This Labor Day, ECAD is thrilled to share the story of Lindsey O’Connell, for whom professional and personal doors have been opened as a result of her partnership with Service Dog Beamer and ECAD.
Today, Lindsey is a college graduate, successfully employed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She is setting goals for her future and approaching life with confidence and purpose. But Lindsey shared that things haven’t always been this way for her.
Affecting more than 16 million Americans, Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is the leading cause of disability for people ranging in age from 15 to 44. In addition to MDD, Lindsey O’Connell also battles with severe bouts of anxiety and was more recently diagnosed with Lyme Disease and Fibromyalgia.
Her symptoms were pervasive and having a tremendous negative impact on her life. “My therapist mentioned options that included intensive inpatient programs” says Lindsey, but she knew that meant dropping out of college and for her, college was a safe place where she really excelled.
Faced with the threat of giving up on the aspect of her life that she loved, Lindsey knew it was time to take action. She heard through a friend of a friend that a Service Dog might be able to help, so Lindsey began looking into various programs to determine if it was an option for her. She decided on ECAD because what she needed was a psychiatric service dog and ECAD’s purpose-bred, specially trained Assistance Dogs learn specific behaviors to serve people with emotional needs who are facing difficult circumstances.
After being accepted into the program, Lindsey attended ECAD’s team training. During the interview immediately before training, Lindsey became nervous and began having an anxiety attack. Lu, ECAD’s Founder, brought a service dog over to her to begin deep pressure therapy: the dog sat in her lap and provided a calming presence and pressure. “I just remember this calm that came over me afterwards, the fact that I was able to form coherent sentences and be able to finish my interview, I had this thought... my life could change,” Lindsey shared.
After being interviewed, the clients were given an opportunity to meet and interact with the dogs to determine who would match best. The staff had an idea that one particular Service Dog, Beamer, would be a good fit for Lindsey because he was broadly trained and could help with anxiety, depression, mobility, and retrieval. The staff was right about Beamer. The first night of team training, Beamer slept in Lindsey’s room. From that day on, Lindsey and Beamer have formed a deep, trusting, mutually supportive bond. Lindsey shared how Beamer was there for her that very first night, and every day since then.
Team Training lasted two weeks and according to Lindsey, the process was great. The clients were given lessons on how to be a Service Dog handler, how to interact with the public, reading a dog’s body language, commands, and skills. They even had a chance to visit the park, go out to dinner, and go to the movies with their Service Dogs accompanying them. And, for training graduation, Lindsey’s friends were able to attend and share a part of her experience with her. Then, she was able to take Beamer home to Boston.
Once Beamer was introduced to his new home in Boston, Lindsey’s bond with him only grew. Lindsey explained that Beamer is the definition of “work hard, play hard. When he is on task, he is serious and focused, constantly attentive, checking in, paying attention. When I take his vest off, he is a full-blown, absolute bundle of energy. He actually loves helping me with anxiety. He will lick my face vigorously and stop my leg from bouncing. There are these two different entities that somehow coexist within him.”
Since taking Beamer home, Lindsey is living a life that she never dreamed possible. She not only earned her degree in Art History but is working at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “I never thought I would get to this place. The fact that I am starting to make goals and achieve goals, I get overwhelmed with how much joy that brings me. This is a reality that I never pictured would be my reality. I have become so much more of a confident person. When you have to advocate for your service dog, it improves your ability to advocate for yourself as well.”
Because of her experience with ECAD, Lindsey is committed to helping others who may need a service dog. “I love ECAD so much and am so committed to them. They saved my life and they changed my life. Not only am I living independent, I’m thriving. It’s beyond anything I could have envisioned for myself.There is no way I would have been as successful or as healthy or as independent without Beamer.”
And to those who have supported ECAD’s mission, Lindsey expressed sincere appreciation. “The people who donated for Beamer, they are the reason I am where I am today. It’s such a tangible impact. Donations to ECAD go straight to training and the training goes straight to the person, and my life is never going to be the same. My life is exponentially better, and that’s thanks to ECAD. It’s a life-changing and a life-saving experience to have a Service Dog. It is everything. Beamer is my whole world, and I owe it all to everybody at ECAD.”