Mental Health Support Dogs - Since 2008
Heeling Allies' Testimonials...


  Emily & Service Dog Casey
I am a pediatrician in Syracuse, NY.  My daughter, Emily, was diagnosed with TS a little over six years ago after a sudden explosion of her tics.  Along with her vocal and motor tics, Em has severe anxiety and OCD as well as ADHD.  She has been on more medications than most adults in their lifetime without much success or if they were successful the side effects were too significant.  Many of her tics were self-harming, so we would have to lie on her or pin her down so she wouldn't hurt herself.  We didn't go places with crowds or places that were loud because it would be too traumatic for all of us.  People would stare at Emily, which would just trigger her tics even more.  
 
We've always believed a service dog would help her but when we looked at in the past, no one would even consider training a dog for someone with Tourette’s.  Then we stumbled across a blog written by one of Heeling Allies’ clients who also has TS and how her service dog changed her life.  That was the start of our new world.  
 
Casey was trained by Heeling Allies for Emily.  He is trained for several tasks that include buffering her in crowds, deep pressure therapy when she tics and to stabilize her when she is off balance from her tics.  He also knows how to calm her anxiety.  Darcie Boltz, Heeling Allies director, spent several weeks with us here in Syracuse training Emily & Casey together and we have several more training sessions over the upcoming year to make sure this relationship continues to be as amazing as it is now.  
In just a month of their partnership, Emily's tics have decreased and when they happen - Casey just goes right to work and they are short lived.  We can go to places we could never go to before - out to dinner, to the farmers market, etc.  Casey has also helped Emily find this newfound confidence.  She will talk to people about Casey and explain what he does for her. She's learned to advocate for him and for herself as well now.  By: Monica Jones MD, Emily's mother

Katherine & Service Dog Owen
I have been teamed up with my Heeling Allies service dog, Owen, for seven months now.  In seven months we have traveled on more than 15 airplanes, been to four states, interviewed for and received my first teaching job, moved across the country, and walked across the stage at my Master’s graduation ceremony. [Owen & Katherine teamed up in 2012.] Owen gives me the confidence to do things I never thought I could do easily.  From simple everyday errands like running to the grocery store to get food for dinner, to flying across the country to present at an international research conference, Owen has been by my side through it all.  The very nature of Tourette Syndrome is that it is unpredictable; I never know from one day to another what my brain will do.  The anxiety and fear from that unpredictability kept me afraid to go anywhere when I didn’t feel 100%.  I was living with chronic exhaustion and chronic pain due to my tics.  I lived for Friday afternoons, when I could go home and sleep the entire weekend, trying to rest enough to get through the next week.  Now, I have more than enough energy to get through the week.  So much so, that Owen and I often go out with friends on the weekends. 
 
With Owen by my side, I have the confidence that no matter what my brain decides to do, I will stay safe.  If my balance is affected by my tics, Owen keeps me steady.  When my legs start to tic, I know Owen will help me keep walking.  When my tics have me on the ground unable to control my body, Owen is right there ready to do deep pressure work to help my brain “reboot”.  And when I’m ready to get up, he’s right there by my side, helping me stand up and helping me walk to somewhere I can be safe. 

Immediately after being teamed up with Owen, my friends, family, and professors started commenting about how less stressed I seemed and about how much more rested I looked.  I could count on one hand the number of panic attacks I have had in the last seven months; before Owen, I could count on having multiple panic attacks a month.  I am not afraid of being out in public anymore; I know now that when people point and talk about me, they are talking about my service dog, not speculating as to what is wrong with me or whether I am under the influence.  I know that with Owen by my side, I can tackle anything I need to.  In one month, Owen and I will embark together on the newest chapter of my life, teaching special education in an elementary school.  Because of Owen and Heeling Allies, I am able to start this new part of my life with confidence and with the knowledge that regardless of what my brain does, I will be able to face any challenge that comes our way.  
By: Katherine Shaw, MS, Owen's handler


  Palmer & Service Dog Felix
 Our son, Palmer, has struggled with several mental health challenges. When he was in fifth grade our family was no longer able to meet his needs in our home. By that time, Palmer had already been hospitalized four times; so we made the difficult decision to place him in a residential school. The residential setting worked very well for him for several years as he learned about himself and how to manage his particular disabilities. As he became a high schooler, anxiety and his other disabilities once again became too much to manage. At seventeen, Palmer was hospitalized twice in six weeks and again we became worried again for his safety. As we were looking at alternatives to help him my wife came across the Heeling Allies website. Initially, we felt our son would not be a candidate because of his age. But, Darcie spoke with the various professionals involved in Palmer’s care and decided he was a good fit their model of service.
 
Last fall, after Heeling Allies brought Felix to us and helped us work with his new school system, Palmer enrolled in a 3,000 student public high school with Felix. Palmer’s prior school experience was on a campus of 70 or so students in grades 3-12+. He was very anxious about being able to execute in this new environment but we decided to give it a try, as Palmer really wanted to feel “normal”. Palmer and Felix were able to navigate the complexities of high school life and earn all A’s for his semester. We truly believe that had Felix not been there to assist, calm, divert and reward our son he would not have been able to stay in school safely or enjoy the success he did. Palmer was blessed to have excellent teachers who looked for ways to accommodate him and Felix. But the fidelity of this team (Palmer and Felix) was key to success. Felix allowed Palmer to show the world who he was and develop a new understanding of his strengths, vulnerabilities and role in the world.

Felix’s role has continued to change.  Sometimes Palmer needs Felix nearby and other times he wants to venture out on his own. Darcie Boltz, Heeling Allies director, has been right there with us in this process. After awakening to high school life, handling Felix all day became difficult for our son. With support from Darcie he began to have Felix come part of the day to school with him. He has now decided to have Felix come to school in the afternoon to help him wind down. Felix now joins Palmer as he works -ten hours a week in a developmentally disabled classroom.
This was unthinkable before Felix came into his life. Palmer is now able to pursue his new career as a special educator and share Felix with other students who benefit from Felix’s presence.

What we have learned about our son through this process has been invaluable. We are no longer worried for his safety. He has developed a team bond and relationship with Felix, which keeps him in touch with the world by forcing him to be ‘in the moment’ and not become as easily overwhelmed.  As Palmer puts it, “Instead of struggling through each day and wondering if it is going to be the day I crack, I am able to look into my future which holds a lot and I am able to see the end of my struggles not the end of good things.” Felix has helped him slow down and process the world. Outwardly the evidence is clear. While Palmer was not diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, he was compromised by nervous tics for many years. Our son no longer suffers nervous tics; is on 1/3 of the medications: and, has a new joy of life. Formerly we thought we were seeing the real guy 10% of the time with 90% turmoil, frustration and anger. Now, it is reversed. We have a young man who is studying to become a para-professional for a special education classroom. He still has difficulties, but with Felix he is better able to manage them. Instead of enduring panic, anxiety and depression he is using his coping skills starting with Felix by his side reminding him he is not alone.

We envisioned Felix in Palmer’s life as a constant companion in every aspect of his life. This is how Felix was trained and how he came to us. We had no idea how Felix and his relationship with our son would change our family. I am not a dog person. What Felix has done for our son has made me a Felix person.
 
By: Kathy & Jamie, Palmer's parents

 Lara &  SD Blue
I have suffered from severe depression, anxiety and agoraphobia for over seven years with things seeming to get progressively worse every passing year.  Eventually I even stopped going into stores or restaurants, waiting in the car while my husband shopped.  With three small children, I was painfully aware that I was creating a negative impact on my kids' lives and memories.  Being a military family, moving and family separation is always a factor and I knew that I needed to find more help than just my current medications in order to take care of my family.  


I discovered Heeling Allies entirely by chance while doing a search on assistance dogs from a recommendation from my doctor. Darcie called me immediately and I felt hope for the first time in years as she talked me through the process of choosing and training the perfect dog for me and my needs.  Darcie encouraged me to write a letter of support to send out to my friends and family since money was a barrier in my desire to find a medical alert dog. I was overwhelmed by the financial support that was given by family and friends!  None of them had been aware of my issues, I had worked so hard for so many years to hide my fears and anxiety by creating excuses to avoid social situations and many other activities.  

Darcie has been my angel and found Blue, my handsome black standard poodle.  At first I was a little nervous about a stranger choosing the dog that will be by my side constantly but Darcie seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to dogs and pairing them with their owner.  Blue wakes me up in the morning either by alarm or when my youngest son cries, reminds me to take my medications twice a day, Blue is by my side throughout the house helping me to feel as if I'm not alone in my anxieties and most of all he provides a calming presence and distraction while in stores. Now I can go freely into stores once again and not feel as if everyone is pressing in around me.  People automatically give us a wider berth and when it does get crowded, Blue presses up against me which automatically turns my attention to him rather than the crowds.  I had forgotten what this type of freedom felt like and I am thankful every single day that I found Darcie and Heeling Allies.  

Darcie continues to check in with Blue and I, she is always willing to answer questions that arise, offer advice and support.  She is an amazing woman and I would refer anyone who is considering an service dog to contact Heeling Allies.  It is a decision that I will never regret.

By: Lara, Blue's handler

   Kay & ESA Mori
My older daughter has had immense struggles attending school, due to her mental health challenges.  Her therapist suggested considering an Emotional Support Dog to help reduce her anxiety. 

I knew virtually nothing about this, so I did a lot of Internet research.  As a recently divorced father with very little extra time, I wanted to make sure that I worked with people that specially trained dogs for children with disabilities (versus going to a shelter or a breeder).  I contacted a few companies that provided this kind of service, and Heeling Allies responded right away.  I let Darcie know my daughter's struggles and the type of family we had. She listened very well to our needs, completed a home visit to assess our home environment (and to ensure the selected dog was getting a proper home), and selected an amazing dog that she started the training process.  Darcie was able to select a dog with an amazing temperament, high intellect and a truly wonderful personality.

Our dog, Mori, has provided a sense of calmness and fun in my daughter's life.  We've brought Mori to my daughter's counseling meetings and other locations, and he has turned out to be a perfect addition to our family.  In fact, he has helped my younger daughter and me too.

-K. Smith

  Mike & SD Henry
 I've been depressed for most of my life. You could say I was pretty damaged as a kid. All through adulthood, I hung in with the use of just about every anti-depressant on the market. Last year I really started falling into "the abyss" worse than anything ever before and lasting longer than anything ever before. I had to stop working. I tried more drugs - dangerous drugs that I had to quit, and finally ECT.

Then my psychiatrist put me on "the drug of last resort." When my 90 day supply came in the mail, I wrote a brief goodbye letter and then took all 90. The next thing I knew I was in Harborview high security psych. ward.

During one of my group meetings, with several Dr.'s and a good friend and my partner, someone mentioned the possibility of having a Mental Health Service Dog. That was the first time I showed any hope about living.

Now I am back at work, and I have Henry, a rescued Labrador Retriever to be with me all the time. He helps me so much. All I have to do is look at him, and I am back to a safe place, and I know I can make it.

When I got Henry he was fully trained, which took a lot of burden off of me. In my mental state, I might not have been able to do it myself given my condition (I'm still on a high risk drug). I know that he is trained well, my work embraced his coming with me, and they might not have if her weren't trained professionally. It gives him a lot of credibility as a Service Dog.

I love Henry and he knows how to keep me away from the abyss. I can take him to work, where I need him, and he is very serious when he is there, and very popular with the staff. He has his own business card and his own e-mail. A blog was written about him, and a patron saw him in the elevator and asked if that was "the Henry from the blog site." He's not all serious though, when we get home, we have play time, and lots of walks (he keeps me going).

When it does come time for training, Heeling Allies will work with you to suit what you need. I needed to work around a part-time work schedule and they accommodated. They've provided me with my constant, unconditionally loving companion. They've been great.

- Mike, Henry's handler



       Darren & ESA Duke
Hi Darcie [Heeling Allies Director],

I just want you to know what a wonderful gift Luke is to us.  Darren has laughed more in the past three weeks than we have seen in a long time.  He gets out often with Luke.  He hugs Luke and pets him and wraps both arms around him.  The other morning I noticed that Darren was hugging Luke in bed as if Luke were a teddy bear.  Luke seems to enjoy all the affection and follows Darren around every step when he can.  Darren sometimes is concerned about whether it’s OK to give Luke so many hugs and snuggling, but I’m pretty sure Luke really likes it.

When Darren is working and Luke is here, we enjoy Luke and take him out for walks or little romps in the backyard. The other day I took Luke out while I was working in the yard and Luke seemed to enjoy that, too. 

Please let Luke’s previous owners know that Luke really seems to be helping Darren a lot.  He is so patient about receiving affection from Darren and about sleeping in when Darren sleeps in.  He is so enthusiastic about going out to play.  He is so willing to accompany Darren when he has places to go where it is appropriate for a dog to go. He is giving Darren love and giving him someone to love, someone to wake up for.  Even Darren’s therapist has commented that Luke is helping Darren make progress in the work they are doing together.  Luke often goes with Darren to his therapy appointments.  So we give a BIG thank you to these wonderful people for giving up Luke to Heeling Allies and into Darren’s care.  We truly think this is making a big difference in Darren’s life.

Darren has been talking about doing the training with Luke so that he can pass the test to volunteer as a dog to visit in hospitals or rehab centers.  I hope Darren does carry through with that because I think it would be good for Darren and also that Luke would enjoy it and other people would benefit from this wonderful dog.

Just wanted to keep you posted on my perspective on this great animal.

- Katherine, Darren’s Mother

© 2008-2015 Heeling Allies.  All Rights Reserved.