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Juno, Heal: Health Benefits and Guide Dogs

The New York Times ran a blog post on
The Healing Power of Dogs
and given my personal experiences with dogs, I thought it was something I would do well to address here. This could get involved, so grab some coffee, soda or whatever it is you prefer to drink and we'll dive in.

First, I should explain something for those who don't have Guide Dogs or who blew past this post's title without envoking their screen reader's spell feature. Juno is the fictitious name used for the fictitious guide dog who helps many of guide dog users learn the basics of guide work. This includes everything from "Sit" to "Forward" to "right" to "No". At
Guide Dogs for the Blind
we spent about two and a half days with Juno before we ever touched the fuzzy softness of our real guides. If you're trying to picture this, it works with the instructor holding an empty guide dog harness and leash at waist level and pulling it to simulate the dog's movementss. After the first five minutes or so, I got used to the fact that I was talking to an instructor like she was a dog and I figured out that I could correct the fake dog without hurting the instructor. Sighted people might find a picture somewhere on the Guide Dogs for the Blind site which shows this, but I don't know where. Now, for those using screen readers, just know that heal wasn't spelled with two e's.

Okay, back to the article. I first need to address the parts that bothered me. Guide Dogs are not "four-legged healthcare workers." The only health benefits I got Julio to provide were the health benefits of having one more way of keeping from ending up flat under a car. He wasn't trained to provide any medical support. One thing that is frequently overlooked is that a lot of us with disabilities don't consider our needs to be medical. Sure, I need help avoiding obstacles, but that's not a medical need perse. Someone who uses a hearing dog probably doesn't consider the need to be notified of sounds to be medical either. This all goes back to that medical model of disability. If you ask me, most of the time I won't even list blindness as a medical condition because I don't feel it is one.

That said, I think this article has some interesting merrits. I really do think the health benefits of having Julio are there. Having Julio helps me with movement (I walk more relaxed with him than with a white cane) Julio provides a barrier near my left side, people can't touch my leg quite so easily with him laying on my left side, and I consider that a benefit. When my pain is bad or my heart is racing, I can reach down and pet him or play with him to distract myself. He takes away a lot of the distress of pain, even though he can't necessarily take away the pain itself. And he provides the reassurance I need to go out there and walk with pride.

I can't say enough about the emotional benefits Julio has provided. When I feel horrible, it's Julio who cuddles with me until I can get past the worst of the pain. It's Julio who keeps me laughing at his anticks and allows me to reep the benefits of laughter. The benefits of having someone to care for are pretty well documented, and I appreciate them. I know I have to get out of bed because Julio needs to go outside and he needs to eat. Even when I don't want to go to class, I know he needs to work and that he's bored. I've often wondered if that inscentive to get up and get moving has helped me do better longer with the RSD. Yes, things aren't going well with my pain, but consider that I've had RSD for five years and am still going to schoool. I'm not sure how common that is, I know that those who do go struggle. I just wonder if I'd be where I am right now without Julio. I honestly don't think I would be here, at school, with a blog and
a book
if Julio weren't here.

Well, it's about 5 PM here and I'm getting hungry. So is Julio. He'll need some food, a trip outside and maybe a walk over to the cafeteria where I can practice upper body strength to keep him from eating off the floor. The last one will wait for tomorrow, but I think it's play time for the puppy.

Questions for you: What of what I just wrote do you agree with? What don't you agree with? What surprised you? Is there something you're wondering about that I didn't address? What are your experiences?


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Jan. 15th, 2008 12:31 am (UTC)
Hi, I think that you've got it right on. And it's not only guide dogs or other pets that can motivate one either. I know there have been times with me that I've been so sick I thought I would die-I had gallbladder trouble for six months before it was finally diagnosed and I began to make dietary changes to ease the almost continuous symptoms of stomach pain, vomitting and diarrhea. But I have two young children, and not only did they need to be fed, have their laundry washed, get bathed, helped with homework etc., but they also needed to be on my lap, to be held and kissed, to be snuggled tightly when they were scared, etc. There were times I know I would not have gotten up to face the day if they weren't there.
And then there's holding a baby or petting an animal when you feel badly or are stressed, or putting your own fears or problems aside to help or reassure another.
In your case, Julio is helping you not only because he's your guide, but mostly because he loves you and you love him.
Jan. 15th, 2008 12:46 am (UTC)
Yeah, that bond of love is pretty amazing. Your story reminded me of an angle I hadn't thought about, but relationships spurr us to find diagnoses and treatments, too. I know that's why I pushed so hard to find treatment when the RSD came back after graduation because I didn't want to not be able to work Julio. Thanks for sharing your story, you're a great mom to have gone through the gallbladder problems and kept going. What I know about that is that it's very painful.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 15th, 2008 12:48 am (UTC)
Yeah, petting a fuzzy puppy or kitten does take stress down. I've never tried this, but it would be interesting to see how petting Julio affected my blood pressure readings if I wanted to use some objective sign.

I think it's cool that you volunteer, I've always secretly wished that I could volunteer at the guide dog school and pet the guide dog puppies.
Jan. 15th, 2008 04:13 am (UTC)
Interesting points, and very thought-provoking... 4-legged health benefit (gag me!), but I do see one point that I *DO* agree though, that the dog is in a way a health benefit regardings confidence in walking etc, but the actual term is certainly going to get the wrong impression from the public's point of view though, and we have enough problems with that! Media articles etc are always not necessarily written or portrayed correctly and for the most part seem to put the wrong words that we didn't give them that is correct, and they construe it! UGH! At least this hasn't happened to me since I am quite clear with reporters when information is sent out. I don't know if the article you saw was originally an article, so I am only assuming (which will get me in huge "doo-doo" since that is not a good habit!)
Jan. 15th, 2008 04:26 am (UTC)
Yeah, I don't have a problem with the idea that the dog can help with health stuff. Like I said, I see it in my life. But I don't find my blindness to be medical, and Julio's not a nurse, doctor or therapist with a harness and leash. It's interesting to see how others feel about disability, even if I don't agree with it.

I wish there was some more accurate portrayal of this type of thing.
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