Alo and me

Alo came into my life for about two and a half months now.

For those who do not know Alo, he is my service dog to help me with my mental illness and it’s truly a blessing to count him in my life, because without him now, I am not sure if I would still be here.

I wanted to write a story about my relationship with Alo and the process of having a service dog. I have been getting a lot of questions about it and it’s been overwhelming sometimes, so I decided to talk about my experience so far here, to share and hopefully enlighten some people about it.

Service dogs come into peoples lives when everything does not seem to work, and that your doctor - psychiatrist recommends it. There is a very big process before getting accepted, and it is not for everyone. These dogs are work dogs and are there for people living with high levels of difficulties.

When I was first introduced to the idea of having a service dog, I was not sure if it was going to work, but I knew it was probably my last hope because everything I tried seemed to back fire and just not work.

I already had a dog at home (a 16 year old man named Jake hahaha) and thought that if he didn’t help, how could another dog help… But then again, I connect with animals so much more than humans that it couldn’t hurt to try.

Luckily, after almost giving up with several organizations, I was accepted into a program with Canidaide, a service dog organization that focuses on mental health. They offered me to do the training ‘‘Part time’’ which meant that the dog would stay with me throughout his training and we would have monthly check ins, group chats, video tutorials to help me train him as he will also be trained with one of their trainers on a monthly basis.

The next step was to find the perfect match, my guide, the dog that will help me over come the worst and help me heal. My dad came down to help me go to shelters to see if perhaps we could find the right partner. Looking for a potential candidate is very hard because there’s a list of criteria the dog needs to have to be accepted within the program. From there, once accepted they start their journey into training which can take up to 8 months depending on the dog.

After doing a couple of shelters with no luck, but better ideas on what type of dog we were looking for, we ended up on the last shelter of our list and decided to give it a go before ending the day. Going through the binder, we couldn’t seem to find the perfect match until someone suggested one. She turned the page to this 2 year old ‘‘Husky mix’’ and I looked at my dad like ‘‘yeah no. Not a husky LOL. ‘‘ but lets see him anyways!

He came out with a smile on his face, gently approached me and put his paw on my chest as if to say ‘‘I got you!’’. I cried, my dad thought it was a panic attack, but no, it was happiness, happiness of finding the right match and being able to go to the next step of healing.

The first time we met, at the shelter.

The first time we met, at the shelter.

Alo was found on a native reserve, they don’t know much about his past. I named him Alo, which means Spiritual Guide in Iroquois because I wanted to keep his native roots. After a week of connecting, we did our first evaluation and he passed like a star, the following two weeks he passed his public access which allows him to officially go anywhere with me and train in public.

Once a dog passes their public access, that’s when the real training begins. With lots of help, I started training with basics, and slowly bringing in more ‘‘mental health’’ training such as pressure therapy and touch alerts. So far we have progressed a lot, on both sides. He knows my triggers signals (even tho sometimes he doesn’t always respond hahaha), and he is extremely calm in busy places. Again, it’s only been a couple of months and so we still have a few more months before thinking of his final certification.

People often ask me if my life improved ever since he arrived.
It did. It truly did.

The first time, I really noticed a difference, was a month ago when I was folding clothes upstairs and all of a sudden he went into pressure therapy mode because he sensed my stress and knew I was going to have a panic attack. He laid on me, and then PAFF my attack started and he stayed profoundly stuck to my body until the ordeal had passed. Then, he slowly got up, licked my face and went on his bed and watched me fold my clothes and continue through the day.

It was one of those moments that I will forever remember, because it was such a strong moment. That’s when I realized the power of service dogs and how he was there to help me heal, grow confidence and socialize.

For the first time in a long time, I was able to go out in public places with him only and no one else. That feeling of being independant again and feeling important. Alo is not only my wheelchair, but my best friend.

Before he came into my life, I gave up. Now, I can finally see that little light at the end of the tunnel, I am still in that freaking tunnel, but at least I can see the end, it might be far away but it’s there, and right now, that’s all I need to know.