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I Have a Bipolar Support Dog

When I got my dog, Lena, just over two years ago, I didn’t yet know I had bipolar disorder. I had been diagnosed with major depression by my college’s health services and given only an anti-depressant to take. I had been high as a kite all summer – my apartment was spotless, I’d traveled across the country, I was hosting parties and potlucks for groups I wasn’t even a member of. Then the fall and winter had come and I’d crashed. I’d spontaneously gotten engaged to my best friend, who I’d been dating for about a month, and almost eloped with him to Las Vegas, before the alternator in my car broke down in Kansas. 

He and I had fallen apart, I was in the process of falling apart, and I was living alone and very lonely, having decided not to go home for the holidays. I went to the animal shelter adoption event and met a small (6ish lbs) Chihuahua-mix named Pixie, who I bonded with immediately. I took her home with me and changed her name to Lena and bought her a plaid collar, to match my favorite plaid shirt, and she slept loyally with me every night and followed me around the apartment all day. 

Fast forward to this December, two years and some weeks since I adopted Lena, and I now consider Lena to be my “Bipolar support dog.”  How can a dog help with bipolar disorder, you may ask? I will tell you. But first I want to acknowledge that Lena is part of my mental wellness plan, not the entire thing. I would still be out of my mind, even with her, if I did not have my team of doctors and my medications. She’s part of my therapy plan, not the entire thing. 

But what does she do for me? Unlike a “service dog,” she isn’t trained to perform specific tasks to negate or help my “disability.” She helps me just by being around and being her sweet doggy self, so she is classified as an “emotional support animal.” She helps with the loneliness and the anxiety I feel so often as a result of my lifestyle, my bipolar disorder and my general personality. I think of her as that little metal ball that comes in each bottle of nail polish to keep it from getting too stagnant - she isn’t a person but she provides enough stimulation and company to keep me from atrophying on my couch or in my bed. 

When I am anxious or depressed, it can be hard for me to leave the house, even to run to the gas station, to go out to lunch with a friend or to go to the grocery store. If I put on Lena’s vest, I can take her with me to all of these places. ESAs aren’t covered by the ADA to be taken everywhere like Service Dogs, but no one seems to have noticed this anywhere I have been. We’ve been to the zoo, to Target, to Walmart, to bookstores, to restaurants. She behaves herself and goes with me as I go about my day. She helps me feel less freaked out and alone. 

When I am hypomanic, she helps to ground me and forces me to be more reasonable than I would be otherwise, because I have to think of her well-being, not just my own. I can’t book a flight to Iceland with my credit card (not knowing how I will pay back the bill later) like I would like to when I am hypomanic because I can’t take Lena to Iceland and I have to stay here in Missouri and take care of her.

When I feel a depressive episode coming on, I call my doctor and he adjusts my medications, but if it doesn’t work and I get into a depression anyway, it’s hard to leave my bed, even to shower or cook a meal for myself. But Lena still has to go outside to go to the bathroom and she likes to go on walks and she needs attention and care. Having her around forces me to think about someone other than myself, to think of something outside of myself, and to get out of bed when I don’t feel like I can physically or emotionally do it.

The last time I had some suicidal thinking, the thought that stopped it was, “Kait, you can’t overdose tonight, Lena would be abandoned here in the world without you.” Thoughts of my mother’s pain or my siblings should be able to do it, but there is something so special about having a creature who goes everywhere with you and loves you more than anybody else that is really urgent and makes you want to stay here, for him/her.

I even got a letter from my psychiatrist stating that Lena is an “emotional support animal” and is vital to my staying balanced and being able to function in day-to-day life. Under the law, emotional support animals can live in housing (like mine) that doesn’t allow pets and they can fly with you on planes without an extra cost. I have enjoyed both of these benefits. I think of getting to have an “emotional support animal” as the silver lining to my bipolar disorder.

Do you have an emotional support animal or a pet who helps you deal with your bipolar disorder? Do you feel like there are any silver linings to your bipolar disorder?

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Comments

I pray sometimes that I can take my dog with me where I have to go. He stops panic attacks, gives me reason to get up and keep moving on. Being bipolar is hard enough to have your only source of comfort have to stay behind when you begrudgingly have to leave the safety of your home.

Thanks to share your story, Kait.

What a wonderful story.
This is one of the reasons I want a dog when I'm older. I now live too small to have one (25m2 student apartment) and I'm too unstable so I'm with my mum most of the time and she's allergic to dogs.

my cats are great support

Where is the best place to get a vest for a therapy dog? I've had my doggie for 5 years now and she's great!

You can get a vest almost anywhere, but your trainer would probably be the best person to ask. If your dog isn't trained (performs a direct task, like interrupting panic attacks), it's not a service dog; it can't go places with you that don't normally allow dogs, and their acceptance is at the discretion of the people around you.

Passing off your untrained pet dog as a service dog, like, with a vest, is illegal and is worth at least a fine in most places - you should check the laws in your state. There are many websites that allow you to purchase a vest and "certificate" of a service dog, but those are 100% bogus. Anywhere that asks you to pay for a certification without meeting and assessing your dog is NOT legitimate. Also, if you decide to impersonate a service dog and bring your dog somewhere and it behaves poorly, that reflects badly on everyone with actual service animals and makes every service animal appear less legitimate.

I don't mean to offend with this comment, and if you already know all this and have a legit service dog, I hope this comment can go toward education of well-meaning people with actual problems that are helped by their loving pets- it may not sound fair, and it's so hard to find a psychiatric service animal as a civilian (having not served in the military), but there are rules for a reason. Protect yourself and your dog from trouble and make sure you understand the rules and regulations in your state for service animals.

My name is Judi I have been bipolar most of my 68yrs,I adopted Magic, my greyhound over 4yrs ago. She has literally saved my life.I now have a reason to live, to get out of bed, to go for walks, to talk to people. Thank you my precious,wonderful Magic. Mommy loves you so much.

I have a horse...both were a bit crazy when we met. Today we are so close I am the envy of every little girl they way he follows me and watches me all the time. I was having a very severe episode when we met and he was totally in his own world and very difficult to ride. We both made it

I've had cats and they've provided a similar role for me. They're more independent than dogs but depressed or manic I still have to get up and give them food, water, and clean their litter box. They're a source of fuzzy companionship for me. In the past year, my cat and I both have had cancer. He got chemo and, so far, is doing great. I got surgery and radiation. It was sweet to have my Tommie throughout the journey.

Where can I get a vest?

Amazon.com

I live in a residential motel and I have a prescription for a service dog but the landlord refuses to allow them. I was told that if I fill the prescription the owner would find a reason to kick me out. I know I could sue, but that would cause even more anxiety.

If you document that now (even if you can't prove it) and date it, and then get a dog, you have a pretty good case if your landlord tries to make up some reason to evict you. (Although I totally understand what you mean about the whole potential issue causing anxiety.) Just wanted to encourage you to do something about this patently illegal behavior.

That's a wonderful story of deciding what you need and getting it yourself. You're very strong. I have a dog that might get me out the house if I brought her. She's really my best buddy and I don't like to leave the house at all.

I live in Iceland and the healthcare system here isn't good. People barely just started to realize that there is a thing called mental illness. And as a person who has just recently been diagnosed with bipolar, (less than a year ago) I still have a hard time telling people about it...manly because of the fear of being judged and respected less... but still... I wish I had an animal that I could have with me at all times.. I already have a cat. But she can't go anywhere with me. . .

I have always had dogs just for "my sanity". To hold my hand & keep me from sinking any deeper, to show me I am loved & I could never end all my pain & selfishly leave them alone. Odd as it sounds, my dogs have always been my biggest supporters!!!

im a vet tech. 14years. volunteer at shedd aquarium. Pet stores since 14 etc. I realize I definitely would not be alive with out that uconditional from my two golden retrievers.cat and cockatoo love...

Also, my dogs have had personalities which were strong in areas where I wasn't. They were more selective & better, less naive than I when it comes to judging characters of others. I have learned to trust their likes & dislikes re:"friends". It is true that if a dog doesn't like you, there's a reason! They know what we need.

If only I had a therapy dog. Animals and children are the only things that can take my depression away. Or make me think rationally in a panic. If I had a dog to keep me grounded whenever I needed. Someone to take care of me while I got to take care of him/her. It would b amazing. Unfortunately I was diagnosed at 14 and my parents won't let me hav another pet :( and my pups are far too misbehaved. My cat is my therapy pet but she won't b around much longer. This is something I'm definitely going to think about when I get my own place.

Cats can make amazing companions. I've had mine for almost 11 years. She's been an endless source of support and love -- through good times and bad.

It's the exact same thing with me. My dog is what keeps me from suicide! not my family or friends, but only the thought of abandoning him.

I adopted a kitten a month ago; it took me a while to figure it out, but if I stop, staring off into space, worrying about something (which happens often), she comes over and tries to get me to pet her. Animals can pick up on some subtle things, and seem to know instinctively what to do. :)

It s been almost nine years since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I found my first cat four years ago and I thank God I took her home. I live alone and she is the best company. Every night she sleeps with me and every morning she wakes me up to feed her. I love her very much and I take care of her.last year I found another kitten,a male this time.he is wilder than my female,but he is very funny that s why he makes me laugh. I love them both.

I got Willow six months ago.shes a Bishin Frieze and I cant imagine not having her now. It is hard on thr dark days to force yourself out to walk her but without a walk she is a nightmare so have to do it snd when i finally out i feel so much better which is fab
Xx

I have an English bulldog "Rocco" that we got as a puppy! It's so amazing to me how in tune he is to my sons bipolar condition without any training! Rocco can recognize when my son is having good days..and is very sweet and playful with him! Then when my son has an outburst or shows aggression towards me..Rocco immediately reacts and intervenes by getting between us and jumping up on my son, distracting him and interrupting the madness, so my son can refocus and begin to calm down! My Rocco has been a God send to us all!

How do I go about vetting my Ned papers so she can go with my husband .

i enjoyed your article very much. Almost three years ago I was diagnosed with PTSD. My step son noticed how well his Yorky puppy, Hyka, and I got along together. He loaned Hyka to me as he moved to the coast. Now we own Hyka and a Yorky cross, Angel (who is missed named). When my depression, anxiety and other nasty stuff tries to get a hold of me, these two furry caretakers are either on top of me or vying for my attention. I have a long way to go before I can manage my disorder but I am certain they have helped me heal, made life a lot more pleasant and given me responsibilities that I must action without delay especially when I do not want to even get out of bed.

I would love to use my dog in this way - she would be a fantastic help on my bad days. How do I get a vest for her?

View this article for questions about what parperwork, training, and certifications are required, as well as the differences between emotional support animals, therapy dogs, and service animals: http://pleasedontpetme.com/differences.php

I am Bipolar I and related 100%.I did my research and decided on a pair of leopard geckos, they stay pretty much all of the time in their enclosure but they tolerate handling. The keeping requires a lot of timing and detailed attention to keep them alive, so, no matter what, They NEED Me for their survival. I had to become an expert on the species and it's very relaxing to take care of them. btw, my job is one of the most stressing ones, Court interpreter. You have my admiration.

I to have a cat since he was a baby he is now 15 i have had bi polar type 1 for 20 years i wicsh i could say it goes away but it it doesnt but you do .the warning feelings an can try to prepare

I am so happy you have Lena! Stay grounded with friends also and take Lena along. I am so glad you have sought out treatment/meds. I have been stable for 5 yrs/meds/dr. and activities out of the house. I have a good support system with family on the few days that I have melt downs. I too have a Yorkie and a cat and love them both o death. I wish the very best.

I am Bipolar with suicidal tendencies I have PTS emptynest syndrome survivor of DV. I went to the shelter and saved his life and mine..... I'm happy everyday now.♡♡♡♡♡♡ can my Psychiatrist give me a letter that he is a bipolar service dog so I can give to my landlord I put it on my application but it wasn't put on lease now he gave me a notice to get rid of him. That would be really bad for my well being I'm very ANXIOUS now. HELP ME PLEASE

Hi Karen, thanks for your comment. 

What you're asking about is called an Emotional Support Animal  (ESA), which is different from a Service Dog. An ESA is allowed to live with you even if there is a no-pet policy, but can't go with you everywhere like a service dog can. An ESA requires a doctor's note only, compared to a service dog that must go through extensive training. 

So yes, you can have your psychiatrist write you a letter. This will make your dog an ESA and your landlord will have to let him live with you. It is housing discrimination if he does not. Your local legal aid office might have a housing department that can help you.

Here is an article with more details: http://www.therapydoginfo.net/servicedogs.html

This is for the US, and the rules might be different in other countries.

Thank You...
.I was having lots of ANXIETY about having to get rid of him I saved his Life and he saved mine. We are Perfect together I JUST LOVE HIM AND HE LOVES ME♡♡♡♡♡♡

Can I be charged a 500 for him?

No, they cannot charge a pet deposit for an ESA. You need the doctor's note first though to make your dog an ESA. 

ESAs are not considered pets. They are reasonable accommodations under the American with Disabilities Act. So they can't charge you to have a reasonable accommodation. 

See example 2 on page 9 here: http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/library/huddojstatement.pdf

Or page 3 here: http://www.tenantsunion.org/pdf/Assistance_and_Service_Animals_for_Tenan...

And page 3 here: https://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=servanimals_ntcfheo... "while housing providers may require applicants or residents to pay a pet deposit, they may not require applicants and residents to pay a deposit for an assistance animal."

Hi Karen! Maybe we're too late here but, we are Emotional Pet Support can help you! We even wrote a blog ourselves to help acquaint you with how ESAs can help you out here: https://www.emotionalpetsupport.com/2017/03/depression-emotional-support...

Hi Kait,
I've read your story with great interest.
I've been Bipolar for over 20 years now and did relate to a lot of the highs and lows you shared in your story.
I had a cat "Poupou" that was my companion for 18 years. He would talk to me and I would talk to him. He would come to me seeking affection when I was sad and depressed. He would wake me up when I stayed in bed too long.
Anyway I could go on forever...
All this to say, like your pet, he broke my loneliness and gave me a reason to keep on fighting when I didn't really wanted too.
Sadly he passed away at 19 years old, and because I was so attached to him and he had such a strong and colorful personality I have never brought myself to get another cat as I thought to myself: "it will never be the same, no other cat can replace him."
Now I am sometimes contemplating getting a new companion, though I don't think I am ready yet.
I agree that having a companion pet, dog, cat or other is definitely a complementary therapeutic treatment for someone affected by bipolar disorder.

Kait, thank you very much for sharing your story.

I adopted an 8 yrs old blind dog. She is part Corgi and part pomeranion. The only thing is she pees a lot. Its hard to keep up.with her, but shes very sweet. She reminds me of the dog i grew up with. Without her i would stay in bed all day. She loves a good belly rub. She needs me and i need her. She has been a blessing to me.

i can relate to this i have bipolar disorder and my three dogs are great help. last october i tried to commit suicide but was saved however i was institutionalized all i think about is them that i will get well so i csn take care of them

I love my sweet angel with all of my heart. I have a full video showing my attack and my baby keeping me in the moment

I wrote earlier about the blind dog i rescued. Unfortunately i had to have her put to sleep. That was heartbreaking. However i will rescue another dog from an animal shelter. I will always have a dog. They are great company especially since i live alone. I will update this when i rescue one.

what is your experience with taking your ESA to work? is this a possibility? I feel like If I could take Spirit with me maybe I could start working fulltime and then after that maybe I could start looking for my own place. Rebuilding your life is so frustrating, but with Spirit I remain grounded and positive.

Your work must allow you to bring a service dog, but ESAs aren't protected in that way. If your work doesn't allow its employees to bring in their pets, you'll have to talk to HR and your boss about getting a special exception, which they aren't required to grant.

I want to address the part about taking your dog with you places emotional support animals are not allowed.
I have bipolar 1 with psychosis, along with dissociative identity disorder. My service dog is a vital aspect of my treatment plan; she alerts me to mood states, navigates me when I am dissociated or don't know where I am, provides deep pressure therapy, interrupts repetitive and self injurious behavior, forces me to get out of bed in the morning, brings me medication, so on and so forth... When I take her with me, it is the same way someone will bring a hearing aid, a wheelchair, a white cane, or even an Epi-pen.
While your dog may be well behaved, it is beyond insulting and upsetting that you lie about having a service animal to bring your dog into public establishments. The protections under the ADA make it so I can bring my aid with me into public places without harassment. Falsely presenting an animal as a service animal is a FEDERAL CRIME.
If you need your dog with you everywhere, properly train your dog so it may pass a public access test with no issue, preform tasks and do work that helps you mitigate your disability, and so on. There is no registry of service animals, you may train your dog yourself. Why not actually make her a service dog, instead of illegally presenting your dog as one and insulting teams everywhere?

This is so wonderful. I really hope I can get an emotional support dog soon for the exact reasons you mentioned!

Really enjoyed reading this blog and very helpful information.

Thank you for posting this interesting blog keep posting in future.

I do not know where I would be without my dogs. One in particular is my world. I train all of my dogs myself. I trained her to be able to go with me for support as she is a mirror of me (side note: I trained her sister to be a certified therapy dog to visit nursing homes). Anyways, I can tell just by my special girl's behavior if I become agitated or am about to have a panic attack. But these are things she just knows without being trained. Sometimes I wake up with her on my chest because I will have random panic attacks as I sleep. When I go down she knows what antics will get me up and moving again. When I'm hurting, be it physical or mental, she snuggles and tries to protect me from her siblings who also want to love on me. I wasn't diagnosed until I was 21, but dogs have always been my life because they always understood me and were there for me when humans just didn't know or care. I just wish mental disorders were as widely accepted as physical ones. I often feel too self conscious to take my dogs places where they aren't usually allowed due to all the attention we get. I honestly prefer to be invisible when in public and more attention can cause extra anxiety. But I always know my pups are waiting for me while I'm at work and that usually brings the anxiety down even when away from them.

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