MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES … hidden disabilities … you normally don’t see them unless they are extreme.
I myself have a range of depressive moods, I can have sudden attacks of anxiety, and experience panic attacks as well – conditions for which I have been medically diagnosed. Sometimes it takes a while to realize I am in a depressive state … anxiety and panic attacks on the other hand are recognized fairly quickly.
Those who are reading this may not know that I suffer from these things — or even realize when they are happening. Some, unfortunately, can unwittingly do things which will compound these issues. And a rare few simply seem unable to understand what their actions are doing.
I have been off work for nearly a year and a half now because of these medically diagnosed issues … issues that can at times make my life difficult. Sometimes for a day … an afternoon … or a string of days in a row.
For example, during the first six months I was off work, and receiving short-term disability payments, my case worker failed to understand, and/ or realize that the stresses she placed on me would trigger anxiety attacks, days of depression, and even rage at the injustice of the demands placed on me.
I remember mentioning to her at one point, “You do know why I am off work right now don’t you? It’s because I am suffering from stress and anxiety, and I have depression.”
Some of you know, and have met, my little registered support dog Finnegan – all four pounds of him. Never a bother to anyone … never creating a disturbance – and generally hardly ever noticed.
Finnegan is a MiKi, a breed that is supportive, loving, and easy-going. He comforts me when I am feeling depressive, and makes each and every day a blessing as he decreases stress and anxiety when it comes upon me.
PetGuide.com states about the MiKi:
Not only is the Miki Dog an intelligent breed, but it is friendly and affectionate as well. This breed loves to be around people and they are good with strangers as well as children. The Miki Dog is even-tempered which makes it a great choice for a therapy dog and it is not aggressive with or intimidated by other dogs.
And from BelleAmieMi-Kis.com (Finnegan’s breeder):
Mi-Kis are purebred dogs. They are not hybrid or designer dogs. Mi-Kis make excellent therapy and service dogs. They are intelligent, sweet natured and easy going. We are especially proud of the Belle Amie Mi-Kis that are active therapy dogs …
Finnegan isn’t a service dog such as you will see for the blind, for example, or those who are hearing impaired, or suffering from things like diabetes, or PTSD. Instead, Finnegan is a support dog, and the service he provides me as support dog is as valid to me as the service dogs are to them. I pay an annual fee for his registration as a support dog, and he has a Photo ID tag on the pouch sling which I carry him in, as well as on his collar, identifying him as a support dog.
Here is the easiest way to explain what a support dog is, and the needs for having one:
Emotional support dogs are dogs that provide comfort and support in forms of affection and companionship for an individual suffering from various mental and emotional conditions. An emotional support dog is not required to perform any specific tasks for a disability like service dogs are. They are meant solely for emotional stability and unconditional love. They can assist with conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder/mood disorder, panic attacks, fear/phobias, and other psychological and emotional conditions.
Going out and about, in surroundings that can quickly change, can often times impact and affect me greatly. Here’s just one example. One day after I had gone no more than 20 feet inside of Winners and Homesense, I was suddenly overcome by a panic attack. With Finnegan at my side, and through his calm behaviour, I was able to quietly leave the store, and then get my emotions under control.
No wonder then that I also have a letter from my medical care provider which explicitly states;
“Alan is a patient …. he uses an emotional support animal to help in his overall medical therapy. Finnegan is a very well behaved MiKi Dog, very small, and well-mannered. I have seen Alan many times, with his small dog, and have never encountered any issues. I have recommended Finnegan continue to accompany Alan.”
Finnegan does indeed go with me whenever I am out and about … and he has always been welcomed as a support dog for me. Not so on a recent Saturday night however.
With a dinner reservation at Atlas Steak and Fish, to celebrate our 45th anniversary, my wife and I arrived for what we expected to be a wonderful and special dining experience – much as we had enjoyed on a previous occasion.
Seated, appetizers ordered, and having conversation, we were interrupted by a staff member who requested Finnegan’s Support Dog tag, which they took, and left to see a manager. Back they came a few minutes later, along with a manager, to ask us to leave.
Finnegan wasn’t the right kind of registered support dog for them as he did not meet their policy … and the letter from my medical practitioner, stating my need of him, wasn’t good enough either.
Up went my stress level … up went my anxiety level … and now looking back at what happened, I feel certain I went into a dissociative state for several moments because of the shock of what was happening. It was embarrassing, it was upsetting, and there was certainly no thought at all for the dignity and respect of a customer. My careful plans for our 45th wedding anniversary were ruined.
In the past 18 months, I have been able to go out shopping and doing other activities (including dining at restaurants), and in doing so interact with staff and other customers. It has never been an issue having Finnegan with me, which was why we had no reason to anticipate a problem on Saturday evening, especially given that we had been served before at their adjacent buffet restaurant.
Thank goodness, then, that after such a horrible experience, we were made to feel extremely welcome, and well looked after, as we enjoyed a meal in another dinning establishment.
Once a year Bell has their “Let’s Talk” day in support of mental health well-being. Understanding the issue, and being caring and compassionate can’t, however, happen just one day a year. Additionally, those who can’t see a physically diagnosed medical issue need to be more aware … especially of actions they take which can exacerbate the problems surrounding mental health.
There is, I believe, a difference between the letter of the law, and the spirit of the law.
If Finnegan had been a large breed dog such as a Great Dane, German Sheppard, Golden Retriever, and registered as a service dog, they would have had to accommodate him. Instead, because they were focused on the letter, not the spirit, of the law, there was no opportunity to discuss the viability of accommodating a quiet four-pound support dog — a dog which has never had a problem in any other restaurant, store, or medical facility in Kamloops, or any other community.
I am thankful for the many businesses that are inclusive rather than exclusive; and to Atlas who were not? Well, I hope you do not have to experience, for yourself, the stress, anxiety, and /or depression that thousands of Canadians go through.
It’s not pleasant, and it’s definitely not something you would ever wish to suffer from.
Alan Forseth is a Kamloops resident and former member of the Reform Party of Canada and the B.C. Reform Party, and a past and current member of the BC Conservative Party. His blog is My Thoughts on Politics and More.