Dogs can be a great source of comfort, companionship and motivation for their owners in many ways, particularly when it comes to mental health. Our youngest Explorer Eliana writes about her pooch Duchess and the positive impact she has on her mental health.
My journey begins
At the age of 10, when I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and Asperger’s. I kept getting turned away for help due to lack of staff. I was left to just ‘cope with it’. A scared child and had no support. I had no idea how to cope with it, and it spiraled.
I thought that my life was worthless because of my mental health. It caused me so much pain and fear that I couldn’t do anything. My appointments put me in a devastating circle of rejection. I wanted to give up but I kept going. Finally, after four years of not getting the help I needed, they put me higher up on the waiting list for CBT. It was mentally exhausting but I kept going and started getting better.
Getting a Puppy
My mum agreed to get me a puppy to keep me going. That puppy? My beautiful Duchess. It was love at first sight, Duchess and I instantly bonded, she’s amazing. Duchess can always sense whatever I’m feeling and knows exactly what to do to make it better. It’s like she’s in my mind. Since I brought Duchess home she hasn’t left my side, she comes everywhere with me! She is the reason I keep fighting and the reason I always will.
Duchess came to therapy with me when she was 8 weeks old. She started to understand my mental health and triggers. After CBT ended I fell straight back into my old ways. I had to fight my brain daily just to survive. Duchess never left my side, she just observed my actions and triggers and tried to help. Since then she even started self-training. Duchess made it her mission to help me get better.
When Duchess started going on her first walks, the idea of taking her out was hard anyway, but the anxiety of training her to walk well made it even worse. We had to stop every 5 minutes because I would lose my vision and get really faint, but surprisingly this didn’t bother her she just stayed next to me and leaned on me to keep me grounded.
She helped to get my anxiety attacks down from 5 a walk to 1 which made me feel so much better. I felt so much more confident taking her out so I started to take her out more. Our walks got longer, and I started exploring new places to walk Duchess, rather than just around the village.
When Duchess was 6 months she was fully trained in both basic puppy training and as my therapy dog. I was then able to go to other places with her without having a breakdown. It tough at times but she made it do-able.
My Furry Hero
Before Duchess I wouldn’t leave the house for weeks. Hid away in the dark until I had another appointment to go to. Quit school because even the thought of going there would make me faint. Stopped eating, drinking, talking to anyone and even doing the basic human things you need to do to survive.
Now I can go out and do things a person should. I get out daily to take her on a walk, socialise more, do online school work and I’ve become a part of the best community, Dog Furiendly.
I’m making friends and talking about normal things to normal people rather than just talking to therapists. Most importantly I don’t want to die. My mental state is finally manageable.
Duchess is better than any therapist. When I have an anxiety attack or breakdown therapists would just tell me the same usual, breath through it, it will soon be over. When I have an anxiety attack or breakdown with Duchess she runs over to me and pushes her weight on me to ground me, makes me stroke her so I don’t hurt myself and a lot more, she won’t leave until I’m better.
Duchess has saved my life and made it 100 times happier and for that I will always be grateful. She is my hero and my best friend.
We couldn’t be prouder of Eliana. Since being an Explorer Eliana has grown in confidence. Together with Duchess she’s going from strength to strength and we can’t wait to see what she achieves next.