By Claire Bachand,
Everyday after second period, sophomore Skye McIlraith walks out of her chemistry classroom and through the hallways. She seems like any other student, only she has a black medical alert dog, Olive, at her side.
A couple years ago, panic attacks began to plague McIlraith’s life.
“It made it harder to talk to people, and I didn’t want to go out in public,” McIlraith recalled. “It was getting kind of hard to deal with on my own and [getting a service dog] seemed like a really good idea.”
As McIlraith predicted, acquiring Olive was a good idea– in fact, it was life changing.
One year ago, when Olive came into McIlraith’s life, her panic attacks decreased from a couple of times a week to a couple of times a month. Now, panic attacks are so rare for McIlraith that her fears of going out in public and talking to people have disappeared, for the most part.
“She’s really helped me with a lot of different things and she’s really just kind of improved my life,” McIlraith said. “Her presence is really calming, and cuddling with her is really nice.”
Olive has helped McIlraith become more social, while lowering her stress and improving her ability to sleep.
Olive, a two-year-old labradoodle, was trained by Little Angels Service Dogs in San Diego. As a medical alert dog, Olive has learned how to sense changes in Skye’s body when she begins to feel anxious.
According to Little Angels Service Dogs’ website, when medical alert dogs sense these changes, they paw at the leg of their owner, distracting them from their anxieties and preventing panic attacks. McIlraith notices that when she gets stressed out Olive gets closer to her and becomes more protective.
“We are really closely bonded, she follows me everywhere,” McIlraith said. “She hates being separated from me and I hate going anywhere without her.”
Olive has followed McIlraith across the Atlantic Ocean and all the way to Scotland, where they hiked at McIlraith’s namesake, the Island of Skye, together.
“It was really fun to see her in a really beautiful land. She had a lot of fun,” McIlraith said.
Olive also accompanies McIlraith to school.
“She just comes in and sits there. Sometimes I forget we even have a dog in the classroom,” said Jamie Wales, a math teacher at Davis School of Independent Study. “I was [expecting] a regular dog, and a regular dog in a classroom I think might make it a little more distracting.”
But Wales was surprised to find that Olive was not an ordinary dog. The service dogs hardly made any noise during class.
“It’s really kind of fun to see an animal in there,” Wales said. “That dog is the calmest, most unperturbed animal I’ve ever seen in my life. She’s super chill and just hangs out. In fact, I think I almost stepped on her a couple times.”
Darryl Bailey, McIlraith’s chemistry teacher at Davis High, agrees with Wales.
“Nothing rattles that dog; not loud noises, not smells,” Bailey said. “[Olive] doesn’t pay attention to anything. [She] doesn’t pay attention to people.”
Bailey says that being ignored by Olive motivates students to ignore her back. “They know they’re not supposed to pay attention to the dog,” Bailey said.
Outside of the classroom, McIlraith says that now that she has Olive, students have begun to treat her differently.
“I think people tend to come up and talk to me a little more often and they tend to […] talk to Olive a little bit more than me sometimes,” McIlraith said. “At first it bugged me a little, but now I’m used to it. People just really loves dogs.”
Still, McIlraith admits that she would like it if people stopped constantly approaching her to pet Olive.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 25 percent of children between the ages of 13 and 18 suffer from some type of anxiety disorder.
“Find something that calms you, whether that is music or drawing, and always keep it with you,” McIlraith recommends. “Also, try mindful meditation.”