Invisible illness: How a service dog can help

For the past several years, Kenzie — age 18 — has been struggling with serious health issues, including anxiety and mood disorders.

It has taken awhile to get the various diagnoses sorted out and proper treatment underway, but she is now on a path to recovery. Hers are chronic and life-threatening conditions that will require management throughout her lifetime.

Kenzie has always been adventurous and independent – and an excellent student – but anxiety and panic attacks severely impede her ability to function in many of the daily activities most of us take for granted.

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Kenzie would like to begin forging her path, starting with a job and college and eventually exploring opportunities to travel around the world. In spite of her efforts to achieve even the most modest of these goals, they are currently out of reach.

She’s made gradual, steady strides in her recovery since she was hospitalized in crisis 2 years ago. Since then, she’s found acceptance with her diagnoses — and the understanding that they are likely to impact the rest of her life. Now she’s trying to figure out how she can make a fulfilling life for herself in spite of the challenges.She’s actively involved in her treatment, seeking creative solutions to help her manage.

We are doing all we can to help her achieve her potential. But she needs help.

The plan

Little Angels Service Dogs is a non-profit organization in Jamul, California that will be providing a medical assistance service dog for Kenzie. Knowing that she is on the waiting list for a service dog has become a significant source of hope for her. Kenzie compares having a service dog to the medication she takes – not a cure, but another major resource to help her confront and master her challenges. It will also help make us, her family, a lot more comfortable with her eventual transition to autonomy and self-sufficiency.

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Her health care providers agree a service dog will help set her on the path to independence that currently eludes her.

[divider]Dogs are not our whole life,
but they make our lives whole.
~Roger Caras[/divider]


Little Angels service dogs are trained in accordance with the criteria established by Assistance Dogs International (ADI). The average Little Angels service dog graduates with over 600 hours of training, and with that expense also comes veterinary care, boarding, grooming and training supplies. The average expense to raise and train a Little Angels service dog is $24,000.

Any pet is wonderfully therapeutic, but a companion especially trained for her medical needs is ideal for her circumstances. It gives her hope for mingling out in the world, at college and beyond. Kenzie’s service dog will be trained to assist her with deep pressure therapy for grounding and calming, boundary control and signal alert for mingling in crowded situations, and medical alert to cue behavioral changes that may require adjustments in her medication.

There are so many risks and difficult obstacles for young adults with mental health issues. A service dog will help Kenzie manage the challenges of her condition.

How you can help

Today, we’re asking for your help. Please donate to Little Angels Service Dogs. Every contribution — no matter the size — makes a difference, and your direct donation to Little Angels via the PayPal button on this page is tax-deductible.

Even if you are unable to donate at this time, we would be grateful if you could share this message with those you think may be willing to help!

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Your donation to Little Angels
Service Dogs is tax-deductible!

If you have any questions for me or words of encouragement for Kenzie, please contact me directly by email: [email protected]

Here is more detail about the specific ways Kenzie’s dog will be trained to assist her medical needs:

Medical alert

Just as a dog can be trained to alert to seizures and other medical conditions, a dog can also be trained to sense the changes in a person’s body when they are beginning to have a panic attack, flash back, anxiety attack, or other psychiatric condition. The dog is able to paw at the leg of their disabled recipient and interrupt what would otherwise be a debilitating and destructive behavior for the individual. This helps the handler to refocus on their dog and work through the problem.

Deep pressure therapy

Just as medical wraps are used to alleviate anxiety in persons with psychiatric conditions, dogs can be trained to put the pressure of their body weight on their handler’s lap and abdomen to physically, and then mentally relieve anxiety and induce a sense of calm.

Boundary control

When the individual suffers from anxiety due to the close proximity of others, or due to claustrophobia in a crowded room, the dog can be trained to stand in between their handler and others to gain more personal space. The dog is not being protective, but is simply following a simple cue from their handler to move their body into the space surrounding their handler.

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A frequent problem for those suffering from PTSD is to negotiate corners without the fear of what is waiting on the other side. Our dogs can be trained to go around corners in front of their handler and then alert their handler if there is someone waiting on the other side. Over time this form of therapy can assist the disabled recipient when becoming more comfortable with going into public.

Signal alert

There are many situations when a recipient will need to excuse themselves from a classroom or meeting due to personal psychiatric concerns. With a discrete signal to the dog the handler can command his dog to paw at the leg, making it look like the dog is seeking attention. The handler is then able to comfortably leave the situation with the excuse that his dog needs to relieve itself.


It goes without saying that any service dog’s greatest assistance is the emotional support they can offer their handler. Most disabilities present trials than can be relieved on a mental level simply by the dog’s presence. A well-behaved dog can help to lower blood pressure and give a sense of ease to anyone who is near.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read Kenzie’s story and for your generous support, however it manifests!

Update January 2016

We still have a ways to go, but we’re off to a great start! Since kicking off this fundraising campaign on November 21, 2014, we’ve raised over $5,000. Thank you to all who are supporting Kenzie’s service dog dream with donations and shares of this page!

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