PomskyHQ Interview Series: Designer Dogs & Dysautonomia


Carrie - Just Mildly Medicated Blog

Welcome to the first in hopefully a series of interviews and guest posts that we will present to our readers. Though they may not necessarily be specifically related to Pomskies, Pomsky breeders, etc., we believe you all will find them interesting.

Today, I would like to share with my readers an interesting story about a woman with a chronic illness and her hope to use her designer dog as a medical aide.  Her name is Carrie and she is the author of the Just Mildly Medicated Blog. Please like her Facebook page.

Her dog Maggie is a Goldendoodle – a cross between a Golden Retriever and a Poodle.  Maggie has begun to alert Carrie whenever she senses something is wrong with Carrie’s health condition.

I stumbled upon Carrie’s blog while doing some research on designer breeds.  I wanted to better educate myself on the pros and cons of mixing breeds to counter some of the arguments we hear from time to time from the animal rescue and purebred breeder crowds.  She had an excellent little discussion about this very subject that grabbed me.  So I reached out to her and she agreed to do an interview with us.

PomskyHQ:  Carrie, thank you for your willingness to share your story with our readers.  In as much depth as you feel comfortable sharing, can you please share with our readers your medical condition and how that impacts your daily routine?

Carrie: I have been diagnosed with Pure Autonomic Failure which is a type of Dysautonomia. The things that your body regulates automatically, like blood pressure and heart rate, don’t regulate in a normal way for me. It’s called Orthostatic Intolerance.

Some things are much harder for me because my heart rate and blood pressure don’t transition well when I stand up and move around. Things like unloading a dishwasher or making a bed that require standing and bending can be the equivalent to a 5k because of how hard my body works to just be upright let alone the bending over and walking.

PomskyHQ:  Dealing with Dysautonomia on a daily basis must be incredibly challenging. You are a wife to a husband who is serving in our military and a mother of four children.  This is taxing for women who are in perfect health.  How exactly did adding another responsibility and all the tasks that come with caring for a dog make things easier for your?  As an outside observer, it would seem that a dog would just add more work for you and tire you out even more!

MaggieCarrie: I have always been an animal owner and Maggie, my Goldendoodle, was actually purchased before we knew what was happening to me. I have a lot of help with the daily care; four kiddos make for excellent dog helpers. The benefit of having the companionship she provides will always outweigh the challenges.

The hardest part of caring for a dog with a chronic illness has been walking her. I can do short walks but my husband is in charge of longer walks. My newest aide will be a wheelchair so that I can go for longer walks with Maggie. Some hear about how much grooming goes into a poodle or poodle mix and assume that would be the hardest but I do a lot of her grooming myself while sitting down and I love it. I also use a professional groomer for when I am not feeling great or when she needs a good cut to even out from my inexperience 😉

PomskyHQ:  Interesting.  I kind of assumed that you purchased Maggie after you had been diagnosed with your illness and was set to go down a certain line of questioning.  So, let me recalibrate if you will.  When you set out to add a dog to your family, how did you settle upon a Goldendoodle? What was the motivation for that decision?

Carrie: One of my children has a pretty strong allergy to most all animals, including dogs. After much research on allergy friendly breeds I stumbled on pictures from a Goldendoodle breeder fairly close to where we were living at the time.  I continued looking but always came back to this one breeder’s website so finally I called.

The breeder, Teddy Bear Goldendoodles, asked a lot of questions about my family and what we were looking for in a family pet. She also suggested I send a few plain pre-washed t-shirts and she rubbed them on the pups that fit what I was looking for so that I could then have my son touch them and see if he reacted. Sure enough out of four pups he had no reaction to two of them.  So we chose from one boy and one girl in the same liter. It was so hard to pick!

PomskyHQ:  As I alluded to above, I stumbled upon your blog while doing some research on designer breeds.  It grows a little annoying reading comments by some of the more self-righteous folks on the internet who adamantly demand that we all rescue dogs from a shelter. How dare we have the gall to pick out a puppy that we want to be ours!

It really grates on me sometimes.  I doubt the same people randomly picked out the car they drove and I know that none of them opted to adopt a child instead of having their own.  I get worked up just thinking about it.  What are your thoughts on these people and their, dare I say it, bullying like behavior?Maggie2

Carrie: First the fact they assume that a designer dog isn’t a rescue could be quite the assumption. Many of these dogs are in fact rescued. Much like purebreds designer dogs end up in shelters as well.

I think animal rescue is noble, our dog previous to Maggie was a rescue and my family has had a combination of rescue, friend’s dog had puppies and breeder purchased animals. With that said I feel the judgment is harsh on the owners, not to mention breeders, of “designer” breeds.

My reasons to go through a reputable breeder were well thought out for my family. We not only needed a specific type of dog for allergy reasons but we have small children and wanted a professional to temperament test our new addition. We were also able to have our pup go through some training before she came home where we were able to get even more feedback on her personality.

The other part of the assumptions that upsets me is the fact that all current purebred breeds exist from breed selection. Man has created breeds of dogs based on what we were looking for, everything from lap dogs to labs. Mine is as well, I love the combination of a retriever and poodle.

PomskyHQ:  You have stated that Maggie has begun to sense when you are not feeling well and you are hoping that she can become a very reliable monitor for you.  Can you share with us how this all evolved and how you learned that she might be able to be more than just a social companion, but a guardian angel of sorts?

Carrie: I have tremors that are sometimes just an arm, other times my whole body. At first I would start having an episode and Maggie started behaving like she really wanted attention, nuzzling at my hands and arms and making noises, and I was thinking “seriously dog, I am falling apart here — go away” until she started doing in a few seconds before. It took several times before we realized it and even after that I would doubt myself thinking maybe I just want her to alert so I am imagining it. Then we were asked by one of my doctors to try and get an episode recorded so he could see it, that’s when the trend of Maggie’s behavior was more clear.

You can see a few of the episodes and Maggie’s response here:

PomskyHQ: That is a very moving and powerful video.  I urge all our readers to give it a look.  What do you attribute this response by Maggie?  Is it something that all dogs are capable of exhibiting in your opinion or do you feel it is breed specific?  What was the doctor’s reaction to the video and have you had any other animal experts weigh in on the subject?

Carrie:  This is a gift. No one can say what it is a dog actually alerts to although most trainers agree it is some kind of scent the body sets off before an episode, in my case it could be a visual trigger she notices before I do. Most dogs, even trained service dogs, are not alert dogs. It has more to do with the relationship and a skill on the dog’s part.

Many different breeds of dogs are able to train as different types of service dogs. Most facilities work with labs and retrievers. Many places also use poodles though the grooming requirements can be a deterrent for someone with a disability. While any breed of dog can show alerting skills Maggie being retriever and poodle makes me feel the odds were in our favor.

I am in communication with a service dog trainer in Indiana who reminds me how special Maggie is even though she is not trained for public access. I’d like to think she could be an official service dog at some point but we have a long way to go for that kind of training.

PomskyHQ:  What is the next step in this evolutionary process of discovery and bonding with Maggie?  Do you believe this awareness or connection that you share can be transferred to other dogs and learned?  Where do you go from here?

Carrie: Maggie alerting is a product of an internal ability and our bond. Trainers cannot guarantee an alert dog because there is no way to reproduce whatever it is they are alerting to, although they can see alerting potential in a dog.

Now that we know she alerts at home we will start a long process of bringing her to dog friendly public places in the hops that she can become well enough socialized to be able to focus on me in public and become a full-fledged service dog.

I will say though, not many dogs are cut out for that kind of work, she has a special place as the family dog and I am thankful to have her. Her alerting me to episodes at home is a huge blessing in itself and if that is as far as goes I am okay with that.

PomskyHQ: I would imagine that it is a huge psychological benefit to have Maggie there to give you a heads up alert.  And being home alone with children while your hubby is away from the house can be incredibly stressful for someone with a serious chronic illness.  Can you share an example or two about how one of Maggie’s alerts prevented a bad situation from arising for you and your family?

Carrie: As of now Maggie will alert if she is in the same room with me with no big distractions, if we are having pizza I can forget about being alerted to anything other than pepperoni. Remind you she is not a service dog but an awesome pet.

When Maggie alerts she gives me about 10 seconds to make a clear decision on my surroundings. Things like if I am holding a drink I know to put it down, if I am standing I can choose to sit wherever I am or gauge if I should head to the couch. It is such a help because it minimizes the times that my episodes do sneak up on me.

PomskyHQ:  Carrie, thank you so much for sharing your story with our readers. I have really enjoyed learning more about your relationship with Maggie and how she has helped you.  Do you have any parting comments?  Also, please tell our readers how to get a hold of you and learn more about you and your dog.

Carrie: Thank you so much, I have loved answering questions about my Goldendoodle, she really is a joy.  Readers looking for more information about my chronic illness can read one of my detailed posts on the subject. We are also about to expand and have a section following Maggie’s training as well as a high school student with a chronic illness  and her first year with her amazing Labradoodle service dog Beau. Check back often to see all the changes and get new stories.

I hope our readers have enjoyed this interview.  The bond between humans and dogs never ceases to amaze me and this is a classic illustration of that unconditional love and devotion shared between a family and its dog.  I do not want to turn this into a political soapbox of sorts, but Carrie expressed her reasons for choosing a designer dog over a rescue and articulated her points well.  I applaud the strength and courage she has displayed in facing this illness while raising a family and applaud her ability to defend designer breeds and those who choose to them.

If you are looking for some other interesting stories on Carrie’s “Just Mildly Medicated” blog, I would invite you to check out her piece on designer dog discrimination and one about Diane Sawyer assisting her in finding the right service dog training organization.

If you or somebody you know has a compelling story that you believe our readers may have an interest in learning about, please contact us. We would love to feature additional interviews or guest posts for our readers.