SEBAGO — In my mid-20s, I was terrified to reintegrate myself into society after losing my job and ending up on disability. Even though I was taking my medication for my schizoaffective disorder, it doesn’t control all my symptoms. I don’t have delusions anymore, but I am left with visual and auditory hallucinations. I became very lonely, and I was at a loss as to how I would continue to live the rest of my life. I needed a companion; I desperately wanted a Chihuahua.

I didn’t intend for him to be a service dog. Over the internet, I found a local Chihuahua breeder with a positive reputation. While petting Liam for the first time, I began to open up to the breeder, who told me she had been training Chihuahuas for 33 years.

She was very easy to talk to, so I told her about my journey with mental illness and why I wanted a dog at this point in my life. She asked me what I was still struggling with on a daily basis. I told her that I was annoying my boyfriend. She laughed.

I explained that I was constantly asking him either “Did you hear that?” or “Did you see that?” to get a reality check on the low-level hallucinations that my medicine still doesn’t completely control. As you can imagine, it was creating a lot of stress in our home. I was also paranoid about being home alone and going out alone, and I was self-conscious about my possible behaviors.

The breeder asked if I would consider working with her to train Liam to help me. I immediately thought of hugs, kisses and unconditional love – which are all wonderful – but I didn’t know what else she could train Liam to do for me. She said she had ideas that she had never tried before and asked if I would be willing to work on creating a Chihuahua miracle. She didn’t ask for a penny.

How could I resist? I worked with her for two years twice a week, and during the second year, my therapist even agreed to join us. This was the opportunity of a lifetime.

We trained Liam in basic obedience and then slowly shifted to the individually tailored tasks that could help me with my daily life.

It wasn’t an easy process, but after a lot of work by all of us (Liam most of all), Liam now assists me in ways I never thought possible. I’ll lightly tap his shoulder with two fingers and then ask him either “Did you hear that?” or “Did you see that?” If he did, he will put one paw forward; if he did not, he will lie down.

Super amazing, right? I had no idea a dog could do this. This seemingly basic task changes the way I live my life every day.

He has become my barometer for reality. I don’t have to ask the people closest to me a thousand times a day about a possible hallucination. I don’t have to be scared and wake someone up in the middle of the night. My paranoia has decreased drastically. I’m not scared to be home alone and I’m not scared to go out alone, because he is always there supporting me.

I continue to bring Liam, my Chihuahua, everywhere I go. I am a public speaker for three separate mental health speaker bureaus in Maine. He can be quite the attraction. It is as if we have an invisible leash connection at all times.He just turned 7 years old, so we are in a fantastic rhythm together. He is still happy and healthy.

His little 6-pound frame has changed my life. I am not scared anymore, and my relationships are stronger and healthier than ever before. He has helped me so much to reintegrate into society. He is my best and most loyal friend.