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Helping hounds

Canine companions help students handle emotional scars

By Kaitlin Trujillo
On September 28, 2017

Photo by Kaitlin Trujillo
Shinae Vedder, sophomore, gets a hug from her dog Boomer. Boomer is a Great Dane that Vedder has trained since he was 12 weeks old.

Emotional Support Animals are sometimes viewed as only pets, but to many owners these dogs are providing a service.

Sophomore Shinea Vedder has Boomer, a Great Dane, to help her cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Boomer is trained to perceive Vedder’s emotional levels and calm her down when she becomes anxious.

"Boomer helps me on everyday interactions," Vedder said. "If I get stressed, have a meltdown or an anxiety attack, he can apply pressure points to calm me down."

Freshman Rebecca Patterson has Dozer, a German shepherd and Labrador mix, which she rescued from a shelter in March.

Patterson has Dozer for PTSD and medical alerts.

"It’s not the same as just having a pet," Patterson said. "He is working 24/7 with me. It’s not a lucky thing that I have him. I need him."

Vedder and Patterson’s use of the dogs is beneficial and important to their health.

It’s no different than someone who has a heart monitor, Vedder said.

Vedder encourages students to educate themselves on service dog etiquette.

"The lack of knowledge on campus makes it challenging," Vedder said.

If the dog is wearing his/her vests, the service animal is likely on duty and should not be treated as pets.

"When he’s in a vest, the best etiquette is no eye contact, don’t make kissy noises to him, and don’t try to call him or talk to him," Vedder said.

People should should speak to the handler if they want to interact with the service animal

"My biggest challenge with him is trying to keep him from trying to interact with other people because people try to interact with him," Vedder said. "Just let the dog work. He’s here for a job."

When Boomer is not on duty and his vest is off, people may interact with him, if they have permission.

"I’m quite open to allowing people to interact with him when he’s not actually working," Vedder said. "So if I’ve got him out of his vest usually I’m letting him be a little more relaxed."

Since having a service dog of her own, Vedder has started training service dogs.

"I’ve just fallen in love with how much the dogs can actually help somebody," Vedder said.

One dog in Vedder’s training program is sensitive to its owner’s fainting spells and can alert the owner to sit down before she faints.

Boomer and Dozer are an intricate part of their owner’s lives and well being.

"It’s not just a dog to me," Patterson said. "He’s definitely my best friend."

Although their scars are not tangible, Vedder and Patterson’s PTSD is very real and can drastically affect their daily lives.

"I wish people understood that just because we look normal doesn’t mean that we don’t have disabilities," Vedder said. "We’re just trying to manage it the best that we can and be as normal as everyone else is."

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