I’ve always had dogs, whether shelter pups or purebreds. And I love everything about puppies — the wagging tails, the drool and fur everywhere. So, when I saw a shy little golden puppy with molten brown eyes at the shelter, I couldn’t resist.
When we picked Midas out, he seemed to be a happy medium between our other two dogs. At the shelter, he’d shadow them around the yard, content to just be with some friendly dogs. I was amazed at how even-tempered he was.
But he had trouble sleeping his first night with us. And not in the normal crying or acting rambunctious way. He was tense, jumping at every little thing. He couldn’t settle. Instead, he paced the room, as if he was expecting something to attack.
Eventually, I got him to lay down and rest his head on my chest. He quickly began to lick my hand like his life depended on it. I stroked his head with my other hand and spoke soothingly to him. Finally, after what seemed like hours, he relaxed into sleep. That was my first sign that this puppy and I were more alike than I realized.
When I got Midas, I was having frequent and severe panic attacks. My doctors were running out of options. Every medication I tried only led to worse reactions.
As a result, I only had a part-time job. My social life consisted of doctors’ visits, with more doctor visits to follow. I was living a half-life — worrying when the next panic attack would hit and how I’d handle it when it did.
The Midas touch
I soon learned that my little guy had a similar problem: Fear frequently froze him. In the middle of the pet store, he’d freeze and need to be carried. In parks, he’d crawl under benches to hide.
I didn’t know if this was just his temperament or if something bad had happened to him in his short life. But I resolved to help him past whatever was holding him back.
I began taking him to all the local parks and started taking in foster dogs in an attempt to socialize him better. It soon became apparent he wasn’t antisocial — just scared of the unknown.
About a month after adopting Midas, he decided that I needed his help in return.
One day I was sitting on the couch watching TV. Midas came over and began licking my arm. This wasn’t surprising; he frequently felt the need to lick people. But his persistence reminded me of his first night with me.
After a while he stopped just long enough to look me in the eye and give a heartfelt sigh before starting up again.
I just shrugged it off and continued watching my show. Within a few moments, though, I began to feel the tingling numbness in my face that always preceded an attack. Midas sighed once more and rested his head on my lap as if to say, “I tried to warn you.”
For the next 30 minutes, he continued to rest his head on my lap and occasionally lick my hand, letting me know he was still there.
Once I recovered, I brushed his behavior off as a strange coincidence. But I soon started to notice a pattern: A few minutes before a panic attack, Midas would warn me with licks and stares before assigning himself the task of comforting me until I recovered.
Rescuing each other
I stumbled across articles suggesting dogs may sense and warn their humans of seizures and other health conditions. I began to wonder if maybe Midas was truly able to sense when these attacks were approaching.
I did some research and found out that there actually are service dogs for people with PTSD and other anxiety disorders. These dogs are able to warn their owner of oncoming attacks and assist them to safety while keeping them “grounded” in the real world. With that in mind, I paid more attention.
I soon learned to notice his warnings and extricate myself from whatever situation I was in. With my fingers wrapped in his fur I rode out many attacks, just thankful that he helped me get somewhere I could feel safe before it hit.
He hated baths, but on days I was particularly vulnerable, he’d wait outside the bathroom while I took my shower just to make sure I was OK. He wouldn’t abandon me.
The dog with a heart of gold
As my anxiety became more controllable, Midas began to share his skills with others.
My mother has type 1 diabetes. Whenever her blood sugar levels get too high or low, Midas lets her know. Like with my panic attacks, he licks her until he catches either her attention or mine then proceeds to lay his head on her lap until we have her back within normal range.
It took over a year after I adopted Midas, but I was able to get to a point where I could take on a full-time job and resume living a normal life. My panic attacks are now few and far between.
Thanks to my golden boy, I can predict them. He’s always there to keep me anchored, right where I need to be.
Candice Hardman went from a frequently ill teen to a freelance writer and healthcare worker driven to help others in similar situations to hers. She offers professional writing services through her website, www.diceywritng.com, to help healthcare providers better serve their patients.