Bipolar disorder can be something very tough to deal with. Imagine not being able to go to a busy park for fear and anxiety over all of the people there. It can be crippling. Thoughts rush through your head a million miles a second, and sometimes finding any relief from any of the symptoms can be difficult, and sometimes almost impossible. For 10-year-old Montana Delciello, these things are all too familiar. Now life will be much easier.
“When you look at Montana on a good day, you would have no idea – she looks like a happy little girl,” her mother Melissa Jones said. “It’s called an invisible disability because it’s hard to see coming on.”
Being 10, she is one of the youngest people ever to be diagnosed with not only bipolar disorder, but a myriad of diagnoses also including separation anxiety disorder. Sometimes, behind her childlike smile, it’s had to tell anything in her daily life is such a challenge. She’s a cheerful and sensitive young girl, just like any kid you’d meet.
“In 2009, she was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome and ADHD and medicated (for each). By Christmas of 2010, doctors realized she was bipolar and have been treating her since,” said her mother.
Now, the anxiety has gotten progressively worse over the past few years her mother said.
“The anxiety has gotten so bad this year she has missed 20 days of school,” said Ms. Jones. “We began trying to figure out what other options there were besides more medication.”
That’s when mother and daughter had an idea. They believed this idea could be a life-changing alternative to so many meds for Montana. They decided to look into a psychiatric service dog.
An online effort was launched to raise money to buy a dog. Now, a Banter Bulldogge pup, named Apache, is being donated to Montana from Texas.
Most often used for soldiers and others with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), psychiatric service dogs are specially trained to help with everyday life activities and to help people overcome and try to stave off panic attacks.
“As a member of her treatment team, I support her and her mother in their quest to obtain a therapy dog,” said Amy Schlonski, a licensed clinical social worker who works with Montana. “I believe a service dog would be a great source of comfort to Montana that would also encourage her to use positive tools for coping.”
“The idea of psychiatric service dogs to help people with mental illness works,” said Christine Michaels, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southwestern Pennsylvania. “A service dog can offer social and emotional support, and the handler and dog form a therapeutic relationship. This relationship can provide a reminder to take medication, ease anxiety, provide relief from depression, decrease isolation by encouraging the person to go out into their community and increase more independence in daily living. A service dog provides a natural kind of treatment and support.”
“She (Montana) can’t even bear to be in her own bedroom by herself because her anxiety is so high. The dog could do things like go into her bedroom and turn the light on first to help her,” Ms. Jones said.
Banter Bulldogges combine English bulldogs with boxers and mastiffs. When full grown, they can weigh about 65 pounds. They should be large enough to accommodate Montana’s needs said Ms. Prentiss, who has trained about 15 such service dogs through her business, Canine Assist.
Montana’s mom says, “We need a dog that’s sturdy enough to make Montana feel protected but small enough that she can handle.”
The puppy will stay at Ms. Prentiss’ home for a few months. During this time, it will be going through basic obedience and socialization classes, and taking time to visit all of the places Montana would end up going, such as school, stores and restaurants.
“I’m training them to be in a home, so they spend a lot of time in my home and they go everywhere with me,” said Ms. Prentiss.
After the initial phase, and the dog proves suitable, Montana and her family will start with weekly training sessions with Ms. Prentiss for about 18 months.
“It takes a lot of dedication to train one; we train it together,” Ms. Prentiss said of service dogs. She says training can take anywhere between 1,500 to 2,000 hours total. “We train it together and in Montana’s case, we decided it would be great for her self-esteem to help train a dog.”
“Montana can’t go to places with loud noises like Kennywood or Disney World,” which she has longed to visit, her mother said. “The dog would be able to do something like guarding to keep a barrier between her and a crowd of people and nudge her to soothe her. The dog would also be able to learn how to sense when an anxiety attack is coming on and use deep pressure therapy across her legs to create a comfort zone.”
Ms. Jones is a single mom, forced into quitting her full-time job and go part time to take care of Montana when she has to stay home from school. The cost of transport and purchase of the service dog would be impossible without this fundraiser. They are using the site www.gofundme.com.
“She wants to go to Disney World so bad,” Ms. Jones said of Montana. “Right now she can’t go and I really hope she can go someday. She’s really brave and really strong.”
To donate to Montana or read her story: www.gofundme.com/servicedog-nana. Donations also may be sent to Service Dog for Montana, P.O. Box 97711, Pittsburgh 15277.