Service Dog for Ashley's Recovery

22275966_1547517117843864_r.jpegUpdate as of 1/14/19:

Axel is now 6.5 months old! Axel has so much potential and is doing very well in his training so far. At 6.5 months he currently knows: sit, lay down, watch me, wait, stay, take it, drop, come, leave it, touch, place, on your mat, up, and off. We are also working on a chin rest, paw targeting, and loose leash walking.

At this point in his training I am needing more professional help, as my disabilities are beginning to affect his training. There is a wonderful board and train program in Visalia, CA that helps individuals train their service dogs. The two month program costs $5,000. 

If you have the means, please consider donating so that I can send him to get the training he needs that I am unable to provide right now. I have put so much into this and am not going to give up now, but I need your help.

My story:

Hi, my name is Ashley and I am 25 years old. Creating this campaign has taken a lot of thought and courage. Something I have learned throughout my journey of recovery is that sometimes the most couragous thing a person can do is reach out for support. My goal through this is to be as transparent as I can be while still maintaining my own sense of safety. So here is some of my story...

My eating disorder began when I was about 13 years old. It started gradually, but by the time I was about 15 years old I was deep in a spiral of self-hatred and self-destruction...though it was not something I ever chose, my eating disorder was my way of coping with a childhood of painful memories... 

In the midst of everything, life threw me a curveball...

When I was 16 years old I began having severe, debilitating headaches that resulted from almost any kind of movement: sneezing, laughing, turning my head, looking down, coughing, etc. The pain was so severe and was accompanied by loss of balance, tingling in my fingertips, loss of hearing, dizziness, and disorientation. My mom brought me to the doctor who dismissed my symptoms as "muscle tension." Several more months went by and the symtoms were getting worse and more frequent. I was no longer able to function in my daily life. My mom, having attended medical school, knew something much more serious was going on. 

I went back to the doctor and this time they ordered in immediate MRI of my brain. 

The day after the MRI was my high school homecoming, and being on the dance team, we were scheduled to perform at the football game. My team and I were stretching and getting ready to perform when I got an urgent phone call from my mom. She had just received an after hours phone call from a nurse regarding my MRI results. I had a severe form of Arnold Chiari Malformation and was to avoid, at all costs, doing anything that would cause my symptoms. Such symptoms could at any point cause paralysis, brain damage, or death.

I would need brain surgery. 

My whole world froze. Was this a nightmare? 

I stepped off the football field only minutes from our performance, overwhelmed with fear.

Fast forward....I ended up requiring two brain surgeries which I had in November of 2009 and then again in January of 2010.

Complication arose from my surgeries and I ended up with an infection in my brain and an almost completely numb right leg.

I was hospitalized several more times and although unrelated to my brain malformation, my team of doctors also discovered I had a fracture and slipped disc in my lower spine after a sudden, severe onset of back pain.

I was placed in a combersome back brace for approximately 4 months to stabilize my spine.

My brain surgeries and back brace certainly improved my pain but it never fully went away. After the trauma of such life threatening medical issues, the eating disorder came back in full force. I managed to still graduate high school with my class and went off to college.

With my first taste of freedom, my eating disorder took hold. My peers and school became concerned and soon required that I take a medical leave to go to treatment...

I began my recovery journey in December of 2011 when I was admitted into inpatient treatment for Anorexia Nervosa. When I began treatment I was under the impression that I would spend 30 days inpatient and then I would be ready to go home and move forward with my life. I really had no idea....

I spent the next 3 years in and out of treatment facilities, hospitals, therapist offices, and group rooms. What I didn't understand when I first began my journey towards recovery was that the reason for my eating disorder had nothing to do with food, calories, and weight. My eating disorder was my way of surviving. It was my way of blocking out the memories my mind and body weren't ready to remember. 

So when I arrived in treatment and began nourishing my body for the first time in 6 years, the coping mechanism I had used for so long could no longer protect me. I quickly realized that the pain I was trying to ease and the fear I was trying to calm was rooted in my childhood. 

The flashbacks and body memories began; the trauma was surfacing because I was no longer pushing it down and numbing it out. Beginning as young as the age of 3 or 4 years old my father used my body in ways a child should never experience. His torture continued into my teenage years until he got reported to the authorities. 

I have come so far in my recovery from Anorexia, however the PTSD, and subsequent anxiety and depression, are things I will live with for the rest of my life, to one degree or another. I continue seeing a therapist to process the pieces of my trauma that arise, though I have really only begun the work I need to heal. I've only touched the tip of the iceberg and have much work to do in order to heal the deep wounds of my past. 

For quite some time I was on a couple different psychiatric medications that helped lessen the symptoms I was experiencing due to my PTSD. However, due to unknown reasons (however likely attributable to my eating disorder), my heart no longer tolerates the medication. About a couple years ago after my last, hard relapse into my Anorexia, my heart began reacting to any psychiatric medication my doctor prescribed me. I was having palpitations, irregular heartbeat, and trouble breathing. It got so bad one afternoon my roommate had to call 911 and I was rushed to the ER.

Due to the persistent and intrusive symptoms of my PTSD, depression, and anxiety and the ongoing pain from my spinal injuries and occasional flare-ups from my brain malformation, I am needing another form of assistance.

My therapist and primary care doctor both agree I am in need of a service dog. I was initially hoping to train my current dog as my service dog, however she is not suited to do some of the work I am needing. She will instead remain a beloved pet and emotional support.

I have decided the best breed for my needs is a Golden Retriever. I have chosen to purchase a puppy that I will self-train with the assistance of a professional trainer. This method will best fit my needs. The puppy itself will cost around $2,000-$2,500. It takes about two years for a service dog to be fully trained, so with that, training will end up costing about $3,000-$3,500 (at one class/week and $32/class). Lastly, I will need to fund initial vet bills, vaccines, flea/heart worm treatments, spay surgery, and necessary supplies and equipment (food, treats, leash, harness, vest, collar, etc.).

I hope that through my own savings, fundraising, and donations I can afford to bring home a puppy to begin training as my service dog sometime in 2018.

I will train the dog to alert and respond to my flashbacks, provide tactile stimulation for grounding, check my apartment and turn on lights when arriving home so I can feel safe, and create a physical barrier between me and others when out in public. I will also train him/her for object retrieval for use during flare-ups of physical pain.

I have fought so long and hard my whole life just to survive and now it's time I accept support so I can do more than just make it by. 

Thank you for reading my story and helping in any way possible. I am nervous and hopeful about the journey ahead of me. I would be happy to answer any questions that may arise. I am forever grateful for the support I already have in my life and just as grateful for the support that is to come. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Donations (0)

  • Anonymous 
    • $100 
    • 7 mos
  • Robert Lavine  
    • $300 
    • 7 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $300 
    • 7 mos
  • Sasha Spivak  
    • $20 
    • 7 mos
  • Cameron Reynolds 
    • $50 
    • 7 mos


Ashley Clifford 
Monterey, CA
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