Animals Improving Mental Wellness In The Red River Valley - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Animals Improving Mental Wellness In The Red River Valley

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Ever have the feeling your dog or cat can sense your emotions? Some animal experts say they can.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, being in the presence of a companion animal has many health benefits including mental, social and physiological. That's why many people in the Red River Valley are being advised to use an animal for emotional needs and mental wellness.

"I've got a happy, pretty friendly, attention craving dog." Laughs Sarah Nelson, who is 
one of many who have an animal for emotional needs.

"Dogs pick up on someone who is injured, or has a problem,” says professional trainer Mary-Ellen Steinhoff, “and they just hone in on that."

Mary-Ellen runs FM Dog Obedience School in Moorhead with her husband Wally. The group holds obedience classes along with using dogs in therapy group sessions. Mary-Ellen says they see a change in patients nearly every time they bring their therapy dogs to a nursing home or hospital.

But for some their mental illness was something that needed much more care, and a dog that is committed to them every day.

"My service dog comforts me 24/7, 365 days of the year. There is no on or off switch for my service dog, he's always on call." Says Dalles Jorgenson a veteran who is living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

A service or emotional dog can help people with a number of difficulties from high blood pressure, to seizure response, to diabetes, epilepsy, traumatic brain injuries or heart attack patients.

"A service dog can provide with increased social, physical and emotional life.” Says Pamela Standing the Executive Director of Service Dogs for America, “They can improve their lives and get them out in public."

"I'm very hyperventilate, always checking always looking and making sure someone is not behind me, and Hayden, he does that for me." Dalles says looking down at his furry friend.

"The PTSD dog is a tool, it's a part of a treatment program, counseling program, it is another tool you use to better your life." Pamela explains.

For some their dog is an emotional tool, giving them loving support.

"I know there's a lot of other things that changed in my life, but i don't think i could of done it without him." Sarah says about her dog Oliver.

But along with the help these animals provide, many challenges also come their way. Sarah says she had trouble renting an apartment in a building which didn’t allow pets. But she knew when an animal is suggested to you by a doctor for psychiatric help they are allowed by law anywhere.

"There was a class action lawsuit and they asked if i wanted to take part in that and i said absolutely because if this is discrimination i want to take care of it." Sarah says.

She does now not pay for her pooch to be in the apartment as it is illegal to charge someone with a doctor approved note.

But that’s creating other problems. Some people are attempting to fake symptoms for doctors notes saying their animal is necessary for emotional needs.

For people like Dalles, his dog is trained to help him, but it’s still an everyday challenge even being out in public.

"It just gets to be a hassle, like every 10 steps it’s like oh can i pet your dog?" Dalles says with a frustrated sigh.

"The dogs vest is on it says working dog do not pet, that really could be a life or death situation for someone,” Pamela agrees, “if they have seizures and it's a medical response dog and you are distracting that dog."

But both understand the importance of sharing just what a service animal is for.

"When someone comes up, I am willing to educate, and I am willing to explain what he does and how he helps.” Dalles says, “I mean he's my wheelchair, he's given me the ability to live in society, be a more productive member of society."

Issues aside many people say their animal has helped them focus on new things and off a problem they have.

"He's helped a lot, I went from taking a lot of medications to being on absolutely nothing!” Sarah says with a smile.

Depending on their animal for more than they would of ever known, creating a unbreakable bond.

"It's almost like you can feel his heartbeat through the leash." Dalles explains with a smile.

“How these dogs just know, just how important they are, it's incredible." Mary-Ellen says.

It’s a feeling Sarah shares with all.

"I always tell people that say, ‘oh I'm depressed I might need meds,’ I say go get a dog. Haha they really help.” Sarah says laughing. “He changed my life, he really, really did."

To read more about the Americans With Disabilities Act regarding service animals click here.

Click here for more information from Service Dogs For America.

If you want more information from FM Dog Obedience School click here.
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