Third-year social work student, Mara Ioana Howard

PHOTO: EMILY CRAIG EVANS

Student raises money to pay for service dog

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By Emily Craig Evans

Third-year social work student Mara Ioana Howard started an online fundraiser in late July to help pay for a service dog.

The $3,000 fundraising goal would cover the initial deposit to a private company for the dog and vet costs. Service dogs can cost a minimum of $16,000 to complete training.

Non-profit organizations state that they can offer partial or full funding for a service dog, but Howard said the wait time when going through a non-profit, potentially two years or longer, is too long.

Howard could have a service dog in six months to a year -and-a-half through a private company. The long wait times through non-profits result from supply and demand discrepancies, and the fact that many breed their own dogs and begin training when dogs are puppies. Some private companies train rescue dogs.

“There’s just not enough non-profits out there,” said Howard.

After Howard was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in February, her psychiatrist prescribed a service dog in addition to psychotherapy and medication. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that results from trauma and can occur at any age. It affects eight per cent of Canadians according to Statistics Canada 2013.

Howard experiences the hyper-vigilance, panic, concentration and connectedness issues associated with the disorder on a daily basis.

“Knowing that I have a companion would reduce my anxiety and I know I’d be able to make more rational decisions,” Howard said.

You may have seen some therapy dogs around campus — they’re in the Lower Gym every Monday between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.. But a service dog is different from a therapy dog, and Ryerson’s animal policy states that Howard’s service dog would be able to accompany her wherever she goes on campus, including to class.

Both a therapy dog and a service dog have to pass a temperament test. Most pet dogs will mimic their owner’s mood.

“The thing about service dogs that’s really cool is that their temperament is so strong that you start to mimic them,” said Howard.

Unlike therapy dogs, service dogs go through rigorous and individualized training to perform tasks specifically required by their client. Clients could have a psychiatric or physical disability. A service dog can be the eyes or ears of a person with visual or hearing impairment, or detect seizures before they happen in a person with epilepsy. For Howard, her dog could make her feel more comfortable in a crowd by walking a perimeter around her. When feeling panic or disconnect from her environment, the dog could ground her by applying pressure to her body with the weight of its own.

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