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Chenille: Reality Check Service Dog December 16, 2012

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hallucinations, mental illness, Uncategorized.
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RandyI met the cutest service animal the other day at a mental illness support group. She’s a friendly, bouncy Chihuahua named Chenille.  I never thought about using a service animal for help with mental illness symptoms, but that’s exactly what she is.   She is a reality checker for her master.

As with many people suffering from mental illness, her master’s symptoms include hallucinating. He sees people and things that aren’t there and hears things that aren’t there. Her job is to help him determine what is real and what isn’t.

For example, if there’s someone suddenly sitting in a chair in his living room that he’s never seen before, if she barks he knows it’s a real person.  If she doesn’t react, then he’s seeing someone who isn’t really there.   The same goes with noises.  Dogs are sound-sensitive, and if there’s a lot of racket or unexplained noise, the dog will react to it.  If someone calls his name from another room (and he thinks he’s alone in the house), and she doesn’t react, he knows he is hearing things that aren’t there.

What a relief it is to be able to tell reality from fantasy by using the unbiased opinion of a dog.

People not suffering from mental illness take for granted their ability to tell reality from fantasy every waking moment. They can’t appreciate what a gift it is not to have to questions whether what they see or hear is real.  If the average person sees someone new sitting in their living room, he doesn’t even have to wonder whether that person is really there. But for people with certain forms of a mental illness, they can’t depend on their eyes to know whether that person is real. It is challenging to live in a world where your mind plays tricks on you.  You need help detecting reality. Who better than a dog to do that for you?

Imagine hearing a loud noise coming from the bedroom. Or hearing someone call your name from the room next door that you thought was empty.  There’s no one else with you in the house. Or is there? What would it be like not knowing the answer to that question on a regular basis?  A dog can be a lifesaver.

People who use the “reality challenged” phrase in jest might want to reconsider whether that term is appropriate, given the fact that certain people are living the embodiment of the true meaning of that phrase.  In order to leave a semblance of a normal life, they need a way to tell whether their perceived reality is real.

During the height of my psychotic break with reality, I met someone at a Starbucks for coffee who was probably not real. He was a green-skinned merman who I thought was my long-lost son from 500 years ago. Long story. But the point is that person was as real to me as anyone I have ever met.  I sat across a table and had coffee with him for several hours. Now at this juncture of my life, I realize I was probably one of those people you see who are sitting there in a restaurant talking to someone who isn’t there.  Imagine going through this every single day of your life.  You need an outside, unbiased source to tell you whether that green-skinned merman sitting across from you having coffee is real.  For my part, it never dawned on me that it could be anything but real. But what if it wasn’t?

This use of a service animal is a clever and fascinating way to help people manage the symptoms of certain mental illnesses.  This is the first time I have ever heard of this use. I wonder if more people could be helped by these service animals.



1. Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC - December 19, 2012

That sounds like a great idea, especially with the way that the meds of people who are suffering from the illness are working with their psychiatrists to find the best meds.

2. Gledwood - December 24, 2012

I have never hallucinated people in my house. That would really do my head in I think… I once walked outside during a psychotic episode to witness hundreds of lady police officers everywhere. Every parked car seemed to have one in it… then I saw a very young and attractive one standing right in front of me anyway her image shivered and wobbled and guess what? I was looking at a PARKING METER!

I’m thinking of getting a mental health parrot. I just want a parrot so any excuse will do…


3. gerald0123 - December 25, 2012

awesome posting! I had never heard of this before now. Thanks for sharing. I have bipolar 2 and have never experienced any hallucinatory episodes. I can imagine this being a great relief method for the mentally ill who suffer hallucination.

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