had inherited traits from his parents, but because he was dumped at the side of a busy road, along with four litter mates, at three weeks of age, he didn’t have his mother with him to teach him the important lessons he needed to learn in order to live a good, happy and productive life.  And because he was at the ASPCA for the next three weeks, it’s unlikely anyone had the time to work with him, to carry him around, to roll a ball for him to pounce on, to give him a name.  While other dogs his age, luckier dogs, were getting enrichment, he wasn’t getting much.  But fortunately, he wasn’t alone.  He had his litter mates with him.  And unfortunately, someone had given the pups even more company.  Another litter was in the same cage, and they were all sick.

Once Dexter came home with me, initially as a foster dog because he was too young to adopt, and once we got rid of the infection he has picked up from the other puppies, two things happened.  First, my German Shepherd, Scarlet, decided that she must have given birth, because, lo and behold, there was a puppy in the house.  Scarlet began to take care of Dexter and to teach him the things his mother would have taught him, to pay attention to his elders, both human and canine, to play gently, to follow her wherever she went and, of course, to worship and adore her.  And second, I had Dexter in a safe area in my office and would stop writing whenever he woke up and work and play with him.  At first, he couldn’t track a ball rolled five inches.  But then he could.  And then if I rolled it under something or tossed it over something, Dexter would know how to find it.  He learned his name quickly and learned to follow me as I called Puppy, Puppy, Puppy and walked around the house.  He learned to sit before I put down his bowl and to lie down when I patted the floor.  He learned to listen to words.  He began to learn to think.

When we went out, I put him in my jacket and zipped it up so that only his face was showing and that way, with Dexter listening to the beat of my heart, we went everywhere.  He was too young to put down for the first couple of weeks, but at an arts and crafts fair, a nice lady put down a section of The Times for him – which he made good use of – and then took off her lovely bracelet and gave it to him to play with.  From the safety of my jacket, Dexter saw and heard the world.  And so when it was time for his tiny feet to hit the pavement, he was a city dog, raring to go.

The nice folks at the A, as it is called, said he was part Jack Russell or part Smooth Fox Terrier and that he’d grow up to be a 15 pound dog.  All my dog trainer friends agreed, 15 pounds, maybe 18 pounds.  He gained two pounds a week, growing bigger and stronger and smarter every day.  In the end, he weighed 84 pounds and though we were surprised, we loved every single one of them.

As he matured, I continued teaching him, new words, new games, some tricks, all the basics and then some.  But he has some tricks of his own up his sleeve.  Dexter knew when I was in pain, something that happened too frequently because I have Crohn’s disease, and he knew exactly what to do when that happened.  He would lie next to me, pressing tight against me, the furnace-like heat of those 84 pounds soothing the pain away and his presence helping me to release the good chemistry that chases away pain.  Eventually, Dexter became my service dog, the first ever for Crohn’s disease.

As I continued to teach Dexter new things, some for fun, some because we needed them for his job, he became more and more capable of learning, a far cry from the nearly blank little puppy I’d adopted.  Teaching a dog gently and slowly, adding activities, games, commands, words for everything, hand signals, whistle signals, anything interesting you can think of will expand his mind and make him a better companion and a more interesting friend.  And paying attention to what he knows on his own and to what he is doing, will do the same for you.  Beyond that, the message is clear.  If you rescue a dog, he will rescue you right back.  And amen to that.


Amazon now has both the black and white and the color editions of DO BORDER COLLIES DREAM OF SHEEP? available for all the dog lovers on your list, including you.

You’ll love it and so will your friends.  I promise!
Awooo.  I’m happy!

Flash was not a kitchen dog.  After a long puppyhood, playing hard and long whenever he had the chance, he became a service dog, helping me with Crohn’s disease by chasing away pain.  Though he loved to play throughout his life, though he was cheerful and full of zest, he was also the most serious dog I ever met.  He plied his trade the way a conscientious person would, tweaking and improving his ability to help me long after I thought he had the job nailed.  But a kitchen dog?  Not Flash. 

A kitchen dog is a dog who hangs out with you when you are cooking, hoping for a slice of apple, a raw carrot to chew as a bone, a snippet of cheese, a raw chicken wing, an herb, some lettuce, a slice of zucchini.  A kitchen dog experiments with food.  He’s a taster, a lover of innovation, a gustatory explorer.  Dexter, my first service dog, was a kitchen dog, and now, Monk, our rescue, has taken on that role.

I like a kitchen dog.  I like the kind of company that hangs around but doesn’t ask questions or prattle on about what he dreamt last night or what he plans to do tomorrow.  I like the kind of company that’s there, but not intrusive, that appreciates what you are doing, particularly if you tend to send a slice of carrot flying through the air while you are cutting it up for soup.  I like the kind of company whose shining eyes tell you he’ll appreciate the smallest gift, a single green pea, a tiny sprig of parsley fresh from the garden.  Making soup is much more fun when you have a kitchen dog to clean up what you drop or scarf up whatever you might offer.

But that wasn’t Flash’s way.  He might have thought it frivolous to hang around hoping for a bite to eat when, after all, he’d just had a meal, thank you very much.  Flash was a thinker, thinking being the point for him.  While it is remarkable that other Border Collies sport 200 words vocabularies – remarkable that their human had the hours and patience to teach those 200 words – it is the canine ability for thinking, for understanding concepts, that dazzles me.   This was Flash, figuring out on his own how to find more and more ways to improve what he already did so well. 

Just this morning, whilst making soup, I noticed Sky lying  just outside the kitchen.  She had no interest in snagging a carrot or even in watching to see how the garlic was going to be sliced, thick or thin.  Like Flash, her mentor, she seemed to be thinking, watching me and wondering how she could give me even more of the incredible help she’s giving me now.  No wonder I love dogs so much. One way or another, they are always giving us something we need, even if we didn’t know we needed it in the first place.

my dog is the glue that keeps me together.

He started out like any other puppy.  I began to train him in the house, without a leash.  I got him used to the noise of the city.  I bought him lots and lots of toys.

But Flash was destined to be a working dog.  He would grow up to help me with Crohn’s disease, one of those disabilities called “invisible,” because you can’t see what’s wrong by casually looking at the person – or, in fact, by looking intensely at the person, the way her service dog does.

This confuses people, and with good reason. If someone looks perfectly healthy, why would they need a service dog?

Once, when I was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art looking at a beautiful black and white photograph, a very nicely dressed British lady first stared at me and Flash, then shouted, “IS THAT A HEARING DOG?”  I turned to face her and answered as politely as I could, given the fact that I had been transported by the photograph and wished, at the time, to remain transported for a while longer.  “If he were,” I told her, “I wouldn’t have heard your question.”

It’s normal to be curious.  It’s also normal for people to have a sense of privacy. 

But after many, many years of having strangers ask personal questions, I decided to answer all those questions asked and not yet asked about one person with an invisible disablity – me.  I know it won’t stop the questions, but it will make the answer shorter.  Now I hand people a little card with a book cover on it:

I know they won’t all go to to buy the book and find out why some people who look okay need a dog to help them get through life.  But it gets me back to what I’m doing a little faster.

Plus – and this is a big plus – it’s a really good read.  Don’t take my word for it.  Here’s what best-selling author Donald McCaig wrote about it the new issue of Bark Magazine:

“As a child, I was enthralled by Jack London, Eric Knight and Albert Payson Terhaune.  Somehow, magically, the stray mutts my family took in became like White, Fang, Lassie and Lad of Sunnybrook Farm.  Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep? stands comparison with those classics.”

So, two stories, separate and wound together: Denise Wall’s story of raising puppy May to be a stockdog, like her mother, her grandmother and all her ancestors before her.  And my story of raising Sky, May’s littermate, to become a service dog and help me with pain.  May now works sheep on Denise’s North Carolina farm and Sky goes everywhere with me in busy, noisy New York City, both working dogs whose lives are described in this new book.

Flash, by the way, grew up to be an attentive, devoted service dog, quietly accompanying me wherever I went and helping me when help was what I needed.  And when he became old and I brought home Sky to follow in his footprints, he continued to work by helping her to learn the job he had mastered and had done so well.  Good dog, Flash.  We miss you still. 

Even when we think we are doing things in a cerebral, organized, experienced way, maybe we’re not.  Maybe after all the puppy testing and all the observation, all the processing and all the note taking, maybe we pick our friends the same way dogs do.  Maybe it’s a snap judgment, an instantaneous reading, that makes one dog ours and another dog not.  Because no matter how many questions we ask ourselves, no matter how many little tests we perform – and I have written these, too – isn’t it really a matter of how we feel?

When it was time to choose the dog who would become my second service dog, a dog who would have to figure out on his own how to help me with the pain caused by Crohn’s disease, I had the opportunity to do a very informal puppy test with each of the male puppies in the litter.  They’d been out in the snow, but only together in a pen.  I was able to see how each puppy reacted to the large world outside their pen when he was alone and did not, for the moment, have the comfort of littermates close by.  I had been visiting, handling, playing with and observing the pups since the week they were born and now it was getting to be time to make my decision.  So I watched them react to the snowy world.  I called each one to come.  I tried to get each little dog to follow me.  And, with permission, I let my service dog, Dexter, out of the car and watched how each puppy reacted to him.

Most of the puppies seemed fearful their first time out alone.  But most came when I crouched and clapped for them.  And some of them would follow me for a short distance.  Some froze when Dexter thundered by.  At 82 pounds, thunder he did.  And one ran and hid under a parked vehicle and wouldn’t come out until Dexter was back in the car.

One of the boys, the one the kids called “Diamond” because instead of a full white ruff, he had a black ruff with a white splotch on it in the shape of a diamond, decided he quite liked the heady freedom of no pen and he thought the big dog galoophing by him and tossing snow in the air was the most fun thing he’d seen in his short life.  Instead of following me, I followed him as he began to explore the farm.

There was a huge tree up ahead and the snow had melted around it, forming a pit.  And into the pit fell the brave little puppy.  It was only about a foot high, but that was, of course, over his head.  To my surprise, instead of whimpering, he looked around confidently and then figured out how to get himself out.  That was when I decided that Diamond, the little problem solver, would be the perfect service dog for me.  That’s when Diamond became Flash.

Logical, yes?

But what if it was something else that made me choose this pup over the others?  What if it was that despite the fact that all the puppies were adorable and delicious, this is the puppy I felt best with?  What if Diamond’s energy meshed with mine in a special way, a way we humans can respond to in choosing our friends, a way that makes certain dogs and certain people feel right, as if they’ve been our friends forever.

Check this out.  And, yippee.  Thank you, Christie.

If you have your dog on a pedestal, as you surely should, either in your heart of hearts or in the real world…

then you probably want him with you when you go on vacation.  Think about taking him to Paris.  To say that Paris is a dog friendly city would be wildly understated.  In Paris, your dog can go with you to restaurants, can play ball outside of Notre Dame…

and will inspire the French, who are not crazy about Americans but love dogs to the moon and back, to have interesting conversations with you so that they can be near your dog.

Shops will welcome you with your dog.  More than that, they will present him with a bowl of water before they see what you might be interested in buying.  We found this very handy traveling in warm weather.  And while most shops were too expensive for my budget, Flash enjoyed the water very much, thank you, even if it was tap and not Evian.

You won’t have a problem finding a hotel in Paris that welcomes dogs along with tourists.  In fact, since many small hotels include breakfast with the price of a room, you may find that you won’t have to carry as much kibble with you.  Flash had his topped off with rich, thick French yogurt, something to stick to his (skinny) ribs as he played ball in the park near the Eiffel Tower, where, happily, he found a wonderful friend who was willing to share both his ball and a romp.

We had some other ways to cut down on the amount of kibble we needed to bring with us, kibble which filled a big part of our suitcase anyway.  Not only did we take turns ordering meals that Flash could share, more or less any fish or meat made without a sauce, but once in charming bistro, when I turned to look at Flash, I saw his tail instead of his sweet face – and it was wagging in complete circles.  There on the other end of my dog, the end pointed not at me but at a neighboring table, was a nice gentleman offering Flash an entire, boneless, flattened lamb chop about the size of a dinner plate.  Figuring this was how the French behaved and not wanting to be rude, he slipped it off the fork and ate every bite.  When in Rome and all that.

Because Flash was a service dog, we were able to do one additional thing.  We were able to go to museums with him.  This was wonderful for many reasons, not the least of which that even when Flash wasn’t on a pedestal, he could be near a Picasso that was. 

More travel ideas coming up soon.

Come back often.  We love having you visit.

WordPress tells me what searches got people to my blog.  It seems that one recurrent one is a search for “service dog for Crohn’s disease.”  Herewith, some important information, information that will help anyone with Crohn’s or any other “invisible disablility.”  If you know someone who needs this information, please alert them to this post.  (If you’re a techie and not a dinosaur like me, send them a link.)

Is it legal to use a service dog for Crohn’s disease?  Yes.

Can my dog trained as a service dog by someone else?  Not really since the dog is responding to symptoms of the disease.

Can I use a trainer to help me teach my dog good manners?  Yes, a good trainer can help you with that part but remember that your needing help trumps, for instance, a down stay.  There’s a delicate balance between good basic obedience and good service work for the so-called “invisible disabilities.”

I understand the dog can help with pain.  Is that so?   Yes, yes, yes, yes.

How long does it take for the pain to diminish?  It’s fast.  The longer you work with a dog, the faster it becomes.  It’s amazing.

Would my dog be allowed at the doctor’s office or in the hospital?  By law, yes and yes.  Some few doctors don’t want a dog at the office.  I wouldn’t go to a doctor who didn’t allow me to bring my service dog.

How can I learn more about what it’s like to have a service dog help me with Crohn’s disease?  I wrote (half) the book I wish someone had told me about when I was diagnosed.  It explains how and why the dog chooses to help and how to manage the dog in order to facilitate this.  Plus, it’s two damn good stories of how two pups, littermates, grow up and learn their jobs, one to be a service dog, the other to work sheep the way her parents, her grandparents and all her ancestors before her did. 

Available at and  Reviews are up at both places.  Sorry I can’t do proper links.  One of these days…   Hey, guys, I’m trying.