Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color


Tibetan Mastiff
Tibetan Mastiff

Cindy’s sure I qualify for a service dog, whatever that means. Mum also thinks it’s a good idea. I? I’m not so sure.

Periodically I post images on Facebook of huge dogs, such as Mastiffs or Newfoundlands, as possible choices for a service dog. At one point I posted a photo of a Maine Coon cat as an option. Though all along I’ve known at some level that a service dog could ease my way, I’ve somehow managed to submerge that awareness, only rarely allowing it to resurface. I’m not sure why.

I’d love to have a dog, and I particularly like big dogs. However, taking care of a dog would take a lot out of me, possibly too much. Every so often I take care of Gus, my grand-dog, for a week or more at a time, and as much as I love having him, it drains me.

In addition, the thought of having to be part of a program to train a service dog is overwhelming to me. I can’t even begin to imagine the logistics involved. What about the cost? And there are many many people out there who need a service dog more than I do. In fact, it’s not obvious that I truly need one. I manage fine on my own. More or less. More, rather than less.

I certainly don’t need a seizure-alert dog—I’ve been seizure free for many years now. I believe, or would I just like to believe? And my balance is so much better. In fact, it’s fine almost all the time. The sensory overload? That doesn’t happen as often as it used to either. Or at least I’ve become better at avoiding bad situations and making my escape before I’m too far gone. Though there was that time last week. Actually it happened twice last week. And whenever I travel it’s a problem.

When I learnt that Julia, a girl who has been through several brain surgeries, got a service dog, I wondered how she’d managed for so many years without one. A few months ago, I learnt that her dog’s main function was to alert for oncoming seizures. That came as no surprise, but what did surprise me was that Julia hasn’t had a seizure in six years. Hmmm…

A week ago, I came across a blog piece about service dogs ( Though interested, the article didn’t hold my attention until the author started explaining the tasks (bona fide) service dogs are trained to perform: “For example, this includes, but is not limited to, mobility and balance assistance, medical alert (cardiac alert, diabetic alert, seizure alert, blood pressure alert, etc.), guiding, alerting their Deaf handler to sounds, pulling wheelchairs, picking up dropped items, performing grounding tasks for psychiatric disorders, medication reminders, seizure response, blocking the individual from a crowd, removing the dissociated handler from the public space, alerting a person with PTSD that a stranger is coming up behind them, and more.”

Finally it clicked—service dog are trained to mitigate the handler’s disabilities. The handler, that would be me. I actually did qualify for a service dog, on several counts: because of the seizures, the balance issues, overload issues, needing guidance away from crowded situations. A service dog would allow me more independence. I wouldn’t have to rely on others when in danger of sensory overload or when my balance goes. Also, though I’d like to believe that I haven’t had one in years, I am fully aware that I’m at high risk for epileptic seizures—all of my EEGs, including the most recent one, have exhibited abnormal brain activity.

Should I look into getting a service dog?

Perhaps I should ask Julia’s mother about the logistics of getting one and about the care it would require. Perhaps living with a well trained dog would be much less exhausting than taking care of that rambunctious, intelligent, prankster, lovable and loving, grand-dog of mine, Gus.

Mastiff? Newfoundland? Yellow Lab? Golden Retriever? A mutt?