Diane Sawyer arranged for my Service Dog

April 25th, 2013 by Carrie, the Just Mildly Medicated gal

It all started almost a year ago with a phone call from my sister in law. She happened to be watching Diane Sawyer on ABC World News and saw that the upcoming story was on service dogs being trained for people who faint. She called me, my sister in law… not Diane Sawyer… I put ABC World News on then I called my dad and we all watched it.

Link: Dog Saves Owner From Fainting Could a dog’s sense of smell help monitor blood pressure?

Canine Partners for Life has trainers who work with potential cardiac alert dogs. The hope is to detect the drop in BP that happens right before a person becomes symptomatic. They never mention what the young woman in this interview suffers from but it is clearly Orthostatic Intolerance, mostly likely Hypotension since all of the emphasis was on blood pressure and not heart rate.

I called CPL and we spoke about my medical issues and symptoms and they sent an application packet. It took me almost a week to fill out the 8 pages of questions, have friends write reference letters (thanks Dawn and Meredith) and I had to write two essays. I wrote the check for the application fee and printed off 3 photos of my family and I as they requested, and it was in the mail.

CPL reviewed my application and they felt they could train a dog for me. I was accepted to the program but it was far from a done deal though. We had a SKYPE interview to go over more details. Murphy’s Law, the connection was less than desirable but we were able to finish the conversation. During the interview we talked more about what I like to do, places I like to go, as well as my ability to care for a dog physically, emotionally, as well as financially.

The next step was a letter from my Neurologist, he was more than willing to fill out the paperwork with additional information he thought would be helpful. Then it became official, my name now sits on a wait list at Canine Partners for Life.

Then a bit of anxiety, how different will life be with a service dog, how long will my wait be, do I really need this to improve my quality of life… I am sure someone could use it more than me. Ahhh, that last line, so true. I have a non stop internal battle with really believing this is my situation but that is a whole different post.

Because I have a child with a dog allergy we have to wait longer than the average person on the list, waiting for not only a poodle or poodle mix when they work mostly with retrievers but a poodle or poodle mix with a knack for potential cardiac alert could be years from now.

So far I am almost at one year into my wait. Every six months there is some type of update to do. At my six month mark it was a detailed journal of episodes and I am coming due again for my next assignment. I knew it was too soon but I couldn’t help inquiring, the matches for the summer session have already been made.

Some really great news is that as we have sat this last year on the wait list at Canine Partners for Life our family dog has started alerting to my episodes. Now Maggie the Goldendoodle is no official alert dog, she alerts to pizza just as well as an episode. I am pretty sure if pizza was in the same room as me having an episode she wouldn’t look twice at me.

When its quiet in the house and she is paying attention to me, and not napping on the couch, she will alert and it gives me the 5 to 10 seconds that can make a difference in getting to a better location. We are working with Maggie’s training so she can focus her alerts a bit more consistently while we wait for my service dog.

This is our family pet Maggie the Goldendoodle. The way she noses my hand when it starts is what she starts doing before my episodes.

There is still a long wait but it is helpful to have Maggie doing her part now though I do look forward to someday having a dog trained to focus on me, even more so than pizza. I will keep you posted on Maggie’s training to see if she can fine tune this natural skill as well as our journey to receiving a service dog.

training hard

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24 Responses

  1. It is amazing to me the way dogs can be trained for service. I hope that you’re doing okay and am glad that Maggie has come into your life. Hoping that your wait for the “official” dog isn’t much longer.

  2. That is so amazing that Maggie is able to help while you are waiting! Good dog, Maggie! Hugs!

  3. Jei Crochet says:

    Dogs are mans best friend! They are amazing helping people so we need to take care and treat them right.


  4. Linda Wilson says:

    Maggie can come live with me when you get your official service dog! I love that pup!

  5. Lindsay says:

    that’s amazing that maggie can alert to episodes without official training. what a wonderful dog.

    i do hope the process for an official service dog goes quickly, but in the meantime, i’m glad you have a great dogfriend that looks out for you (and pizza).

  6. C_JustMildlyMedicated@yahoo(dot)com

  7. FridaWrites says:

    Your goldendoodle is precious–her grooming is beautiful. I’m glad he’s alerting for you but hope that you get partnered with your service dog soon. I’m interested in how you reward/reinforce her alerts.

    I also have dysautonomia. My dog alerted early on together but I don’t have many episodes these days, so I’m not sure how to reinforce. And I had to train him out of alerting at the pool when my heart rate went high during exercise–too high for rest, but good for that. Sigh.

  8. For alerts I reward with praise. Again, I didn’t teach it she just does it. We are working on getting her to pick up dropped objects with treats as a reward. It is slow going… and a bit comical…

  9. FridaWrites says:

    You won the drawing, by the way–when you have a chance, drop by my blog and select which item you would like!

  10. Hello and welcome to the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival! I’m so glad you contributed this post.

    Since Maggie is motivated by food, I’m wondering if you or your trainer have considered using food as a positive reinforcer for alerting to your episodes? Then it would be easier to make the choice between begging for pizza (especially if she never gets pizza as a reward for begging) and alerting you to an oncoming episode (especially if she always gets rewarded with a treat for alerting). Over time she’ll learn that alerting pays off and begging doesn’t.

    Also, it’s my deeply held belief that pizza crusts are the most coveted dog treats in the world. ;-) (I have never yet met a dog who didn’t love pizza crust!)

    • I am glad to be a part of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival!
      Maggie is very food motivated ;) She is progressing well in training, my state has no access rights for SDiT so that is a bit of a let down. Maggie still solicits attention and some other basic no no things. Not sure she’ll ever be public access but the training is fun ;)

  11. Wesley Laird says:

    Something you want to stay away from when you are performing dog training because you would want to prevent any circumstances where your dog might harm or run after someone. Always compliment the creature for every session he has achieved and provides him a cure or two.

  12. Shannon Tomlinson says:

    I am the girl that was on World News with Diane Sawyer. The reason I agreed to go on TV was because I was hoping to help others like me. I am THRILLED to know that at least one person saw my story and has reached out for help in a service dog. I waited CPL’s list for a year and a half.
    I do NOT have POTS, actually. My dysautonomia (which affects at least 4 major organ systems now) has a kind of hypotension called Neurocardiogenic Syncope, or NCS. It has nothing to do with posture, but will happen at rest, in any position, and randomly. I do not struggle with racing heart beat, but drops in heart rate and blood pressure. Clover, my service dog, is wonderful and has assisted me in achieving so many goals. We are leaving for graduate school at the end of the month. Please keep in contact- I am so thrilled that I saw this blog. One of my fellow CPL recipients linked another one of your posts to Facebook, and I saw this while browsing your blog.
    -Shannon & Clover

    • Shannon and Clover,

      Wow, you are like a superstar to me!
      I will have to reread but I don’t think I said you have POTS. If I remember I think Clover was alerting to a drop in blood pressure.

      I also have a messier issue than HR alone, as the last year has progressed I’ve been categorized as Pure Autonomic Failure. My oldest daughter has NCS, though mild.

      Do you and Clover have a FB page? I’d love to keep in touch.

      Carrie, the Just Mildly Medicated gal

  13. Sonia says:

    My niece is the young lady that was featured in Diane Sawyer’s report. Her condition is actually neurocardiogenic syncope. In a nutshell, it’s messier than your average orthostatic intolerance. Her heart rate involved too (she has a pacemaker) and her condition has been noted to be one of the worst cases doctors at Mayo Clinic have ever seen. Specialists are still doing studies on her.

    There are not enough words to describe what a difference her dog has made in her life. Rather than having to put life on hold, she is able to go almost anywhere and do almost anything without worrying about landing in the ER with another concussion. And, as a side note, the rest of the family is breathing a sigh of relief too.

    Good luck with getting your dog. It will change your life, and most definitely for the better. You will wonder how you managed all this time without it.

    • So excited to have you and Shannon here at Just Mildly Medicated. That interview was such a huge help for me!

      I may go to Mayo (wait listed for Autonomic Clinic)but honestly am very happy with my care with Dr. Randy Thompson in Pensacola. It is quiet the annual trip from Missouri though.

      Thanks again!

  14. Becca DeBerry says:

    I just wanted to say way to go Maggie. Please give Maggie a big huggle for me. Thank you!

    Take care
    God bless.

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