September is National Service Dog Month. For many with chronic disease, it’s a time to pay tribute to their best friend, confidant, and lifeline.
Service dogs provide greater independence, confidence and security for their partners. Jillian Skalky, owner of Creating New Tails, understands the important role service dogs play in their partner’s lives. “Many people depend on their service dogs,” says Skalky. “I didn’t have complete freedom until I trained Rosie, my own service dog.”
Skalky’s business in Hollywood, Florida, Creating New Tails, LLC, trains dogs to become service, assistance and alert dogs for people who have mobility impairments and balance disorders, difficulty using their hands/arms, health related fatigue issues, and people with seizure/cardiac syncope and Type 1 Diabetes disorders. Skalky can train dogs to detect gluten, dairy and other food allergens; assist with mobility support, anxiety and PTSD; and alert owners to impending seizures for those with epilepsy or a drop in blood sugar for diabetics.
“Each dog is trained to respond directly to the person’s disability,” explains Skalky. “These dogs have to perform as medical equipment – that’s how the law sees them.”
Skalky, who has Crohn’s Disease, began to train dogs nearly seven years ago. Her journey began when she went into septic shock after having surgery. “The surgery led me to my ostomy and left me pretty traumatized,” describes Skalky. “I decided to move to Florida, take time off of school and get an idea of what happened to me. I ended up getting my dog, Rosie, to help cope.”
Once a friend mentioned service dogs and Skalky worried about relapses, she began to train Rosie to get help and take her socks off by watching YouTube videos. She eventually started Creating New Tails after seeking out trainers. Says Skalky: “Training service dogs has become my career and it’s also very personal to me. I didn’t have freedom until I trained my own service dogs.”
Skalky notes the importance of differentiating between therapy/emotional support dogs and service dogs. “I get a lot of questions about cost and training methods. I also get a lot of questions about chronic disease patients asking me how their dog can help them,” explains Skalky. “In my own way, I’m an advocate and I do it through dogs. Most people don’t realize how many “invisible” conditions there are. It takes such a toll when there’s no support.”
The Chronic Disease Coalition believes every patient has a story to tell. Join the CDC and join the conversation.