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Agility for Mental Health 2

What a Difference One Small Dog Can Make

By Lesley Rawson

Lesley with Summer, her 2 year old Tibetan, and Kizzie

I have always owned a dog and they have been great companions and much loved. However,  it wasn’t until I became ill that I realised just how special dogs are.

I was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder with severe depression and anxiety. I was suicidal and self-harmed and spent long periods of time in hospital. At the time I had a Westie named Josh who was amazing and helped me through some tough times.  He was allowed to visit me in hospital and was waiting for me when I finally went home. He continued to support me until he passed away aged 15.

At the time life was hard and he left a huge gap in my life. I was struggling, depressed, hopeless, anxious, isolated and unable to socialise. I needed help to go out anywhere. Then Kizzie entered my life. She’s also a Westie who’s cute, affectionate and cheeky. It helped having someone to look after and focus my energy on. Having a puppy attracts attention;  people would come over to stroke her and I started to be able to give eye contact and talk to people because talking about Kizzie felt safe.

I enrolled Kizzie in puppy classes which I knew would be good for her but terrifying for me being in a group with people I didn’t know. I had times of high anxiety but just stayed focused on her. Gradually I grew in confidence and I was able to cope in other situations too. Seeing Kizzie improve and learn new skills lifted my spirits – I felt like a proud Mum.

With Kizzie by my side I feel I can cope with  anything. We continue to go to obedience class and we also do agility which we both love. She has a habit of standing on top of the dog walk howling when happy much to everyone’s amusement. If I make a mistake (which is often) she’ll howl at me too as if telling me off. We now go to agility shows and I’m getting more and more confident. It has also meant I have had to start driving longer distances whereas at one time I couldn’t even drive locally. Because of Kizzie I have had the motivation to push myself more although it is still hard at times.

Recently Kizzie and I have started Heelwork to Music.  It took a lot for me to try something new and to face my anxiety but she loves it and gets so excited when she learns a new trick. I’m lucky that the dog clubs I attend have been great and very supportive. Kizzie makes me laugh and senses my mood changes and often cuddles up to me and kisses away my tears. When the depression is bad and I just want to stay in bed and shut myself off, Kizzie won’t let me – she wants a walk. With her by my side she gives me strength to do things that I’d struggle with she’s my little assistance dog.

Kizzie is my comforter, support, faithful and non – judgemental friend. She accepts me as I am. Through her I have made friends, socialise and have the confidence to do things that otherwise would have been impossible. She gives me hope for the future and a life worth living.

Dogs are known to do amazing things for those with physical disabilities but they can also have a huge impact on the lives of those with mental health problems. I know because I have Kizzie who has changed my life.  I hope that other people with mental health problems have the opportunity to own a dog like her.

Right now I’m torn between  stress and frustration of training and competing and wanting to feel part of agility community and the challenge. I’d be interested in others’ opinions and experiences.  

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3 Comments

  • Julia 5th July 2018 at 12:18 pm

    wow, thanks for sharing the positive impact your dogs have had on your life x

    Reply
  • E-J 1st August 2018 at 5:25 pm

    Fantastic ! Great to see this!! When completing my degree as a counsellor, my research dissertation was a pilot study on how dog agility impacts on our mental health. Some interesting findings! I too believe that that there are major benefits to this activity and certainly my research appeared to back this up!

    Reply
  • E-J 1st August 2018 at 5:41 pm

    Fantastic!! Great to read this. Last year I completed some research on the impact of dog agility on mental health. I am a counsellor but have also been taking part in dog agility for nearly 20 years.
    Some interesting findings!! The study concluded that was certainly a positive impact on our emotional well being as dog agility handlers. The Human Animal Bond, Psychosocial aspects, and the benefits of dog training .

    Reply

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