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The brilliant reason this dog trainer is having school teachers train service dogs.

A furry friend can do so much more than snuggle you when you've had a bad day.

The brilliant reason this dog trainer is having school teachers train service dogs.

Kathryn Oda has been living with anxiety and depression since she was 14.

There's no such thing as a quick fix for either, and given the symptoms of both, it's often difficult for people living with them to find the motivation to attempt treatment.

For Oda, everything changed when she adopted a furry little corgi named Buddy.


Buddy looks like quite the puddin in this pic! #rolleypolley #badangle #corgisgottacorg #cutiepie

A photo posted by Corgis Gotta Corg (They Must!) (@corgisgottacorg) on

"Before Buddy, I couldn't bring myself to roll out of bed sometimes, especially when I was feeling down," Oda wrote in an email. "But Buddy's little face, his smile, his contagious joy, gets me up every day, even on the hardest ones, when the world feels dark and gloomy."

Buddy is not a trained psychiatric service dog, but he happened to be just what Oda needed. And Oda is far from the only person to have found the four-legged companionship of a dog soothing.

Many people living with mental illness need the support of a specially trained service dog. Which is where Abby Hill comes in.

As a professional dog trainer, Hill had many people come to her looking for help finding a service dog, especially for debilitating anxiety.

About Buddy, Oda wrote, "having a companion who never judges, who is always happy to see you, who loves you unconditionally through the good and bad, is the most uplifting feeling in the world."

But trained service dogs are more than just companions — they're trained to do things like help stop panic attacks, lead their handler to the nearest exit if they are overwhelmed, and nudge them outside to run errands or for a walk to get exercise.

"When I started looking into ways to help these people, I found there was a two- to three-year wait nationwide for service dogs," said Hill. Not to mention, a certified psychiatric service dog costs $25,000 on average and is usually not covered by insurance.

Hill embarked on a mission to get people the help they needed without the extraordinary cost or lengthy wait time.

Meet Bella. Photo courtesy of The Exceptional Partner Service Dogs.

Hill is the founder of The Exceptional Partner Service Dogs (TEPSD), a nonprofit organization that offers service dogs to children and adults living with various mental illnesses. The program is based solely on donations, which means she is able to pair people with service dogs free of charge.  

TESPD works with each person's therapist to make sure the dog's support skills match their specific needs.

Most of the TEPSD dog trainers are also teachers who bring the dogs into their classrooms to get used to working and being around lots of children and chaos.

Bridget Berechid is a TEPSD dog trainer and a science teacher at Newtown High School in Connecticut.

Berechid couldn't believe how calm and well-mannered her puppy-in-training, Jake, was right from the beginning. "Even though he was only four months old at the time, it was obvious the puppy already understood that when the vest was on, he was 'at work,'" Berechid wrote in an email.

Berechid with puppy Jake. Photo courtesy of The Exceptional Partner Service Dogs.

‌The puppies spend 15 months going through basic training with their teacher trainers, which includes a lot of public interaction with students.

Taking the puppies to school also encourages the students to ask questions about mental health.

"We’ve seen kids come up, ask about the dogs, then all of a sudden it starts a conversation about how they feel anxiety in certain situations," says Hill. "It's really helping break down the mental health stigma."

Berechid also points out the regular presence of the dogs in classrooms is raising awareness around the importance of service dogs for any sort of disability.

In 2017, TESPD plans to launch a teen trainer program that will assign high school students a dog to train at intervals throughout the day to help them get a better sense of what kinds of benefits service dogs provide and how to work with them.

"By involving the community in the raising of these puppies, we are educating people about the lifesaving role these dogs play," Berechid said.

TESPD's unique classroom training method for service dogs means the dogs won't just help the person they're eventually paired with — they're helping entire classrooms of students along the way.

Because of the stigma that still exists around mental illness, many people in need don't reach out and ask for help when they need it. Normalizing discussions about mental health — and the idea that service dogs are what some people need to feel safe and functional in the world — to kids at a young age lets those kids know that there's nothing wrong with asking for help if you need it.

Even if the students don't end up needing service dogs themselves, their experience with TEPSD will make them more compassionate to anyone they encounter who lives with one. Compassion, much like a friendly dog, is one thing that can make a tough situation better.

‌Bella and her pup-raising family. Photo courtesy of The Exceptional Partner Service Dogs.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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