After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at 16, I went through a lot of challenges in learning how to cope with the symptoms that came with the condition. But one way I’ve found to help ease those issues was to get my service dog, Bear. In fact, my biggest regret in my life with RA is that I didn’t get a service dog sooner.
When you picture a service dog, you might be thinking of a German shepherd or another large breed, but Bear weighs just 12 pounds. Even at that tiny size, he understands all of my needs and reacts quickly whenever it’s time for him to jump into action.
If I need my medications, all I have to do is say the word. He’ll find the bag no matter where I left it in the house, and he’ll bring it back to me. He can also tell when I’m in pain because he has learned the cues.
For instance, I have a habit of crouching over when I’m in pain, and I know that if my hips or knees are hurting, I should just sit down, even on the floor, until I feel better — but a lot of times, I just don’t take the time to sit. So if Bear sees me crouching over, he’ll alert me to say, “Hey, you’re going to sit down,” and I do it.
Bear can also sense when I’m feeling anxious. When I get stressed, I tend to shake my leg and I don’t even notice it, but he does. When he sees me doing that, he’ll pat me and indicate that it’s time to take a moment to stop what I’m doing and take a breath. This is important, because when I’m stressed, I can experience flares, so having him remind me to release the stress is very beneficial to my RA.
I highly recommend a service dog if you have the capacity for adding a new furry friend to your life — and it doesn’t have to break the bank. I trained Bear myself to save money, and it’s worked out beautifully.
My Perspective articles discuss rheumatoid arthritis from a specific point of view. My Perspective articles don’t reflect the opinions of myRAteam staff, medical experts, partners, advertisers, or sponsors. Content on myRAteam isn't intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.