I would not have survived my PTSD without Mango’s help over the past decade.
Even with the aid of a neuropsychologist and an army of doctors, I struggle day-to-day coping with PTSD, panic disorder, agoraphobia, chronic spine pain, headaches and sleep deprivation. I was lucky my doctor encouraged me to adopt a dog, when I asked him if it was advisable with my psychological conditions.
As a newly diagnosed PTSD patient years ago, I knew nothing of emotional support animals, or psychiatric service dogs. I was young, in my twenties, petrified that my life was imploding after a concussion from my taxi accident. I only knew that with Mango’s company I was more functional. I was so desperate for her help, on days I was badly triggered, I would try to smuggle her inside my coat to places she may have been prohibited (such as my friend’s workplace) because I was too terrified to venture out without her. If I took too many anti-anxiety meds, I would be too drowsy to walk to the destination safely and I could not ask my friends to pick me up at my apt like a child every time. So the only options were to be a shut in or be an outlaw of sorts with furry contraband. I didn’t just want her company, I needed it. The city was overwhelming and just getting to the pharmacy or my doctor was an almost insurmountable task without my tiny sherpa. But over time, the stress of hiding her, made elements of my anxiety worse.
ADA laws were created to protect the right of the invisibly disabled, people like me. Had I just gotten Mango service dog training immediately, she would have legally been able to accompany me. I also would have been able to fine tune the tasks she did to assist me sooner. I hope with Mango’s story, people suffering with similar ailments can learn from my mistakes and benefit from a SD or ESA sooner. You don’t have to suffer in silent exile. When you have a SD or ESA, no matter how bad things are, you are never alone.
Mango was adopted from the rescue group NY Peticare in 2003. She was pulled out of a NYC Animal Control high kill shelter only days before she was about to be put to sleep. Mango knew instinctively that I was unwell. She was an emotional support animal (ESA) for me from the second she was healed from her multiple surgeries. ESAs do not have the same access as service dogs because they have not been trained specific duties to help your disability.
Below I’ve broken down what she did as an ESA and as later as a service dog.
I want to pass on the information of the health benefits of having a dog, so others in my shoes can share in their natural healing abilities. Mango understood me without saying a word, without me having to defend or explain myself for not feeling well. I owe my life to Mango and this site is dedicated to her brave actions that kept me going.
My tiny hero passed in August 2013, after a courageous thirteen hour battle with a seizure from a brain tumor. Her heart was still fighting to stay with me, but she deserved more than to come back to a broken body. She lived her life with zest, dignity, and a lot of big opinions.
I hope this site will allow her legacy to go on.
She continues to live forever in my heart and guides (with her usual cheeky humor), Keanu, my newly adopted rescue dog from Life for Paws Oregon, a 501(c)(3) non profit corporation that rescues and rehomes, abandoned, neglected, and at risk animals, to be trained as a future PTSD chihuahua service dog. His training and journey will be posted weekly.
Mango’s Service Dog Work (2010-2013)
When Mango and I moved from NYC to the Pacific Northwest in 2007, some helpful strangers stopped me to let me know that she was trying to alert me to my panic attacks before it happened. She would bark and “act fussy”. They told me to look into it and they have seen this for seizure alert dogs. In New York, several of my friends witnessed it as well, but we never made the connection. Mango’s warnings were overlooked in the chaos of my panic attacks. I started researching PTSD service dogs, as I grew more dependent on Mango after I became isolated in the suburbs. It was beneficial to avoid my triggers, but in a way I had managed to cage myself at home, unless I relied on Mango more.
Using helpful literature such as Healing Companions by Jane Miller, LISW,CDBC and resources like Petpartners.org, I trained Mango as a legally compliant medical alert service dog. It took me over six months to train and modify her helpful behavior/tasks to respond consistently to commands. Physically and mentally I could only train her a few minutes several times a day, every day. Over the years, as my emotional support animal, she had been educated how to behave with good manners.
What took me longer was to come to terms that I had a service dog. When many people saw her with a medical alert service dog tag, they would ask out of curiosity what was wrong with me. Legally I am not required to answer. However, it never failed to make me feel ashamed I had PTSD. What indeed was wrong with me? Why can’t I shake this off? I was no heroic war veteran returning from battle. I was a simple girl who couldn’t take a blow to the head from a minor taxi accident.
My head rarely goes without aching everyday, but I manage to deal with it, some days better than others. I am no longer embarrassed to have PTSD. It is like being ashamed to have high blood pressure or something else I cannot control, but it is too late. I should have been openly proud of everything Mango did to make my life better. I will never stop regretting caring what other people thought of me. My heart bursts with pride of what Mango learned in order to help me. If speaking up and giving her credit about how heroic she was, exposes my weaknesses, I accept that.
These are some of the tasks I trained her to do:
My disability: (Panic Disorder) Disorientation, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, blacking out. This happens more frequently if I am alone, experience a trigger, had insomnia for a few days in a row, or a night terror earlier.
Her task: Getting my attention by pawing on my chest from her pouch and giving me full eye contact. This was modified from her original untrained alerting behavior where she would act agitated and whimper. By alerting me prior to a panic attack, I quickly remove myself from the trigger and take a fast acting anti-anxiety medication.
My disability: (Panic Disorder) Disorientation, shortness of breath, increased heart rate.
Her task: “Chest” command. Mango would jump on my chest and lay across my chest over my heart and lungs. She would stay until I tell her, “O.K.” The pressure from the weight of her body and her steady breathing and heartbeat would calm me. It grounded me from the disorientating onslaught of the panic attack. It helped keep me present. This command shortened the duration and the severity of my panic attacks. Combined with her medical alert duties this command allowed me to go on a “as needed” basis with my anti-anxiety medications instead of daily, which greatly improved my quality of life.
This “Chest” command has similar to the effects indicated in the clinical study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology by Temple Grandin, Ph.D. on the Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autistic Disorder, College Students, and Animals, where she stated, “In anecdotal reports, deep touch pressure has been described to produce a calming effect in children with psychiatric disorders. Deep pressure stimulation, such as rolling up in a gym mat, has been used to calm children with autistic disorder and ADHD (Ayres 1979, King 1989). Lorna King (personal communication, 1990) reports that children with sleeping problems appear to sleep better inside of a mummy sleeping bag, which adapts to fit the body snuggly. It also has been used to reduce tactile defensiveness in children who cannot tolerate being touched.
New products such as the Thundershirt designed for canine separation anxiety or fear of thunderstorms have been developed using a theory similar to this as well.
My disability: (Panic Disorder) Disorientation
Her task: “Get help” command. Mango would find the nearest person and herd them to me if I needed assistance.
My disability: (Panic Disorder) Disorientation, shortness of breath
Her task: “Find dad” command. Mango would herd my husband to come urgently. This was originally used during playtime for her, but became crucial when I had shortness of breath and couldn’t yell loud enough to get my husbands attention for help.
My disability: (PTSD) Paranoia of turning my back to people when things where moving behind me loudly or quickly
Her task: “Watch my back” command. She would perch and turn around to watch the people behind me. If they got close, she would bark or paw me to let me know. She performed this task for me at the atm or when I got electrostimulation on my back muscles at my chiropractors office when there are unpredictable people around and I felt anxious.
Every command she learned greatly improved my quality of life. I was able to cope with being out in public more without being full of medication. I had some degree of normalcy in my life thanks to Mango.
Mango’s Emotional Support Animal (ESA)Work (2003-2013)
These are Mango’s self trained emotional support animal duties.
According to the government, “Emotional Support Animals provide some therapeutic benefit to person with mental or psychiatric disability, requiring no specific training. The mere presence of this animal mitigates the effects of the emotional or mental disability.” There was no command I used to ask her to perform these tasks, and this was not a taught behavior, therefore legally these did not qualify her to be a service animal yet.
My disability: (PTSD) Anorexia due to headaches, medication side effects, and sometimes I would not eat for days if a friend did not visit me before Mango.
Her task: Herding me to fridge. Then, she would insisted I eat by sitting in front of fridge and staring at me, making an upward motion with her nose. I would usually feel too nauseous to eat or rarely feel hungry. In the beginning, she would sit in front of the fridge and bark at me, but she saw it made me double over from my headaches and she modified her communication with expressive eye contact, head movements and facial expressions. She would refuse to budge. If I physically tried to carry her back on the couch, she would just hop off, run in front of the fridge and continue sitting there until I ate. If I tried to ignore her, she would try to herd me like a sheepdog and get me to follow her. I would feel guilty she was sitting on the the cold kitchen tile for so long and force myself to eat. At my worst, without her, I dropped to 79 lbs from 100 lbs.
My disability: (PTSD) Sedation due to medication
Her task: Barking and alerting me when danger was close. Sometimes I would dose off while trying to cook, even boil pasta. This was very dangerous when I lived alone when I first adopted her. She would make such a commotion to wake me, that I was able to get things under control before a fire blazed out of control.
My disability: (PTSD) Night terrors
Her task: Wake me by nuzzling my cheek or pawing my neck. Later on after I got married, she woke my husband. She slept burrowed in a folded twin sized comforter next to my head so she would always be close by. She was such a light sleeper she knew even when I peel one eyelid open to quietly peek at her in the middle of the night.
As a emotional support animal, Mango was also very comforting to be around after a night terror to bring me back to my current surroundings. Without her, it is very jarring and the disorientation repercussions lasts longer (Nausea, headaches, increased heart rate).
My disability: (PTSD) Disassociation
Her task: Lead me back home. She was able to do this for over a 10 block radius from our home and also my friends home that we stayed at when I was unwell.
My disability: (PTSD) Self destructive behavior/disassociation
Her task: Interrupting and breaking me out of this state. She would paw my legs or cause a racket to get my attention. When I would stand in the shower too long, not noticing the hot water is used up, she would stand up at the edge of her tub barking and push back the shower curtain. Concern from seeing her small face get soaked with water would jar me back to reality.
My disabilty: Anxiety
Her task: Just her presence and a head nuzzle or snuggle calmed me down sometimes. I disliked using the pneumonic neck brace above, the choking sensation makes me panic, but it helped relieve some pressure off my bulging discs in my spine. Mango’s comforting behavior allowed me continue with the treatment. I focused on her presence and not the brace.
My disabilty: (Injury to C4-5, 6-7) Chronic left side pain due to spine compression on nerves.
Her task: Curl up on the painful area. She used her body to warm the painful spots, for example there is a pressure point on my left arm called the “three rivers”, she would instinctively know and lay on top of it. Later on, when I researched Chihuahua heritage, I was shocked learn that this behavior dated back to Toltech times when their alleged Techichi ancestors were used specifically for this purpose, almost as live heat packs.
This is only a fraction of what she did for me on a daily basis. She dedicated every second of her life to make sure I was safe. We lost the battle with her brain stem tumor on August 25, 2013. I can never repay how much she helped me, but her efforts to keep me alive was not in vain.
At MangoDogMD, we hope to help get Dog M.D.’s for those that need them, by raising awareness and sharing Mango’s story. Dogs seem to have an innate ability to naturally heal us humans and all they ask for in return is water, some kibble and some kindness. Such a small price to get your own guardian angel here on earth.
Disclaimer: Please seek immediate professional medical attention if you or your pet partner are not feeling well. This site is for entertainment and informational purposes only. Mango would like all her online friends to be safe and happy.