Service dogs are most known for assisting and accompanying veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illnesses and people with visual impairments.
Jessica Rearick, a 21-year-old living in Bensalem, is seeking help in raising money for her own service dog, but her disability is one that most people can’t see.
Rearick has been suffering with bipolar disorder 1, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia and generalized anxiety disorder. It’s debilitating to the point that she is currently unable to drive, work or go to school. She can’t be outside or inside her own home by herself. By her own estimation, she has three to four panic attacks per week.
“There’s not an understanding of the fact that she can’t control what’s happening,” Renee Rearick, Jessica’s mother, said. “It’s been hard to watch her struggle, but I try to stay positive.”
She accompanies her daughter almost everywhere, including to the Midweek Wire offices for an interview.
The service dog, Rearick believes, would help her reclaim the things she lost and “re-enter the world again.”
Rearick traces her first experiences with her disabilities back to her early years at Bensalem High School. By all outside accounts, she appeared to be doing great. She was involved in the music program, maintaining a 3.8 grade point average and on a clear path to graduation.
“I was heading to college and everyone, including myself, kind of thought I was going to continue with the momentum,” she said.
She attended The College of New Jersey and began to study English, continuing with a high GPA through her first semester, but then things started to unravel.
“I didn’t really know what was going on at first,” she said. “I couldn’t sit still in class, thought everyone was staring at me.”
She would be hyper at times, her thoughts racing, and then she would have crashes.
“I’d be so depressed and think, ‘Why should anyone care?’ or ‘Why am I even doing this if it’s not going to amount to anything?’ ” she said.
After being hospitalized, she was seeing mental health professionals, but as she was starting her second year of college, she had another breakdown. After some online research, she suggested the idea of a service dog to her new therapist, who supported it.
“I know it helps people with PTSD,” she said. “And I have a lot of the same symptoms, but caused in a different way.”
Through her research, she came across Little Angels Service Dogs, a nonprofit assistance dog school in Jamul, California. Volunteers and trainers at Little Angels train dogs for a variety of disabilities, including psychiatric.
Similar to the way a dog can be trained to alert for seizures or other medical conditions, they can be trained to sense the changes in a person’s body who is about to have a panic attack. They are also trained for deep pressure therapy, where they use their weight to create pressure on the handler’s lap or abdomen to relieve anxiety and bring about calm.
“It can also provide a block around me,” Rearick said. “Crowds are one of my triggers. It would provide space so I don’t feel so closed in.”
Rearick believes this dog can help her get back to the life she wants. She wants to work, continue her English major, graduate and enter a successful career. She wants to meet new people and interact in social situations. With the service dog by her side, she believes she can.
However, there is one huge obstacle to overcome — Rearick wants to raise $24,000 to get her dog soon. Those funds go to the Little Angels organization as a whole, but will indirectly help her dog.
The average service dog graduates with over 600 hours of training, according to Little Angels. Training expenses don’t include veterinary care, boarding, grooming and training supplies. Rearick could sit on a waiting list for up to four years, but those who meet these fundraising goals take priority.
It’s not an ideal situation, Rearick said, but there simply aren’t enough available service dogs to fill the need. She’s asking that people help by contributing on Red Basket, a crowdfunding site. Her family is also organizing raffles and other fundraising initiatives to help her cause, including a beef and beer at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Bensalem on April 23. Those fundraising efforts are detailed on her Facebook page, Service Dog For Jess.
Rearick is also keeping people updated on the day-to-day of her life on her blog called Me, Not MI: Living with Mental Illness. It gives insight into her struggle and aims to help people understand mental illness more clearly.
“There’s an ongoing battle in her head every day,” her mother said. “Getting up, getting dressed, staying motivated to be social, it’s a fight.”
To contribute to Jessica Rearick’s crowdfunding campaign, visit www.redbasket.org/881. To view her Facebook page, visit www.facebook.com/servicedogforjess. To read her blog, visit www.menotmi.wordpress.com. For information on Little Angels Service Dogs, visit http://www.littleangelsservicedogs.org.