Category Archives: Panic Attack

Compassionate Gilbert and Self Trained SD Solea

An update from kind, compassionate Gilbert who self-trained SD Solea for his agoraphobia. When we first met, Gilbert would not even leave his house. Solea has changed his life. Gilbert’s diagnoses are Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Depression, Extreme Anxiety.

“Hi Laurie, it’s been a long time since i have sent an update. Since last sharing with you, Solea and I have had to endure some tough times with the loss of my uncle and cousin in two brutal murders. We attended the viewing services together. Our bond has grown even stronger since the last time and I only take anxiety medication if I’m going to be out of the house longer than 30 minutes at a time. We have managed over and over again on doing small outings such as a Family Dollar or a corner store. We went recently to a Subway together and were questioned if Solea was a Service Dog. I replied yes and educated an employee who was very interested to learn more. We also have been to the ER together due to dehydration from the stomach flu. We have been to Tractor Supply back to back recently together with no anxiety medicine! We also went to the movie theater recently – our second time there together and my second time in almost 4 years!”


Choxi – Ambassador For Changing Hospital Rules

An update from our trainer, Cherry, and her client Kelsie, who suffers from PTSD, with SDIT, Choxi!

“Had a wonderful training session with Kelsie and sweet Choxi this evening! We met at Bill Millers restaurant. Choxi recognized me instantly, which touched my heart. Even so, I still asked Kelsie if it was ok to pet her because although I was also Choxi’s rescuer as well as her trainer, she is now Kelsie’s SDIT and I had to respect that. Kelsie, however, allowed me to pet sweet Choxi and after our hello’s, we went into the restaurant.

Kelsie showed me Choxi’s perfect heel as we walked through the restaurant, and Choxi sat patiently by her as she stood and read the menu. After choosing what we wanted, Choxi walked again in a great heel to the table and settled down quietly under her chair. There was very little room in the tightly crowded tables and chairs and the table legs made it impossible for Choxi to go under the table, but Kelsie gave her the down command and Choxi complied beautifully, fitting underneath as much as she could!
During our meal, Kelsie and I chatted about the many benefits of having Choxi and how she had changed Kelsie’s life. “I cant see life without her now”, she told me.

Then she told me a story that had me in tears. Kelsie is a pastor at a hospital. One day while on duty, she went to give comfort to a family who had lost a family member. Two children were there grieving over the loss of their father. Choxi instinctively went to the children and nudged them with her nose. “The children stopped crying,” Kelsie said. “Although they were grief stricken, Choxi offered them comfort and they responded. She’s amazing.”

She also told me something equally as incredible. Choxi’s influence in the hospital has actually made the hospital director change his policy for staff with Service Dogs! “He’s now not only going to allow them, but he is going to encourage them!” Kelsie told me. Choxi is now the ambassador for changing hospital rules!!!

Kelsie is leaving for a while and returning in December, when she wants to have Choxi’s Public Access Test. “I think more people will miss Choxi than ME!” she said laughing.

Kelsie suffers from PTSD, and Kelsie said that Choxi has dramatically changed her anxiety levels to an all time low! Choxi gives snuggles and kisses on command as one of her three tasks, as well as ‘covering’ and alerting Kelsie when she’s going to have a panic attack.

The bond between these two is spectacular. I can’t wait for December to come so I can see these two again!”


Wounded Warrior Christopher and SDIT, Shoeless Joe

A lovely update from trainer Beverly, who is working with Wounded Warrior Christopher and his awesome SDIT, Shoeless Joe!!

“We met at D&D feed store to review with Chris and Shoeless all the PAT skills to see where Shoeless is and what he needs work on. Since Chris had been heavily involved in his VA appointments and then had some back issues that took him away from working with Shoeless, we wanted to brush them both up on their skills. We trained for about 1 ½ hours reviewing the skills, refreshing his memory and reminding them both of what is required for a SD to pass the PAT. Shoeless picked up on all commands very quickly and did very well on the skills we practiced – sit, down, stay, leave it, heel, watch me, controlled entry and exit into stores and controlled load/unload into a vehicle. We worked heavily on his sit/down stays with distractions, enlisting the help of store employees who happily provided various distractions.

As always, Shoeless was a hit and did a great job not reacting to claps, squeaky toys, people walking by and petting him, stepping over him, etc.

The one area that Chris isn’t as comfortable with is eating out at a restaurant with Shoeless. Next weekend we plan to train again at D&D, then go to Chili’s restaurant to finish the session on restaurant skills. Chris will practice with Shoeless during the week, and I have no doubt that Shoeless will do fabulously next weekend! This picture is of Shoeless Joe doing a perfect down/stay even with his dad out of sight!”

Discrimination from the DMV, San Antonio

Ah…more discrimination from the DMV, San Antonio:

Babcock Driver License Office of San Antonio, Texas
1258 Babcock Road
San Antonio, TX 78201

To whom it may concern:

I have tried many times to contact you by phone, but I always get a busy signal. I am a Service Dog trainer, and my client is due to take her driver’s test on the 11th. My client has a Service Dog, Sea-Jay, who must be present with her at all times due to her medical condition – Sea-Jay is a medical alert dog. Sea-Jay is also a fully-trained Service Dog who is completely laid-back and absolutely friendly.  My client was told that none of the female evaluators would be willing to go with her for her driver’s test because of the dog in the back – and that she would have to go with a man. My client cannot be around men she does not know – it is part of her disability. For you to deny her access to a female evaluator based upon the presence of a Service Dog is considered harassment of a Service Dog and harassment of a Service Dog handler, a misdemeanor in the state of Texas.

If you do not allow my client to take her driver’s test with a female, I will be reporting you to the police for this misdemeanor.

You may call me at any time at the phone number below.

Laurie A. Gawelko, M.S.

William and Dallas Were Amazing!

What a WONDERFUL first public session for William, an active duty Wounded Warrior, and his gorgeous dog, Dallas!!  William was a medic for 16 years, and suffers from PTSD as a result.  However, he has chosen to continue working teaching other medics from his vast experience and knowledge base!  What courage and loyalty!  Yes, explaining what he saw in battle is difficult for him when he is teaching, but those he teaches get the extra benefit of being with someone who was actually there.  Sometimes, William has to take some pretty deep breaths talking about his difficult experiences to his men – he pretty much relives those experiences every day.  There is little time for healing when you’re still exposed to the battle wounds every day.  His schedule is erratic, and each day he has to wake up at different times, as early as 4, work long shifts, and the next day, his schedule might be totally different.  Of course, this also affects his natural sleep cycle, giving his mind little respite from having the chance to fight of night terrors.  So this is a particularly interesting challenge – training a Service Dog while the handler is still active duty.  William does an exceptional job at work, but when he comes home, he is plagued by the same PTSD that other Wounded Warriors suffer – fear of crowded places, anxiety with strangers around, loud noises, etc., and this frustrates him.  His beautiful family explained that his frustration often makes him depressed or angry, and keeps him from doing things with the family outside the home.  Well, from what I saw on our first public outing, I don’t think it’s going to be long until he, SDIT Dallas, and William’s family will be out enjoying the world together again!

Of course, I was so excited to see Dallas, as he is a mere 9 month-old Mastiff, now one of my all-time favorite breeds, and is as big as a small horse!  Dallas is full of nothing but gentleness, love, and is smart as a whip.  Seriously – you tell this dog something once, and he LEARNS it.  His eye contact is amazing.  So when I arrived at William’s house, at about the most busy time for a Petsmart visit, I knew William would be a little nervous – but off we went!!

WILLIAM AND DALLAS WERE AMAZING!!!!!  Words can’t even describe how exceptional both of them were at Petsmart – with dogs everywhere, people in awe of Dallas’ beauty crowding around, and strangers approaching us at every turn asking about Dallas’ breed.  We DID manage to find plenty of time to do serious training in quite spots, and spent a long time there, but it was worth it. I had to ask William a few times if he was doing OK, because the amount of attention they received was unbelievable.  There was a woman who worked for dog food company that I have seen at many Petsmarts, and although very friendly, she didn’t quite get the concept of Service Dog training.  For example, she would follow us around  asking if she could watch the training, and we would allow a little bit, but then I would say “Now, we REALLY have to focus on this part, so we will need total privacy”.  She was very kind.  Then, at one point, we turned the corner and there were literally about 6 adults and maybe 8 children that she had “gathered” together to see if we could “educate them” about Service Dogs!!  The look on William’s face was like he had seen a ghost!  So I asked William if he wanted to do this – after all – here we were facing one of his greatest anxiety-provokers – but like the champ he is, he said he might as well start learning!!!

So I talked to the “audience” about how Service Dogs work, how they are very highly-trained dogs, and that anytime you see someone with a dog in a vest like Dallas’, be sure to READ if the vest says “Please ask to pet me” or “Do not pet”.  The children asked, “What does Dallas do for you, sir?”, and I looked at William and asked if he wanted me to answer or if he wanted to answer.  He was taken a bit off guard, so I told the children that Dallas helps his dad with “special medical tasks”.  Then, of course, they all asked, one by one (even the parents), “May we please pet your dog?”  William said yes, and one-by-one, with me making sure they knew to always pet a new dog UNDER the chin, they stepped up and did just that – giggling, loving it, and the parents did the same – in awe of how Dallas was so gentle and stayed in a “sit” position the whole time.  It really was beautiful, and I think William felt very proud – not just of Dallas, but of himself.  I know I was.

Quite training was flawless.  Dallas knows “sit”, “down”, a perfect “heel”, “watch me”, “sit/stay”, “down/stay”, “wait” before entering doors (had to remind William of that), “controlled load and unload”, and even did natural “covers”.  Dallas had no startle response whatsoever to created distractions, and could stay in a “heel” when William dropped the leash.  Dallas did several meet and greets with tiny, barking dogs and big barking dogs, and Dallas just stood there and did his sniffing and carried on.  It was truly remarkable.  I showed William several techniques for carrying out these commands, first doing them myself, and then having William do them.  William learned very easily.  I think he felt a bit unsure that Dallas would perform for him as well as he did with me, but Dallas proved him wrong!!

When we were done, I congratulated William profusely, and asked him when was the last time he had spent that much time (about 2 hours) in a crowded public setting.  He shook his head and said, “I couldn’t even tell you”.  I made sure he realized what a true triumph he had just accomplished – and to focus on that every time he started to feel depressed between sessions – that he CAN do it, and he has the most wonderful, beautiful, slobbery companion at his side that will continue to help him achieve more and more!!!

In Meghan’s Words

From our trainer in Austin, who is working with Meghan, who suffers from PTSD, severe anxiety/depression, and fibromyalgia. Meghan had eloquently described her condition, and I thought I would share it (with her permission) because I think a lot of us can relate to it. Meghan wrote:

“Most nights when I sleep, I have severe nightmares and wake up every few hours. The anxiety from the PTSD, nightmares, flashbacks causes severe panic attacks. The anxiety leads to depression, which makes leaving the house difficult. At times, the fibromyalgia leaves me exhausted, affecting my ability to stand and my general ability to function or concentrate. I’ll collapse or have to sit down wherever I’m at. My speech can even become slurred. I also am in constant pain. I am disabled and have a part time job but only work 16 hours (4 hours days) due to a doctor recommendation. This at times leaves me with little or no energy. My boyfriend has had to assist me in writing this because of my Fibromyalgia impeding my concentration.

My psychiatrist recommended that a Service Dog might help me with panic attacks, PTSD, and even the depression. Recently, my physician suggested a Service Dog for both my PTSD (panic attacks) and fibromyalgia.

A Service Dog would be a constant companion I could rely on – helping me realize when the PTSD is causing me to hallucinate and have flashbacks. My companion would help me focus my thoughts in these moments. He would also help me to keep from becoming overwhelmed by my surroundings. A companion will be able to give me more confidence when I step out because he would be able to notify me if I am having a panic attack or starting to disassociate with my surroundings, forcing me to focus on him instead of my fear. He would also allow me to exercise and function better outside of the house. Part of my fear is if I become tired or have a fibro spell, I will have no help. Most days I will not leave the house without my boyfriend. A Service Dog could also help for when the fibromyalgia leaves me with no energy and I start to collapse, by giving me someone to lean on physically and emotionally. I have also heard that they can help comfort you when the PTSD causes nightmares and can help with the nightmares. This would be wonderful as I sleep very little, especially at one time. I wake up some nights and am even afraid to go to the bathroom or I lay awake afraid to go to sleep. Having someone there to remind me what is and isn’t real, that will stand by my side will be an immense relief. He would help me function better when I go out and perform daily activities.”

I was just so impressed with this detailed, well-thought out description of what someone with these particular issues deals with on a day-to-day basis, that I knew others could relate. The fact that both Meghan’s psychiatrist AND physician prescribed a Service Dog gives me hope that the medical community is starting to realize the value of these dogs in our lives.

Our trainer writes:

“I just finished a session with Meghan and Precious. We did our first public training outing at Petsmart!

I let Precious go in the store and explore first before we began our training, just to desensitize him and make sure we got his full engagement after he had smelled the store. We worked on loose-leash walking before we started on heeling. I had Meghan focus on rewarding Precious for not pulling and for checking back in with Meghan to make sure she was ok. We also worked on down/stays and sit/stays. Precious is strong in sit/stays. His down/stays need more work, but overall, he did great! His heeling was wonderful after after we got into the rhythm! He needs to work a bit on his self-control when out in public. Precious loves other dogs and people, so this is something we will be constantly working on so that his focus remains on Meghan and away from his surroundings.”


Training With A Wonderful Wounded Warrior – Jesse

It’s been so long since I’ve posted about training with a wonderful Wounded Warrior – Jesse, who suffers from extreme PTSD. When I first met Jesse, he was so anxious just talking that he had a towel with him at all times to wipe away the sweat from his panic – just meeting a stranger. But he was so nice, kind, gentle-hearted, and eager beyond belief to start his journey with a Service Dog. Jesse is young, and served with the military for 4 years – but, as is often the story, he was immediately thrown into battle and now, he was a different man. He could barely be around any new people without actually just having to leave – always apologizing profusely – but he would have such severe panic attacks that he had no choice. Jesse met Sasha, who had been fostered by Barbara – and his whole world has changed.

Jesse met Sasha, lovingly donated by Barbara who felt Sasha had a higher calling – and she was right. Since Jesse adopted Sasha, his world has changed. I noticed each time I met with him, he seemed happier, so much more hopeful – and was completely committed to taking the best care of Sasha. He literally doted on her like she was a queen – buying her the best of toys, food, and all things doggie. They had an instant bond, and from day one, they have been inseparable – sleeping together, playing, and week by week, starting to go out into public places that otherwise Jesse would have never dreamed of going to. I have watched their progression, and Jesse followed the training manual to a tee, training Sasha to perform as many commands as possible. Sasha is brilliant, and picked up commands easily. But Jesse had finally found his best friend, and life has changed so much for him.

Now, Jesse has a girlfriend. Now, Jesse has had the courage to get a job. Now, Jesse can go into places in public with Sasha and last longer and longer without the anxiety being so bad that he only lasts a few minutes. He looks forward to his future, has regained hope, and has found joy in a world that formerly looked hopeless to him.

Jesse, Sasha, and I have trained in several public places, and you can just see how much they love each other. Sasha can “sit”, “down”, “watch me”, “heel”, “load and unload”, “cover”, and does one thing that really helps Jesse – Jesse has extreme anxiety reactions to loud, unexpected noises – but Sasha is not bothered by them at all – and so Jesse sees Sasha’s reaction and knows “it’s ok”. I am so proud of Jesse, and they will soon be passing the PAT.

One thing I noticed instantly is how Sasha’s coat is changing. It is so shiny, soft, and always smells dreamy! That’s because Jesse love giving her a bath every week! He gets up every morning and makes Sasha eggs to go with her regular food!

Stunning Stella!

An update from trainer Cherry Jenkins, who is training with Nancy, who suffers with mobility, vertigo, and anxiety, and her husband, Jim, who suffers mobility and anxiety, and their SDIT, Stella!

Stella is absolutely stunning!  Stella is part Rottweiler/ part Wolf, which makes her a truly beautiful dog!

Stella is the SDIT to Nancy and her husband Jim. Even though they have only had a few session due to interruptions with their health, they have made tremendous strides with Stella, training whenever they can. This really showed at our latest session in Target.

Stella ‘heeled’ beautifully at all times and we practiced ‘leave it’, ‘stay’, and ‘down’.  Stella kept perfectly calm even when a group of noisy children walked their way. Stella is also learning to ‘cover’ as one of her three tasks.”

.IMG_20140710_161922_817(1) Nancy

SDiT Sadie Update

From Michelle, our trainer in New Mexico, who is working with Terryn, who suffers from panic disorder, agoraphobia, bipolar disorder, and her SDIT, Sadie!

“Today I met with SDIT Sadie (she is Mastiff and Lab mix) we only worked on Sit/Stay and Down/Stay.  Although she is 5 months old, she is learning to focus on mom and make progress with “watch me”. It takes her a little while to remember that mom is in charge, but once we begin working, Sadie warms up quickly and remembers her commands.

We began at the park with very little shade compared to our last meeting, and moved  to a local pet store a few miles away.  Both girls (my TD Abby and Sadie) seemed to listen more with the cooler temperatures of the store.  We continued to work on down/stay with sit/stay and “leave it” (with many new smells of rabbits, birds, ferrets, and fish). Both girls were complimented on their behaviors and really didn’t mind the other animals since they were the only 2 dogs in the store.  The only time they had the slightest interest in the other animals was when the birds where moving or out of the cages.”

Alissa and her SD Greta

Another TREMENDOUS training session with dear 24 year-old Alissa, and her SD, Greta!!! Despite all the physical problems Alissa has been going through, Greta is right by her side, comforting her, and conducting herself PERFECTLY in public. Having mom April as a trainer herself doesn’t hurt, but she is smartly determined to give Alissa all the confidence she needs and deserves to show Alissa that she can go out into the world with SD Greta and do a wonderful, amazing job, bringing joy to others and setting a wonderful example of courage and strength. I am SO proud of Alissa and all the work she does with Greta!! This session, we took her to the “dreaded” super HEB at the busiest time possible!! Alissa did it – and was magnificent. So was Greta. We practiced all basic commands in the store – sit/stay, down/stay, several meet and greets – which Alissa is getting more and more comfortable with, perfect heel with and without leash, watch me, leave it, load and unload – it’s like they are tied together by an invisible “love” bond. Greta is not phased by any distractions I tried to create, and the ONLY thing we need to work on is that at home, when Alissa is feeling ill, it comforts her when big Greta gently wraps her front arms and paws around Alissa. The hugs make her feel wonderful. When we are doing meet and greets, Greta, who loves everyone (but Alissa the most), will do a gentle meet and greet and take treats gently, but as people (mostly children) want to keep petting her, she does a little “bunny hop” because she wants to wrap her arms around them, too. So that is what we will be working on. It’s a tricky one – because we want Greta to continue doing it with Alissa – but not to anyone else. So, teaching her where and when it’s appropriate without dampening her enthusiasm at home is a thinker.On a side note, you’ll notice a woman in a wheelchair in the picture to the right. When this woman first saw Greta, Greta instantly went up to her and laid her head on this woman’s chest. The woman started crying, and petting gentle Greta. We asked her if she was OK – and it turns out, this woman had literally been diagnosed with lung cancer at the very spot where Greta laid her head. She just cradled Greta’s head and neck in her arms and cried. It was literally something out of a storybook. Greta instinctively knew where this woman was hurting, and brought so much happiness so this woman who said that just meeting Greta brought her out of her despair for several wonderful moments.

That’s what it’s all about. Service Dogs. The intangible “knowing”. The healing power of animals and humans.