Impulse decision or means of self care?

black and tan german shepherd puppy sleeping in dog bed with toy sheep.

I often find it difficult to discern the difference between self indulgence and self care, mostly in the moment I suppose, but even in hindsight it can be a struggle. The impulsivity intertwined with my bipolar, my borderline, makes it borderline impossible; As the two, self care and self indulgence, are polar opposites.

To not beat around the bush, a saying of which I am familiar but honestly have no idea why it is the way it is, just that people use it in this context; I bought a dog. As an avid reader of my blogs, you may be wondering if there is some hidden content you have missed, there isn’t. This is not to say that buying a dog wasn’t thought out to a degree, it just wasn’t my initial goal. You see, when we were coming to the end of 2021, we were supposed to find out whether or not we would be moving across the country except Covid pushed that back… forward? The correct one doesn’t make sense to me but now the more I analyse that sentence it feels like saying ‘banana’ one too many times. Anyhow, my one wish for when we moved was to be able to purchase a bunny. Ady (one of my younger alters) loves rabbits, as do I, and I think the floof would help with anxiety even just by looking at it.

“Why can’t you just get a rabbit while you’re in Sydney?” I’m glad you asked. We are renting, no shock in this economy; and although we have three lovely cats, our landlord says we cannot have any more pets. Even if we were allowed, should we have found/find out that we will soon be moving interstate, putting a rabbit in cargo on a plane is extremely high risk, especially if we were to buy a Netherland Dwarf Rabbit. A lot of emotions came along with finding out the moving or not moving situation is now in limbo, but the thing I had my heart set on to help keep calm after moving all the way to Western Australia was now gone. And though, for now, we are in Sydney, the feeling of limbo still causes me undue stress. The bunny was, in my mind, something to keep me ‘sane’ amongst the chaos happening in life right now, to calm my emotions, to be somewhat of an emotional support animal. I did try to research the possibility of having an ‘assistant rabbit’ in Australia, but the criteria to register one requires a test to be passed that is really only designed for dogs, even though legally any animal can be an assistance animal in Australia.

Sidenote: An assistance animal is the name we use for ‘service’ animals. We do not have emotional support animals in Australia; We do, however, have therapy animals, although they do not have the same access rights as assistance animals.

The bunny situation was a bust and I cannot even remember the amount of times I cried about it, because to me it felt like my lifeline had disappeared. Then my partner suggested I get an assistance dog, something of which I immediately “nope’d”. After all, obtaining a fully certified assistance dog would cost upwards of $40,000 and/or a waiting list of TWO YEARS. Even if I were to get approval from NDIS to have one, that is a huge portion of my budget, that I really cannot afford to lose. While yes, an assistance dog would help me, so does therapy and having a care worker. So I did what I do best: emotionally swung like a pendulum and moved between the ideas of “what If I drove across the country so my bunny wouldn’t die” and “would I even want a dog”. After a few meltdowns and a billion opened and closed Firefox tabs, I found out that you are actually allowed to train your own assistance animal, meaning I could get a ‘normal’ dog and train it myself without all the extra funds that I don’t have. Seems difficult but straightforward right? Wrong. In New South Wales, to register an animal as an assistance animal you must provide “a statement from a recognised assistance animal training organisation that the animal is trained, or is being trained, as an assistance animal and is used as an assistance animal”. So even though it is legal to train your own animal, you cannot register it with council unless you are going through an authorised training body…

Cue another meltdown of course. Registration with council isn’t the be all and end all, because obviously the actual accreditation of the animal is what makes them an assistance animal. This accreditation can take up to two years, though is typically less from most stories I have read, and is determined by the assessor conducting yours/your animal’s Public Access Test (PAT). Council registration, however, is what I need to count my animal as an ‘assistance animal in training’ so to speak, and would legally allow me to keep her on private property. Private property? I’m talking in our rental. Assistance animals are not included in tenancy agreements due to the fact that they are not pets. Without a recognised trainer, my council registration papers won’t go through, and without these papers, I cannot keep a dog on premises even if I am self training her.

I cried about this a lot, but every morning my brain would somewhat reset, and I would frantically be looking for ways through or around this problem. Somewhere in my mind I either needed an assistance dog badly, or I had become obsessed with it as a way to pass the time. I found trainers though, that was the main thing. After sending out a handful of emails and receiving two or so responses that although the trainers are associated with certain organisations they “are not accredited”, I cried some more. Amongst all of this I kept seeing the most gorgeous puppies for sale on Gumtree, especially a litter of German Shepherds that I had bookmarked for like a week. It had gotten to a point where the last girl of the litter, the specific puppy that I had been looking at, was the last one left; To me, that was a sign. I messaged the breeder and asked for the puppy to be put aside, which meant I had only 24hours to find someone that could be my puppy’s trainer. It’s amazing what you can achieve with a shit tonne of pressure and a gradual loss of a will to live. I’m kidding about that, mostly. Anyway, that stressed me, so I cried myself to sleep again. In the morning though, low and behold, I had a message from a trainer, organised a phone call with her, agreed to her lesson costs, messaged the German Shepherd lady back, deposited her money for the puppy, and arranged to pick her up the next day.

So enough of the recount, I now have a dog.

Did you know that dogs cost a lot of money? And I’m not just talking about the dogs themselves, but also the upkeep. Now don’t get me wrong, I had dogs throughout childhood, and adopted a dog with a previous housemate a few years ago, but raising a dog to be an assistance dog takes extra tlc. I bought a German Shepherd because they are a smart breed, they are fast learners, they are strong dogs, and obviously I think they are cute. I need a bigger dog for retrieval tasks to aid with my fibromyalgia, and to provide deep pressure therapy for dissociation and anxiety, to create space between myself and other people when shopping to avoid me getting triggered or having a meltdown in public. I need a dog because I am disabled, because I have disorders that I find debilitating.

So as I reflect on the title to this post, I believe this is self care, not indulgence. For not everything that is costly equates to indulgence. My decent, yet not large, amount of savings are all but used up on purchasing the puppy and getting her various items such as a bed, food, training lessons, vaccinations etc etc, but training an assistance dog is a long term investment in my health. She is going to be a long term companion to me also.

There is more to the whole ‘I got a dog’ side of things, like the continuous meltdowns and spirals surrounding fear of failure, but for now I think writing this helped me realise that I engaged in self care upon buying her, which in and of itself is pretty neat.

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