Walking the busy corridors of Thomas Haney secondary causes Emi Hughes great amounts of anxiety and stress.
The Grade 8 student’s thinking becomes irrational and her breathing speeds up and becomes heavy.
Sometimes she thinks that people are talking and laughing at her, even though in the back of her mind she knows that is not true.
Strangers and crowds make her nervous.
But now, Hughes, who suffers from extreme anxiety and panic attacks, has a partner to help calm her: Becky.
The two-year-old papillon is currently in training to be a certified service dog to help Hughes overcome her crippling conditions.
Hughes received Becky for her 12th birthday.
At first, she was a pet. But Hughes knew even then that Becky could provide much more than companionship. She could help calm her down in times of distress.
Hughes and her father Noel attended a service dog seminar by Andy Krzus, of Obedience Unleashed Dog Training and Assistance Service Dogs B.C. Association at the end of October and began the first stages of training with Becky to pass the B.C. Guide Dog and Service Dog Assessment.
Becky has already completed general obedience training through the Haney Hounds Community 4H Dog Club and Hughes has progressed to teaching her general tasks and alerts.
For instance, Becky performs small tasks to calm Hughes down.
If she is crying, she will lick her face and wedge her snout between Hughes’ hands so that Hughes focuses on Becky instead of the situation.
And if Becky senses Hughes is going to have a panic attack, the dog will jump on her lap and then jump down to make her aware.
Currently, Hughes is teaching Becky a task that she calls ‘Get Out,’ for which Becky leads Hughes to the closest exit if she feels an attack coming on in a crowded room.
Hughes expects that Becky will be in training for another year before she will be able to take the assessment test at the Justice Institute of B.C.
“When I have Becky with me, generally just her presence, I just know she will be able to help me,” said Hughes.
Once she is a certified service dog, Becky will be at the side of Hughes everywhere she goes, including the corridors of Thomas Haney secondary.