One thing which we haven’t discussed on the blog (but which has been discussed in previous editions of the Carnival of MS Bloggers) is the benefit of service dogs to people living with MS. According to The Service Dog Academy, “Services dogs have proven themselves effective in helping those with disabilities live independently in their own home, reduce their need for medication, become more social and return to school or employment. Service dogs help those with physical handicaps live like able-bodied people again. Trained service dogs are becoming the alternative solution to putting a loved one in a nursing home or paying for caregivers. Although the initial costs of training a service dog can be high, the cost savings of independent living is enormous.”
Do you or someone you know living with MS have a service dog to assist with mobility- or independence-related needs? I know that a couple bloggers in our MS community have discussed the benefit of their own service dogs. But there is room for much more awareness and support (financial and social) to recognize the need to provide dogs to those who would most benefit.
How do we spread awareness on the topic of service dogs for people living with MS? We talk about it. We discuss our experiences and opinions. We participate in carefully controlled research to quantitatively show the benefit of dogs to their owners.
Step in a new project called MS Beyond Meds (or simply msbeyondmeds). Joanne Gruskin and Dr. Elisabeth Gruskin (mother and daughter collaborators on previous research projects) have established this group to explore the benefits of service dogs to people with MS. Here is their mission statement:
We aim to help people with MS improve the quality of their lives.As with any new organization, msbeyondmeds needs our help. They would love for people to share their stories on their blog and facebook page. Joanne says that their immediate purpose is “to raise awareness so that [they] can prove the topic is interesting and important enough” to the community, to demonstrate the need for research into the subject, and to eventually write a book.
MS has been treated with a variety of meds for years. Meds can help slow down the progression of the disease and help with some of the symptoms, but they don’t really directly address quality of life issues.
Meds don’t help us feel better about ourselves.
In addition to massage therapy, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, exercise, diet, and a good dose of positive thinking, we know service dogs can make a measurable contribution toward improving quality of life.
We at msbeyondmeds have witnessed real changes in MS patients as a result of their partnering with service dogs. We intend to open a dialogue among the MS population, the medical community and friends and relatives of those with MS via our blog and website. We hope to prove to medical insurers that service dogs contribute measurably to improve the quality of life with MS, thereby potentially reducing medical costs. We must convince medical insurers and government agencies to cover the costs of service dogs.
We invite you to participate in our dialogue, share your experiences and support each other.
The next step for msbeyondmeds is to fundraise and apply for grants to support necessary research to demonstrate the needs, benefits, and reasons for financially supporting and providing service dogs to people living with MS. Insurance does not cover the expense and patients must turn to charities and non-profits for help with obtaining and training these special animals.
Although initial funding for msbeyondmeds is desired at this time, awareness is more important. So please help spread the word. Visit the website, blog, and facebook pages. Follow @JoanneLG and msbeyondmeds on Twitter. And if you have a service dog which helps you maintain mobility and independence, please tell Joanne your story.
Additional information I found regarding service dogs and MS:
Guide and Service Dogs - VA Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence
Service Dogs for Multiple Sclerosis? - ARK Animals
Service (assistance) dogs for person with mobility impairment - MIRA Foundation
Assistance Dogs International (USA)
International Guide Dog Federation (UK)
Service Dog Academy
This list is not exhaustive nor is this an endorsement of any organization mentioned. It simply provides a start for additional research and reading. Many stories of patients and their dogs can be found online with a quick search.