01 June 2011

The Collision of Veterinary Care with MCS for Service Dog Handlers

Those of us with MCS with service dogs, know all too well that when we go out in the community shopping, to the bank, to the Drs, or to the Vets that they may very well become as toxic as our bodies, our clothing and our wheelchairs do.

In many aspects I am very lucky with Thane that way, but with Met it was a real chore to keep him detoxed. Most people finally get my *hands off* rule so its rare anyone pets Thane, but when they do, its into the bath he goes.

Living in the pacific northwest can have its advantages. Three quarters of the year, Thane is swathed in a coat that covers his entire back and chest. This has become a remarkable tool in limiting toxicity on him and thus saving his skin from excessive bathing needs.

When it comes to vets though, this is an area where MCS and care collide. I don't know what it is about veterinary clinics and hospitals. I don't understand why everything they use from cleaning floors, to laundry, to their hands and clothing must smell like a chemical bath. I don't understand how they can *first do no harm* using so much toxicity when they deal with epileptics triggered by chemicals and those with allergies whose conditions have stability only through great attention by their owners to avoidance of chemicals, cleaners, and the like. This attends to the dog side of the equation but what about the human side?

Individuals with severe MCS can often benefit from service animals to help them avoid exposures or function with the limitations these exposures place upon them, but with this partnership also comes the responsibility to assure the dog is in good health or to get it care when injured or sick. The last thing we as the handler should have to consider is how this care will affect us, but when dealing with MCS it often is the first thing we have to consider.

My previous vet was fairly non-toxic as long as clients did not bathe in perfume or cologne. When it came to the exam rooms, I never had issues with him nor did Met have to be bathed the instant we got home. His surgical setup was definitely toxic though which I learned the hard way resulting in both Met and I paying the consequences from his scented detergent, fabric softener use, and overall chemical laden area. Though surgery is not often required, this vet was also one of those that over vaccinates inducing disease and then follows that up by over treating. After losing my first service dog, I wised up and knew we needed better. I wanted Thane to have a better chance for a stronger immune system and healthier working career than his predecessor Met had.

I do have a much better vet for Thane because I listened to my heart, to a recommendation, and was willing to take a chance with the unknown. At least in realms of Thane's care, she takes the *do as little as required* principle as opposed to drugging him for every little thing. She is open-minded to other gentler approaches when they can be just as effective. She also charges about half what the previous vet did with gains of knowledge and understanding of what is going on that far exceed what I would get from the previous vet. I love this practice where it comes to the actual care Thane receives.

On the other hand, in the three years I have used this clinic there has only been one time when we left that I did not have to bathe Thane and wash all of his gear. It was a fluke but it proved that there is definitely something in use there for hand washing that is at the route of it all. I deal with this because it easily washes out and generally I can plan our visits when I can easily come home and bathe Thane before he contaminates anything- especially our bed. I deal with it mostly because of her care and commitment to Thane and I as well as that she has the understanding that care she may need to implement could impact my life dramatically. She is the most awesome vet for an assistance dog partnership to use. I love her and frankly the biggest hold for me in not returning to California is that we have such an awesome vet looking out for Thane and our partnership.

Not all preventative care for Thane can be achieved through use of his regular vet here in town. Its unfortunate, but its reality. Last month I took Thane for a check with the ophthamologist. This is a crucial part of life with a guide dog. I need to know that his eyes are functioning properly and won't impact our safety. Its also so important when dealing with eye diseases to get treatment sooner rather than later. I knew from my previous visit to the clinic that their idea of accessibility for getting inside the adapted entry/ converted house was not ADA compliant. I did not think much about it when making the appointment. I had forgotten how hard it had been the first time and most especially did not take into consideration the fact that I had lost a substantial amount of vision since our previous visit. Even if I was happy with the care he received, that entrance is not going to happen again. I am not going to be the one who gets injured or killed because they were too thoughtless to gate off the stair entrance for safety of those in wheelchairs when they get to the top of the ramp onto the narrow porch.

This vet definitely did not have Thane's best interest at heart. She knew he was an allergy and giardia dog. She knew that he reacts to synthetic supplements negatively. She knew there were some things going on that may or may not be visually related. Not only did she not dilate his eyes in declaring that he has no signs of a retinal disease, instead opting to say his symptoms may be indicative of early retinal change, but she put him on a supplement that was SYNTHETIC assuring me that there was nothing that could be problematic with it. She nearly gave him double the dose she did. Lets just say its a GOOD thing I talked her out of that! The supplement turned out to have a known side effect of releasing histamine! If all this nonsense was not bad enough, she left him so toxic for me that a bath was not enough. It took a few days for him to fully detox. It was rough on me. It isn't like taking a pet to the vet (though I appreciate how difficult that is for those with MCS). I had need for help from Thane but had to balance between his help he would provide me with and reacting further from close contact with him. I also had to deal with his discomfort from the histamine release that left him in a profound allergy attack as well as GI upheaval that had not been a part of our life for over a year.

I have chosen to share this side of MCS because its something most people do not even realize when they hear about a person having MCS. MCS is multi-faceted. It is a disability that under the ADA requires businesses to make reasonable accomodations. With my present vet, I'd only request this if it were to become a bigger problem. With the Ophthamologist my choice is to find someone else. If I were happy with the care and she took me seriously, I could simply go to her primary office (unless it too is modified in such haste with no regard to safety). There is too much that is not OK though with the care provided. There is no way to provide the type of care required with an exam outdoors and the level of toxicity (mom says they also use air fresheners right where they directed me to sit) coupled with their non-compliance of ADA guidelines in the ramp design is just not OK for me. I am not going to take that chance again. I was in bed for days and low functioning for two weeks. In this situation the risks were not worth the benefits.

Its a game of the scales- balancing MCS exposure and reactions on one side and the care of your assistance dog on the other. In a perfect world the issues with MCS exposure and reaction would not happen, but we don't live in a perfect world. The best we can do is find the best most understanding practice in our vicinity to work with and to hopefully keep our dogs immune system strong through species appropriate diet and minimal chemicals so that visits to the vet become strictly for health checkups as opposed to the frequency they can be when vaccinosis or other diseases set in.


  1. I've learned so much through reading your blog.

    About two or three years ago we decided to change vets and now have our dogs going to one where vaccinating is limited. Our vet prefers to titer and even though my older boy (14.5 year old yellow lab) needs his rabies vaccine, she has chosen to forgo it completely. In addition to this she tries to use mainly natural remedies and homeopathics when treating ailments and/or managing issues. I've learned so much through visits with our new vet and just recently started changing each of my dogs over to a raw diet. We've noticed such dramatic improvements in Phoenix's (old guy) health and his ears seem to finally be moving in the right direction. He has a gluten allergy along with environmental allergies so ear issues have been an ongoing battle.

    I love that you're so willing to share your experiences and educate others about what can happen in a service dog/human partnership.

  2. Brooke Thankyou so much for your comment. I am glad that the things I share have helped you learn ways to keep your own dogs healthier. The raw diet is one of the best helps we can provide our dogs with. I am so glad you are seeing positive results from it as well.

  3. OMG! I am writing a post about this, too! Great minds, and all that....
    We are taking over the assistance dog world! (Ha! If only....)
    I started writing it a few weeks ago and never finished it. So, I am not copying you, OK? hee hee.

  4. Hey Sharon,
    We are so often on the same wavelength. Smile We each have our own perspectives- especially with the extremes of exposure you had to work with through Gadgets care.
    I could have said a lot more than I did, but just felt like giving folks a glimpse of things they may not have even considered.
    I look forward to reading your entry when its posted