Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

A Dog Named Slugger: How Service Dogs Improve the Lives of Many

A Dog Named Slugger: How Service Dogs Improve the Lives of ManyConsider these surprising studies concerning the benefit of trained service dogs to help all kinds of disabilities:

A recent survey showed that 82 percent of patients with PTSD who were assigned a dog had a decrease in symptoms, and 40 percent had a decrease in the medications they had to take.” –Dr. Melisa Kaime, director of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP)

  • A study presented at the 2006 annual conference of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) investigated whether people with severe disabilities who use service dogs are less dependent on family and friends to carry out activities of daily living than people with similar disabilities without service dogs. Subjects who had service dogs used approximately 4.3 hours per week less assistance from family and friends than their counterparts. –Robert Milan, Shirley Fitzgerald, Diane Collins, Amanda Reinsfelder, and Michelle Sporner
  • A study with the Texas Hearing and Service Dogs (THSD) assessed the benefits of the placement of service dogs with persons with mobility impairments. Participants reported that their service dogs had a positive effect on going out in public, feeling needed, feeling independent, and safety. Further, respondents reported that more people approached them when in public. Responses from the participants who had already had a service dog for longer periods of time substantiated the positive effects reported by the group that responded both before and after placement of a dog. Self?esteem, as measured by the Rosenberg Self?Esteem Scale, was enhanced significantly from before to after placement of a service dog. Family caregivers also benefited by being able to pursue other activities and by having more peace of mind. –Diana Rintala, Natalie Sachs-Ericsson, and Karen Hart
  • A cross-sectional study published in the journal “Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology” examined whether partnering with service dogs influenced psychosocial well-being and community participation of adult individuals using wheelchairs or scooters. Of participants with progressive conditions, those with service dogs demonstrated significantly higher positive affect scores than comparison group participants. Among those with clinical depression, service dog partners scored significantly higher in positive affect. –D.M. Collins, Shirley Fitzgerald, Natalie Sach-Ericsson, M. Scherer, R.A. Cooper, M.L. Boninge

You get the idea. Trained service dogs are not only aids to psychiatric illnesses, but any kind of disability, from visual impairment to autism.


One of the more touching stories I’ve read regarding heroic dogs is published in a new, intriguing book, A Dog Named Slugger, by Leigh Brill. In her prologue, she shares a story that condenses all the studies above in a heartfelt expression of what these creatures can do for both body and mind, and the transformative power of their attention and devotion. It makes for a great starting point for anyone considering investing in a trained service dog:

A Dog Named Slugger

My hands were trembling again. I needed to get a quarter out of my purse, but my quivering fingers made the task feel as intricate as neurosurgery. It’s always been that way with cerebral palsy—sometimes I just shake. I can’t help it. Still, the tired store clerk waiting at the counter in front of me didn’t understand this. She sighed, clearly wishing I would hurry up and pay for my purchase. I would have liked to be able to do that.


At last I grasped the quarter. I started to hand it to the clerk, and my fingers slipped. With a familiar flat plink, the coin hit the floor and rolled past the purple metal legs of my wheelchair. It was far beyond my reach now, but I knew what to do. I spoke softly to the companion who was standing attentively at my side, and he did what I could not. He retrieved the wayward quarter and put it carefully on the counter before taking his place once more. I smiled when he did this. Now the tired clerk was smiling too. “How amazing!” she exclaimed. “I never knew a dog could do that!”

My Labrador, Slugger, flicked his tongue across his jowls as if to remove the taste of the quarter. He was a highly trained service dog; for him, scooping a fallen coin into his mouth—and then spitting it out on command—was routine. Slugger was accustomed to retrieving anything that slipped from my grasp. My canine partner also carried my belongings, fetched my telephone, and opened heavy doors for me. His unwavering devoting brought me confidence and joy. With Slugger by my side, I discovered the life-changing power of unconditional love. And I learned that even the most formidable challenges can offer something good.


Her last two sentences sum up the healing powers of our canine friends: they offer unconditional love and teach their owners the hidden benefits of debilitating illnesses. And as a result, many regain confidence and joy.

To visit Leigh Brill’s website, click here.

Photo courtesy of

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment JiLLB

    I was working to train my psychiatric service dog (until it was clear it wasn’t going to work). I am again in the hunt for a dog to do service work. There are a bunch of sites out there about psychiatric service dogs and what they have to offer. I have a friend who got her life back because of her psychiatric service dog. It’s amazing. We all know the power of pets… add in a dog being able to help you through a panic attack or alert you to a manic or depressive episode *before* it starts and your life is forever changed! Thanks for this, Therese!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Diann Davis

    Wow! So powerful, Therese. I did not know that service dogs were available for those with psychiatric disabilities. Good food for thought. I am going to email this to my psychiartist! She is also a big dog lover and believes in the healing power of pets; she has her 2 dogs in her office during sessions. She encourages patients to touch and hold them during sessions. :-)

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Lisa Mac

    My daughter is working on training her dog to be her psychiatric service dog. This dog is her Therapy dog right now and helps her at home. It helps her with her PTSD episodes, anger, suicidal thoughts and desire to cut. If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, then this shelter dog is worth billions. She has brought peace of mind to both my daughter and my husband and I. Many times we can’t help and many times when we try to help our daughter it makes her anxiety worse. But Reno is the one who can always reach our daughter. Reno is my hero!

  • http://campusquilts quilts

    Great article!Thanks for posting.

  • Service dog

    Now i fully read this post and understand that it is a very good thing. So thanks for this post.

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