About Us

Hello, my name is Katherine Walters.  I have a degree in Psychology, and I am an animal lover and dog trainer, an artist/author, a schizophrenic, a service dog handler, and an advocate.

I graduated college in August 2011.  I  focused my psychological studies on animal behavior which is a little difficult when there are no animal behavior classes offered.  Basically, I read a lot of journal articles and books about animal behavior, take classes that focus on human and non-human psychology, relate what I learn to animals, and talk to my professors about animal behavior.  Eventually, if I ever return to the job world, I want to work in a zoo.  I also want to continue my work as a dog trainer.  My ultimate goal is to work in the Education department of Busch Gardens Tampa, and/or run my own dog training facility.  Or, I’d like to get my Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling and become a therapist.  I really love the mental health field.

If you visit the Pets page, you will quickly understand that I am a very active animal lover.  As a child, I was always interested in animals.  I learned to ride horses at a very early age.  When I was ten I began volunteering at the local Humane Society.  I continued that until I was around sixteen.  When I was thirteen, I got my first dog, a Golden Retriever/Spitz mix, from the Humane Society.  Soon after, my dad began taking me to the feed store each spring where he would buy me two mallard ducklings.  We built a mobile pen for them from wood and chicken wire.  I would raise them until they decided to “go wild” and live in the very large lake behind our house.  When we finally had established a rather large duck population on the lake, we noticed that the female ducks could never raise their chicks to adulthood.  Within a week of being hatched, they would all be gone.  Therefore, one year we got in a boat and followed the hen and her chicks…catching the chicks and raising them ourselves.  That year, we had sixteen ducklings and several more mobile duck pens were built.  Luckily, the next year the hens were able to raise their chicks without more than a few casualties.  When I was seventeen, I began working as a kennel technician at a veterinary clinic.  I worked there for two years.  Sometimes, people would bring wild, baby animals that they had found to the clinic.  I often volunteered to take them home.  Thus, every spring I would raise a variety of animals including possums (my favorite), rabbits, sparrows, doves, raccoons, and squirrels.  The year we had sixteen ducks, we also had eight possums, three cottontail rabbits, and a dove chick.  We had very few casualties, nearly every animal I raised was successfully released into the forest surrounding our house.  A major exception was a male possum named Scar.  When I received him, his tail was severely injured and necrotic so the vet decided it would be best to amputate it.  As Scar grew, we learned that he did not have any interest in climbing, and we knew that a possum living on the ground would not last long.  Therefore, we built a large pen for Scar.  He spent about a year in it…remaining tame to me and my dad.  I could carry him around like a dog.  However, when he reached sexual maturity he could not resist nature’s call so he tore through the fencing and began nightly romps around the property…returning every morning.  As spring progressed, he eventually disappeared and we saw him only a few times, waddling across the yard.  We hope he was able to find a female and successfully mate with her. When I was around sixteen, I also began attending camps at Busch Gardens in which I got to work with the zookeepers.  Eventually I progressed to working full-time for a week with the Education department two years in a row.  I helped them train animals and I presented talks to park visitors about some of the department’s animals such as Flamingos, African Crown Cranes, Kangaroos, Burmese Pythons, Warthogs, and Macaws.  I also did a lot of the “dirty” work such as cleaning exhibits and preparing food.

Currently, I am not employed as a dog trainer but I still consider myself one.  Actually…I consider myself to be more of an animal trainer as I now work with parrots in addition to dogs.  I started my work as a dog trainer through Petco…where I worked for two years as a Companion Animal Specialist and Canine Education Instructor.  I held several puppy and adult obedience classes a week, in addition to private classes for aggressive dogs and free training seminars for whoever was interested.  I also organized events, such as “Dogs Days of Summer” in which we educated people on how to care for their dogs during the hot summer months and also included supervised dog socialization time.  Even though I am now unemployed and on disability, I would welcome the chance to practice my dog training skills…even if it was just on a volunteer basis.  I truly love helping people better their relationship with their pets, and showing dog owners that there are practical and positive methods to training dogs that are considered problematic or untrainable.  I also really enjoy educating new puppy owners on how to properly raise their dogs so that they are much less likely to experience any of the behavior problems that cause people to relinquish their animals to shelters and rescues.

As an artist and author, my talents vary.  I really enjoy wildlife painting, photography, soap making, and knitting.  If you go to my Shop page you will see some of the items I have for sale.  If you don’t see something you like you can always make a request.  I will gladly complete individual requests for a reasonable price as long as I am comfortable with the subject.  Most of my work is realistic wildlife paintings although I can also do plaster models of animals.  I also do some abstract work so really…toss me some ideas and I am usually open to making a deal.  As for being an author…I have had a few poems published in anthologies and am working on several ideas for novels.  I’ve had short stories published through Conditional Publications and in the book “Two Plus One Equals Four.”  It’s just a bit difficult to find time to write between the stress of school and every day life.

I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in early 2009 after I suffered from a psychotic break.  Over the course of four months, I was hospitalized ten times for suicidal ideations and psychotic behavior.  Currently, I experience more delusions than hallucinations.  I often believe that someone is about to break into the apartment or already in the apartment.  I am convinced that I will eventually be violently killed or raped.  I also sometimes believe that other people can hear my thoughts.  Truly, my symptoms first began in 2005 when I was seventeen.  It started with hearing lots of voices…like a crowd of people were talking in the other room.  It progressed to me having vivid visual hallucinations in which I often saw people attempting to kill me or break into the house.  At the time, I was terrified and humiliated that something was so wrong with me.  I hid my symptoms and did my best to pretend that nothing was wrong with me.  However, at the start of 2009, I realized that I could no longer hide my illness.  I stopped attending classes and became very paranoid and agitated.  I isolated myself at home and often forgot to perform daily hygiene routines.  I felt that I could not control my moods…which I classified into four different types that I called water, cactus, butterfly, and cotton.  Water was when I felt disconnected but not to the degree that I couldn’t function or converse with people.  Cactus was when I was extremely irritable or agitated. Cotton felt like I was wrapped in thick cotton and not able to experience the world.  Cotton was the worst because I could not talk to people and had great difficulty doing basic tasks at work.  I frequently felt lost and disconnected from the world…completely enthralled in my hallucinations and delusions.  Butterfly was when I felt normal and could function almost normally.  I usually only felt this way when I was conducting a dog training session or working with my own animals.  During this time, I focused a great deal on the quote, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, it turned into a butterfly.”  Eventually, I sought the help of a psychiatrist (I had already been seeing a therapist through the college).  Soon after my initial meeting with her, I was committed to the hospital because I became suicidal.  That first time, I spent ten days in the hospital.  For the first seven, I remained mute except when around a select few staff at the hospital.  For a while I felt that I was in a completely different world than everyone else.  It took many more hospitalizations to get my medicine right…they discovered that anti-depressants made me more suicidal.  I was also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, Asperger’s, and agoraphobia.   During these hospitalizations, it was suggested that I look into getting a service dog to help me cope with everyday life.

My service dog, Sheriff, completed his training in August 2009.  He is trained to help me with hallucination discernment, safety in public, and to remove me from any situation that panics me.  When I think that I am seeing or hearing things, I can look to him.  If he is reacting to a sound or visual stimulus, I know that what I am experiencing is real.  If not, I know that I need to ignore it.  In public, Sheriff is trained to “Cover Me.”  Whenever he senses that a person is making me anxious, he moves between me and that person…blocking them from getting close.  He also leads me through crowded places so that I am given room to maneuver through the crowd without feeling claustrophobic or trapped.  He accompanies me nearly everywhere I go, including shopping, classes, and restaurants.  Since 2010, he has become even better at his job.  He has truly given me my freedom back, allowing me to go into public and feel safe.

I consider myself an advocate for people with mental illness and for people with service dogs, specifically psychiatric service dogs.  There is a stigma attached to schizophrenia…those who suffer from it are often characterized as violent, disconnected with reality, dangerous, and constantly psychotic.  In reality, people with schizophrenia often end up as victims to violent crimes such as assault, rape, and murder.  Many schizophrenics that are not on medication or receiving therapy are homeless; therefore, vulnerable to crime and illness.  People with schizophrenia often have difficulty interpreting people’s intentions based upon body language and facial expressions.  Therefore, they are less likely to perceive people as a threat and more vulnerable to mugging, rape, and assault.  Schizophrenics also have a very high suicide rate, resulting in a shorter than average lifespan.  Schizophrenics also have difficulty maintaining relationships with people and therefore need a lot of support from friends and family to remain successful at functioning in society.  It is quite rare for schizophrenics to become violent towards others.

Nearly on a daily basis, I am an advocate for service dogs.  Rarely can I got to restaurants or stores such as the mall or Walmart without an employee stopping me and telling me that dogs are not allowed.  When I inform them that Sheriff is a service dog, they demand to know how I am disabled.  Unlike people who are blind or in wheelchairs, my disability is not readily noticeable.  However, I am not required to reveal my disability and I always inform employees of that fact.  I carry with me cards that provide information on the ADA’s laws regarding service dogs.  I also end up educating the public about psychiatric service dogs.  Too often, children ask their parents why I am allowed to bring my dog into a store.  The parent’s often tell their children that I am blind and Sheriff is my guide dog.  When I get the chance, I educate these parents and children by informing them that there are many types of service dogs in addition to guide dogs.  Also, people often want to interact with Sheriff.  At this point I inform them that it is not polite to pet, talk to, or approach a service dog without the handler’s permission.  Doing so can distract a service dog and take its focus off its handler.  For most service dog teams, this can be quite dangerous or stressful to the handler.  Regardless, I make sure that I am always polite in dealing with employees and the general public.  If everyone that encounters Sheriff and me has a positive experience…they are more likely to respect and act appropriately towards the next service dog team they encounter.  They are also more likely to educate their friends and family about the experience…furthering the education that I have done.