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Shedding Light on Support Animals

Kyleigh Leist

Outreach Coordinator


Support animals are becoming more and more popular as an outlet for people with a mental illness to receive another avenue of support. I had the opportunity to sit down with Arianne Quinn to learn more about her journey with her service dog, Benny. She is shedding light on the process, what her service dog does in terms of support, the stigmas attached to having a service animal, and so much more. Continue reading if you have been wondering if getting an assistance animal would be a proper fit for you and your journey!


What type of assistance animal do you have (service animal, therapy animal, or emotional support animal)?


I became equipped with a PTSD Service Dog named Benny!


With all of those assistance animals being different in terms of support, how did you decide what was right for you?


The decision to get a Service Dog was a decision made over a span of a year, after several years of utilizing every other option I could to increase the wellness of my mental health. Those avenues included medication, therapy, group therapy, peer support, and living as healthy of a lifestyle as I could. My life looked pretty perfect from a shallow perspective, but in reality, I was drowning.


What kind of dog is Benny?


Benny is a white Maltese x Toy Poodle.


How did you determine the right breed for you?


Unfortunately, I am allergic to most animals, therefore I needed a dog to be hypoallergenic and non-shedding. I grew up with Maltese dogs so they are familiar to me – a great bonus point.


How long have you had Benny?


I got Benny when he was 8 weeks old, and he’s almost 3 years old now.


What is the registration process like?


Before I actually got Benny, I went through an interview process with a group of Service Dog trainers called MSAR here in Winnipeg, MB, where I’m from. Lucky for me, their HQ is here, too, which makes it easy for me to access trainers. They are an international company, however, and travel often for educational purposes. They required a doctor’s note saying that a Service Dog would benefit my life greatly, as other treatment plans have not been enough. Once I obtained this, we talked about my personal needs and discussed which breed of dog would best assist me. We then talked about which MSAR program would be best for me as well, either an Owner Trainer program or purchasing/bonding with the dogs they had already Certified as PTSD Service Dogs. For me, it came down to wanting to to be a part of training process with the dog, so I chose the Owner Trainer program where, to this day, MSAR assists me with training Benny to his maximum abilities.


Can Benny sense your distress/you struggling? If so, what do they do to support you?


Oh, yes! Benny is the only creature I’ve ever known that can sense a change in energy before anyone else can. He is trained to smell pheromone changes in the human body (mine, in particular) that cause me distress, sadness, or just cause me to be anywhere on an extreme spectrum of emotion. When this happens, Benny will come up on my lap (or ask to) and use pressure to connect our bodies. He will press his chin down on my chest or legs to act as a weighted blanket and be a source of support while soothing my sensory needs. He also loves licking up tears.


What made you choose this outlet to help you overcome your mental illness?


Benny was my last case scenario. I couldn’t see myself moving too much farther in my life without having a Service Dog.


Do you feel judged when you go out in public with your assistance animal?


I often do, unfortunately. Benny is a small dog and there is a big controversy over whether small dogs can be Service Dogs. I won’t go into it, but yes, they can be. And great ones, at that! I worry that people think negatively about me or him when we are out in public.


How has Benny helped you emotionally and mentally?


Benny, above everything else, brings a constant source of comfort, reliability, and laughter into my life. He is silly and loves to cuddle, which is a morale booster in any situation. It’s nice to have a dog that dedicates his life to your well-being, as you aim to give him or her the best life you can, as well. I’ve found that looking after a dog that is bound to you like a Service Dog can be extremely rewarding. Benny gives me a reason to wake up in the morning, to get out of bed, to go out of my house, and to stay social, which are all things I struggled with when I was just looking after myself.


Where do you think you would be today without Benny?


Before Benny came into my life, I found myself at my lowest point in a Crisis Intervention Centre, unwilling to move forward with the life I was currently living. It’s so hard to imagine a life without Benny, as he changed everything the moment I met him.


What do you think is the most common misconception about having a service animal?


Many times while I’m out, I get asked if I’m just training Benny for someone else because I don’t “look disabled.” It’s a common misconception that invisible disabilities don’t require much effort to take care of. It’s not true. I may not be in a wheelchair but my mobility is very limited in the fact that the world outside of my safe space (my house) is unpredictable and unknowing. It terrifies me, but knowing I've got a protective dog who likes to go on outings helps me to get out.


What would you tell someone who might be questioning if getting a service animal is right for them?


DEFINITELY look into it, meet a Service Dog if you can, and do your research about who trains SDs in your area. A LOT of companies say they can certify your dog online, or in just a few classes, etc., but it’s being able to task train your dog in hundreds of hours of training with a quality company that is really important. The laws are in a gray area of what qualifies a Service Dog, but with the right amount of research for your area, province, state, etc., you can find somewhere right for you.


What challenges have you faced with having a service animal?


Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Service Dogs are still dogs. Benny has reactive qualities bred into him to protect me from danger (i.e. barking at the window) and at times I feel like he’s so stubborn! But in the blink of an eye he’ll go to his blue button and press down on it indicating he’d like to go outside to go pee! He’s always surprising me, that little rascal. I’ve also been denied access into some places because I come with a Service Dog, but every time, after a little educating on my part, I’ve been able to enter. It’s just an unfortunate delay.


How has Benny helped you socially?


Benny has given me my social life back. He is my buddy that goes with me everywhere. I exclusively go to social places where my SD is welcomed and people are happy so see him – it’s a morale booster and I often feel looked after and comfortable. I get overwhelmed socially very easily so Benny also gives me a good “excuse” to take him for little walks when things get too much, but in reality, I’m taking the break for myself so I don’t have to bail out early.


How can you connect peer support to animal support?


Seeing a face light up with joy because a dog is present is absolutely my favorite part about going out with my SD. Though people don’t get to pet him, they still love the energy that a cute, little dog brings. It takes the worry away from thinking people might feel negative about him.


Is there anything else you want the readers to know?


Benny is my life-saver. He has brought so much purpose and joy into my life that I didn’t know was possible. I am forever thankful to MSAR for teaching me how to communicate with Benny, and to Benny for taking care of me.


Support can look different for everyone. Whether it be from a furry friend, or through peer support – support is out there. Through answering these questions, Arianne has educated us all on yet another way to receive support. If you have been wondering if a support animal would be right for you, I hope this has helped. Arianne, thank you! Follow Arianne and Benny's journey on @ariannequinn.


For peer support, download the WhiteFlag App today and talk anonymously to others who are struggling with similar mental health issues. You no longer have to struggle alone.


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