Love finds a way, training her own service dog

— Photo from Madison Love
Madison Love’s dog Raindrop lays across her lap. She is trained to sense when Love is having an anxiety attack and will nudge her to the floor and lay on her lap to apply “light-pressure therapy” that calms Love down.

WESTERLO — On a hot sunny day at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo campus, a tiny dog named Raindrop waits patiently next to her owner, 17-year-old Madison Love. Even as crowds of people pass or when Love crouches down to take a photo, Raindrop remains perfectly still.

The dog wears a harness stating “Service dog in training: Do not touch.” Love herself wears a shirt that reads “I’m a dog trainer. What’s your superpower?”

A resident of Westerlo and a rising senior at BKW, Love has autism and anxiety, which she explains affects her daily life, and her dog is there to help her. She has difficulty with communicating or confrontation, she told The Enterprise, and she suffers from anxiety attacks.

“I sometimes mess my words and have anxiety from it,” she said. “I’m constantly anxious or I’ll randomly have an anxiety attack.”

Love had adopted Raindrop, a mixed-breed dog from Tennessee who had been displaced by a hurricane, in September 2017.

“My first intention of adopting her was so she would be my pet,” she said. “But then an incident occurred in October.”

She explained that this was when her sister died, and her anxiety worsened. The incident haunted her, she said, and she began to suffer from paranoia and have her anxiety triggered.

When Love and her family looked into programs that train or provide service dogs, they discovered it could cost thousands of dollars. So Love decided to see if her own dog was fit to be a service dog.

Love said she began conducting research on training a service dog before she started training Raindrop to do certain tasks. Her dog has now been trained to sense when Love is about to have an anxiety attack through her body language, scent, and behavior.

When this happens, her dog nudges Love to have her sit and applies what Love describes as light-pressure therapy, in which Raindrop lies across her lap and uses her weight to calm Love.

“It sends a message to my brain and makes it so I can calm down a lot quicker,” she said. Love said that her anxiety attacks used to last as long as two hours but now last only 10 minutes.

But Love said that Raindrop still has a lot more training to go through, such as learning to heel and to focusing on where Love is going so as to not trip her. Training can take up to one or two years, but sometimes longer depending on the dog or training, said Love.

Not many people understand the differences between a therapy animal or a service animal, said Love. A service animal serves one person with a disability and is trained to help that person’s disability. For instance a seeing-eye dog is a service dog that a blind person uses to navigate.

A therapy animal, however, is one that can comfort or calm people without being attached to a specific person for a specific task. At BKW, the school psychologist uses a therapy dog named Maggie to help a number of students.


Enterprise file photo — H. Rose Schneider
Madison Love sits with her dog Raindrop, who she is training to be a service dog.


Love said that websites will advertise certificates to purchase online, stating that an animal is certified, but she said these are not valid. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, however, service animals are not required to be professionally trained or receive certification; they only must be trained to complete a specific action to assist a person with a disability.

The problem with people claiming their dogs are service animals without the proper training, said Love, is that the dog can distract from someone else’s service animal and make it harder to sense if a person is in distress or perform a trained task.

Love has one more year at BKW. After graduation, she is hoping to pursue photography as well as dog-training, possibly enrolling in the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill’s program on dog-training.

She enjoys taking photos of her dog and other animals; as part of a project, she photographed the Agriculture Day at BKW, for example.

Raindrop does get time off from being a service dog, said Love. During that time, Raindrop enjoys running and jumping and agility training, which Love will photograph.

“It comes out so agood, and it shows how happy she is, doing something she really enjoys,” she said.

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