Sunday, June 9, 2013

Want to Do Good? Share Positive, Useful Information

My readers proved this to me again last night. A young Oregonian who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, has lost her mom, and is moving into a group home may not have to give up the cat which has shared her life from age 9 to 22. Why? Because people shared my recent guest blog post published by HealthyPlace.about our rights to emotional support animals in our housing.

The message arrived via my Contact Us page late last night. I could feel her pain as I read it and called her right away. I was able to give her good news and hope by putting her in touch with her local fair housing organization. I should say WE were able to do this, because it took a network to get the information to her. She had been sharing her troubles with a friend in Pennsylvania and the friend had seen my article. She gave her the website address. Who knows how many people were involved in the chain of forwarding before it reached the friend in Pennsylvania.

Earlier the same day a woman who is a Crisis Peer Counselor Coordinator at Spirit Peer Empowerment Center in California read the post after a friend from Connecticut shared it. There are homeless shelters in her area turning away people with psych disabilities because they won’t give up their pets. She contacted me for more information which she’ll use in her work. That prompted me to document the regulations concerning shelters and dorms on my website and add it to my service provider’s page.
So thank you, sharers; you did a really good thing. Let’s all try to do more sharing of good, helpful information.

Image By Yodaspirine (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Guest Blogging on Prozac Monologues and Healthy Place

I've got two guest blog posts published on two different blogs recently. Please take a look and share if you like them:

A veteran with PTSD considers living in a van in New Hampshire with his wife, two small children, and two large dogs. He can’t find housing that will accept the dogs he can’t live without. A peer specialist fails to get a homeless woman with a psychiatric disability into a shelter because she won’t be separated from her cat. A woman with bipolar disorder pays hundreds of dollars each year in illegal fees to keep the cat who helps her sleep. These people are real. Their needless suffering and expense occurred because few people understand our rights under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).


My current therapist is a nurse practitioner who can prescribe psychiatric drugs.  My previous therapist was an MSW who could not.  Both, however, could write a prescription for an emotional support animal (ESA).  A short, simple letter (see sample below) from a doctor (any medical doctor, not just a psychiatrist) or any therapist will allow a person with a psychiatric disability or a chronic pain condition to have pets in no-pets housing, to avoid any pet deposit or pet fee, and to avoid size limitations or species restrictions.  

read the rest at Rx for Joy - Joanne Shortell (this is a repost of an article I wrote about a year and a half ago)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Mental Illness Travels with Me, but I’m Driving

On the Grand Canyon Rim Trail
It sucks when I get to someplace spectacular and find out that my disabilities are determined to get in the way. It happened  last year at Bryce Canyon (see Recovery on the Road) with migraines and hypomania and it happened again this year at the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon with anxiety.

I was doing so well that first morning. I had camped outside the national park to reduce the stress of finding a place to stay in it after dark. I got up right on time, took Maeve for a walk around the whole campground, and headed into Grand Canyon National Park. It was fairly early in the season and I was shocked by how many people were there. Maeve started alerting me when I was talking to a ranger at the visitor center, not that I understood her at first, and I started to crash. I wanted to pick up and drive anywhere other than the Grand Canyon, right away. Instead I went into self-care mode and recalled some lessons I've learned along the way.

Lesson One: Take Time Out

The Grand Canyon was right there … right behind the visitor center, but I couldn't get a glimpse until hours later. I went back to my safe place, my campervan, to regroup. I fed myself, read about easy hikes and bike rides I could do, and I gave myself time to come down from the stress.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Service Dogs and Money

What are the costs associated with a service dog?

  • The cost of the dog: The dog may cost from nothing to thousands of dollars. Some breeders will donate a dog to be trained, some people find an appropriate dog at their local shelter, some people, as I did, pay full price from a high-quality breeder: close to $2,000 dollars. NOTE: Do NOT buy a dog at a store; they are notorious for health and temperament problems and you'll get a lower quality dog that ends up costing more than one from an excellent breeder.
  • The cost of a service dog trainer’s time or service dog organization fee: It is not unusual for a non-profit service dog organization to charge a fee of as much as $25,000 for a fully trained dog and for training of the person to handle the dog. On the other end of the spectrum, one can train one’s own service dog. The chance of success goes up, however, if you have an experienced service dog trainer training and consulting with you. There are also trainers who will take the dog and do the basic training for you and then train you to train the dog the rest of the way. This service falls between the other two in cost.  One program that did this charged approximately $10,000. In my case I chose to learn to train the dog on my own with help from a pro. I ended up way under budget because I got lucky in my choice of dogs and because the trainer was very generous in donating her time to act as a consultant in choosing the dog and pointing me towards training resources I could use to educate myself. I ended up only using a few hours of paid training time: under $200.  This is unusually low.
  • Travel costs if the trainer or organization is not nearby. Most organizations will require you make at least one trip to the organization for training.
  • Vet/insurance costs: Having a service dog go into heat or having a male service dog reacting to females in heat is not a good thing. You will need to have your dog neutered. There are low-priced clinics available in many communities for people with limited incomes, your town hall or animal control officer will know about them. Call a local vet to find out what the full price is. Your dog should be microchipped, it’s a small price, and it increases the chances you’ll get your very valuable animal back if you get separated. In addition one needs to budget for on-going vet expenses. Your service dog will need regular checkups, rabies shots, etc., and, like most dogs, will experience an illness or two and some injuries in the course of his/her life. Note: pet insurance does not cover 100% of expenses; you'll need a budget in addition to the premium.
  • Food: Service dogs need to be in great health to work properly and to have a long working life. You are not going to want to feed your dog poorly when so much depends on him/her and when you’ve invested so much money and/or time in training.
  • Toys and gear: You’re going to want a vest or harness for the dog to wear when working, leashes, a collar, and who knows what else. Dogs also need toys.
  • Dog license: another small necessity. Usually modest cost especially for neutered dogs.

How to Pay for Your Service Dog and His/Her Upkeep

  1. Your own income: at the very least you need to ensure that you can take care of basic upkeep costs (vet, food, toys) from your own income. It’s not fair to take on a dog when you don’t have the money to feed it and provide basic care.
  2. Family: You may be able to get some help from relatives if you can explain how the dog will enable you to live a healthier life.
  3. Churches and other local organizations have been known to help raise funds for the acquisition of a service dog.
  4. On-line fundraising sites: friends of my friends have successfully used and to raise a portion of the costs of their service dogs (I can’t recommend either personally because I haven’t used them).
  5. Have a yard sale or sell things you make and let people know the proceeds will help you with your service dog expenses. My favorite leash is handmade by another service dog handler. I bought it when she ran a special promotion to raise money for a winter coat for her service dog. (note: if you’d like to support a person with a psychiatric service dog, consider buying your leash from her too:

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Good Day Sunshine

Today was a beautiful day in El Malpais (the badlands). Sunny, not too windy, not too hot. We had to stay at the campsite because my electric assist bike had to be charged and I needed to do some cooking.
The solar panels really got a workout, but come the end of the day my bike, my computer, my tablet, my MiFi, my phone (and extra battery), my rechargeable light, my bluetooth transmitter were all fully charged. In addition they powered my refrigerator and I made coffee, a half dozen mugs of tea, and a batch of vegetable curry stew that would feed six.

I love my solar panels. They keep life simple and inexpensive. Most people on the road use propane to run their refrigerator and cook. Propane refrigerators are picky about being level and open flames can start fires. I need something simple and safe so I use a DC refrigerator designed for solar applications and an electric induction cooktop. Not only is this simpler and safer, but people who use propane to cook with are incredibly jealous of how fast I can boil water and cook on the induction cooktop. Even at low settings it’s much faster than propane.Another thing the panels allow me to avoid is having a generator and having to deal with gasoline for the generator.

Unlike many people on the road, I don't plug into an electrical hookup at campsites, I run an electric cord from my vehicle out to the campsite (see pics).

For more pictures of our campsite at El Malpais, see:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cliff Dwellers Hike

Maeve and Joanne in one of the Cliff Dweller's caves

Maeve with Cliff Dweller caves in the background

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What Has Six Legs, Two Wheels, and is Really Green?

No, it’s not a grasshopper on a dogcart . . . .

It’s a girl and her service dog biking to a hike! (the girl is taking the picture)

The new addition to the Maevemobile is an electric-assist bike. This allows me to move fast enough to satisfy Maeve and cuts down on the number of times we start the Maevemobile when we're parked. At Gila Cliff Dwellings, we biked a couple of miles round trip to the visitor's center and back, took a rest and then biked 2 miles to the trailhead leading to the cliff dwellers site, hiked up to the site, and biked back to our campsite.

We'll write about our encounter with the rattlesnake in another post. Yikes!!!!

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Soaking in a Hot Lithium Spa with a Gila Monster

We’re back on the road again after a longer-than-expected holiday hiatus. New Mexico is where I expected to be by now, but a kind gentleman at our first night’s stop in Arizona’s Coronado National Forest near Safford told me about this spot outside the same town.  I figured I’d spend a night, but I’ve been here for two and expect to stay for at least another two nights.

This place looks like the dunes at Cape Cod (if you squint a little so you don’t see that at the top of the dunes are desert plants or that a gila monster is walking through them and if you don’t look at the mountain to the northwest). The wind and heat here also make me think of summer at the beach. The only thing missing is the ocean.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Unhappy Valentines Day? One Easy Step to True Love

Perhaps you've been looking for love in all the wrong places.  I can tell you how to find a true love -- one who will love you until death do you part. I can tell you how to find a love who will always be happy to see you, even when you are in a foul mood. I can tell you how to find a love who will happily give you more attention and affection than you give them.  I can tell you how to do this in one simple step .  . . .


May you and your new love have many happy Valentine's Days in the coming years!


Joanne (and Maeve)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pros and Cons of Cats

Cats: Is it advisable to have a cat? I answered this question tonight on Quora.
Cats are terrific bang-for-the-buck pets. They are graceful, playful, wonderful to touch, and beautiful. You can get truly beautiful cats of any age at any shelter in the United States. Free kittens are frequently offered by private parties who have neglected to neuter their cat or who have rescued an abandoned litter.

Cats are cheaper to feed than dogs, and, if neutered, vaccinated, and kept indoors, usually require little veterinary care. Cats are social, but not nearly as susceptible to separation anxiety as dogs (separation anxiety is usually the cause of incessant barking, garbage strewing, incontinence, etc., that can happen when a dog is left home alone). Cats can be left alone for a weekend if given access to sufficient dry food and water. Being left home during work hours, even long work hours, is not usually a source of great distress to cats if they are well cared for and given attention before and after work. Cats can happily live indoors in a small space and so are very well suited for apartment living.

As Letrisa Miller mentioned, there are multiple studies showing the mental and physical health benefits of pets, including cats. You could read about this in the American Psychological Assocation's The Truth About Cats and Dogs: Pets Are Good for Mental Health of ‘Everyday People’ and read the opinion of the U.S. Center for Disease Control at Health Benefits of Pets. I have an Emotional Support Animal who is a cat. You can read about how she helps me deal with bipolar disorder at How an Untrained Cat Can be an Assistance Animal.

Another thing Letrisa Miller mentioned is allergies. While some people are allergic to cats, one should also consider the studies that indicate that children with pets are less likely to develop all sorts of allergies.

The downside of cats is scratching furniture (not all do it, but it's often an issue, especially with young cats), problems with urine marking (again, not all do it and usually it's a temporary problem if you keep the litter clean and identify and remedy the stressor that is causing the problem), and cleaning the litter box. The latter requires some care because in addition to rabies (for which you of course will have the cat vaccinated) there is another disease of note that one can catch from a cat. It's called toxoplasmosis and it's usually contracted by the person who cleans the litter box. It can cause problems with a fetus, so pregnant women should have someone else clean their cat's litter box. You're more likely to get this disease from your food than from your cat, however:
While many people think handling cats and their litter boxes are the primary ways pregnant women are infected, a new European study on how to prevent the devastating disease . . . shows that up to 60% of all transmissions can be prevented by limiting exposure to inadequately cooked or cured meat
(see Take These Precautions to Prevent Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

View from our mobile office in AZ

Makes us think of home, friends, and family (CT was struck by a blizzard yesterday). Maeve would prefer the amount of snow in CT, butI think I'll be able to live with no more snow than this.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

How An Untrained Cat Can be an Assistance Animal

Cats are sleep specialists
Emotional support animals (pets who help people with disabilities without having special training) can reduce the need for drugs and other medical treatment, especially for people with pain or psychiatric disabilities. The U.S. government recognizes their value and requires they be allowed, without deposits or fees, in nearly all housing units in the country. 

Sleep is so challenging for someone with bipolar and so important in managing bipolar disorder that John McManamy, a science writer and bipolar sufferer, has called bipolar disorder "a sleep disorder with mood symptoms." When I can't sleep properly my moods starts spiraling up into hypomania and when I'm suffering from hypomania I can't sleep properly. Due to past reactions to antidepressants, my hypomanic moods are usually combined with depression -- what are called mixed episodes in which suicide is a distinct danger. I avoid tranquilizers or sleeping pills, so what do I do when I can't sleep?