Life in Balance

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Inforum: “Rescue dog key to college student’s recovery from eating disorder”

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FARGO – A curly-haired dog with a limp was the key to Angela Flacksbarth’s recovery. The 4-year-old Lhasa apso-poodle mix came into the college student’s life when she most needed him.

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

Liam is a therapy dog for Angela Flacksbarth. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

FARGO – A curly-haired dog with a limp was the key to Angela Flacksbarth’s recovery.

The 4-year-old Lhasa apso-poodle mix came into the college student’s life when she most needed him.

Five months earlier, after undergoing a series of tests, she was diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Mom Lori knew something was “amiss” with her 21-year-old daughter, but she didn’t know what.

Angela’s anxiety, combined with persistent physical symptoms like bloating and stomach pain, led the Fargo family on a search for answers.

Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and food allergies were ruled out.

“It was so frustrating to not know what was going on, and my parents were frustrated, too,” she says.

Doctors did find that Angela’s thyroid functioning was abnormal and that she had a low heart rate and low blood pressure. But it wasn’t until an endocrinologist brought it up that anyone considered the possibility of an eating disorder.

“I don’t think he was expecting anything either, but he wanted to rule it out,” Lori says.

Then a sophomore at the University of North Dakota, Angela tried to keep up with her studies but still was struggling with her symptoms.

Together, she and her parents decided she should drop out of school for the remainder of the year to focus on her health.

“We just said, ‘We’re going to get to the bottom of this,’ ” Lori says.


Once home, Angela’s parents were able to observe her behaviors.

Lori noticed three things: Angela didn’t want to eat with them, she didn’t want to eat out, and she no longer wanted to eat certain foods she used to enjoy.

“We went out to eat, and I’ll never forget this: She ordered a bowl of soup and just sat there spooning through it,” Lori says.

After scoring high on a questionnaire at the Sanford Eating Disorders & Weight Management Center, Angela began counseling. She hopes to finish this summer.

Because she doesn’t meet the current criteria for anorexia or bulimia nervosa, Angela was diagnosed with eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS).

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 52 percent of eating disorder sufferers fall into the EDNOS category.

But “it doesn’t mean that their anguish is any less,” Lori says.

Although she knew she had some “weird” eating habits, Angela had a hard time grasping the fact that she had an eating disorder.

“Once I found out what it was, I shut down for a while. I didn’t want to see my friends, I didn’t want to see my family, I didn’t want to spend time with anybody,” she says.

Lori’s proud of how far her daughter has come since she started treatment, and says her dog Liam’s been an integral part of her progress.

“I think even she was surprised at how much he has helped her,” she says.

The dog has a calming, stress-relieving effect on Angela. He’s even helped bring her out of isolation by giving her a reason to get out and about.

“Without him, I probably wouldn’t have made it. I’d be in a hospital right now,” she says.


Angela had never had a dog but always wanted one.

Because dad Rick is allergic, she started looking for hypoallergenic breeds at local shelters.

In July, Lori accompanied her on a visit to the Fargo-Moorhead Humane Society to see Liam. He crawled right into Angela’s lap and stayed there.

“I turned to my mom and said, ‘He’s the one,’ ” she says.

During the adoption process, the Flacksbarths were told that Liam had chronic dry eye and would need to be on medication for the rest of his life.

“I wouldn’t want someone to not give me a chance because I have health issues. So Liam became part of our family, and we quickly became attached,” Angela says.

The day they brought him home, it hit her: “I’m just learning how to take care of myself. How can I take good care of a dog?” But Liam proved to be a positive distraction in her life.

“If I’m having a hard day and I don’t want to eat, I have to think that I need energy so I can take care of him and give him the best life possible. So he pushes me to take better care of myself,” she says.

During winter break, Liam developed a more serious health issue: deviated disks in his back. First noticeable as a “swagger” in his walk, soon the problem made it difficult for him to get around.

“We weren’t sure if he was going to make it or if we would be able to pay for his medical bills,” Angela says.

After undergoing acupuncture and chiropractic treatments, Liam’s made tremendous progress.

“They say he’s made one of the fastest recoveries they’ve seen of any dog at Casselton (Veterinary Service),” she says.

Twice a day, Angela helps him strengthen his legs with physical therapy.

His reward? Cheese and hot dogs.

Girl and dog continue to work on their struggles together.

“Recovery does come, but if you can’t get it on your own, then maybe someone – or something – else can help you get there,” she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590


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