Local Nonprofit Funds Emotional Support Dog Training for Those with Invisible Disabilities

December 03, 2017 10:37 PM

You might be familiar with dogs that help people who are blind or have other physical disabilities. But dogs also help people with invisible disabilities. Emotional support animals have been successful in treating people with mental illness.

The training can be expensive, but it's a life-changing investment. That's why a local organization called K9s From Carrie picks up the tab.


Sixteen-year-old Grace Laski has a heartbreaking story. "I was abducted and that caused a lot of trauma, which caused my PTSD."

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Laski isn't afraid to talk about what happened or her mental illness. "It wasn't doing good, I knew I wasn't doing good and I knew I needed something to help me."

Then a dog named Bandit entered her life.

"Every once in a while I get little flashbacks, and Bandit will just help me, like, calm down."

Bandit was a gift from K9s From Carrie, a local nonprofit. The group trains and gives away emotional support dogs to help people with mental illness. 

Bonnie Gallagher and her family created K9s From Carrie in honor of her daughter.

"When Carrie was 12 she was raped by three men, or boys," Gallagher said.

After she was attacked, Carrie struggled with PTSD, depression and anxiety. She was in and out of hospitals. Nothing seemed to help. 

Then, Bonnie says, something magical happened when the family got a dog named Scout.

"Scout did more for Carrie than any therapist we had seen so far, any type of treatment that we had tried so far," Gallagher said. "He gave her the confidence that she needed back into her life."

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With Scout by her side, Carrie improved. But, as sometimes happens with mental illness, the pain returned. Carrie took her life.

"I am confident she was with us as long as she was because of Scout," Gallagher said. "And that those days were happy days."

That's when Gallagher's family got the idea to give specially trained emotional support dogs to others with mental illness. Since 2015, K9s From Carrie has paired 35 people and dogs. They have 20 others on a waiting list. The training runs from $1,000 to more than $3,000. And there is no cost to anyone who gets a dog.

Max Bitterman is owner of Your Dog's Best Friend in Minneapolis. His company does a lot of the training for K9s From Carrie.

Bitterman says when people with mental illness learn to trust and relate to their dogs, the dogs naturally provide emotional stability and unconditional love in return. "It's intentional, it's brilliant and it's selfless, and they do care. Dogs are naturally nurturing, and the way they provide emotional support is sophisticated and it's not silly."
Sarah Anderson owns Psych Recovery Inc., an outpatient mental health clinic in St. Paul. She believes emotional support dogs can benefit people with mental illness. 

"It offers meaningful connections for people who have emotional support dogs," Anderson said. "Having an emotional support dog is allowing somebody to receive treatment that's outside of the standard western medicine box. It works for some people. And in order to effectively treat mental illness we need to look outside of just the traditional norms. This is one example that really is helpful to people."

Gallagher says when her family sees how the gift of an emotional support dog can make a difference in the life of someone with mental illness, it takes away some of the pain of losing Carrie.

"It does something within your heart. And usually I don't cry, I smile because it is so amazing," she said.

And Carrie is always on her mind when she's helping people. "Oh, always. She would have been right in the middle of this if she were here. I feel like this is something she left me to do. Something she hadn't been able to finish is ours to finish." 

As for Grace Laski, she's pretty confident her story is going to have a happy ending, thanks to K9s From Carrie and Bandit.

"He's just there for me and can sense a lot of times when I'm not feeling well. He's my best friend," Laski said. 

K9s From Carrie relies on donations to give emotional support dogs to people with mental illness..
They have a big fundraiser on Friday, Dec. 15 called the "Winter Woof-tacular" – A Burlesque Benefit with Foxy Tann and Victoria Deville, at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in downtown St. Paul.    


Kevin Doran

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