The compassionate account of the author’s experiences with psychiatric service dogs.
For years, Charleson (Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog, 2010) was a dedicated canine search-and-rescue professional. After a particularly “ugly” search in 2004, she was diagnosed with critical-incident stress by one doctor and PTSD by another. Before she could sink too far into mental illness, Puzzle, the golden retriever puppy she had been training as a search-and-rescue dog, “badgered [her] free” from the fear that was ruling her life. Charleson eventually learned that the demand was growing for canines with the ability to help and support people with mental and emotional problems. The expense involved in “raising, training and providing excellent care” for psychiatric service-dog candidates, however, made them too costly for many individuals. Determined to show that owners could teach suitable dogs to become their assistants, Charleson went into shelters to locate a dog with the resilience, intelligence and good nature necessary to do psychiatric service work and that she could train on her own. She found her candidate in a starving pit bull terrier puppy she named Jake Piper. Drawing on her encounters with many extraordinary psych service dogs and their handlers, as well as her own experiences with mental illness, Charleson trained Jake to distract her away from anxiety-based behaviors like compulsive stove checking. The story she tells about her dogs is remarkable, but those she includes about other canines—like Merlin, the black lab who could sense the onset of panic attacks, and Ollie, the blind and deaf terrier who brought comfort to anxious children—are equally amazing.
An inspiring and refreshingly optimistic reminder about the untapped possibilities that exist in the relationships between humans and dogs.