Toki’s Service Vest

A Service Vest is crucial to any Service Dog as it allows the public to understand that the dog is on duty and working. For Toki, her vest also indicates work-time much like a uniform to us. She knows when her vest is on that it is time to go out and assist me with my day.

Service vests come in many styles, colours and fabrics and it really is up to the handler to find one that is most suited for their service dog. I have noticed that a better quality vest is not questioned as much when in public as people seem to see them as “authentic”, which really there are no official vests for all service dogs.  Heavy duty and good quality vests seem to be the best option for many.  Better quality vests can be quite pricey and this is why I initially  had a blue hand-sewn vest for Toki. It was sewn by a friend and wasn’t the best quality and I was stopped a lot with Toki because her vest didn’t look “authentic“.  This is why I mention the service vest in this post, because society doesn’t seem to know that any vest will do. They do not come from a company or organization specific to my dog and training (although vests for some Service Dogs can come from organizations, they do not HAVE to). I have since updated Toki’s vest and have had very little questions about her vest now.

Toki’s current vest (pictured above) was made by The Raspberry Field and the quality is amazing. I chose the colour purple for her vest as it is the colour that represents my condition and it is one on my favourite colours too. Some people choose colours based on medical conditions and awareness but really it does not matter and does not necessarily define what the dog is used for. Really, the colour is up to the handler and what they prefer.

Patches are used to identify what the dog is used for and usually “Service Dog” or “Guide Dog” will do but I chose to be more specific as I get tired of explaining what “type” of Service Dog Toki is.  I think when people see PTSD, they don’t really want to ask further questions and I am comfortable with people knowing.

A common patch to see is the “DO NOT PET”, which is usually in the shape of a stop sign. The patch may also indicate not to staretalk to or distract the dog as they are working. Toki is not easily distracted so the no petting patch was good enough for us. I notice that even though this patch is large and red; some people do not see or completely ignore it. I have heard parents teach their kids about the stop sign patch and how it means to not pet my dog because it is working. I wish all people were educated on this and paid more attention to the vest than my cute dog. The stop sign does work in most cases and it does help identify that Toki is a working dog.

There are many options for service vests and what the handler decides to put on it is really up to them. Toki has her name embroidered on hers, a pin and some charms. Reflective tape helps in dark lighting for visibility. There are also two pockets sewn into her vest to carry her paperwork and other important things. Buckles hold up a lot better than Velcro and I know this from experience with Toki’s last vest. Heavy water resistant fabrics are better than light weight fabrics like cotton which absorb sweat, get smelly and dirty easily.

A service vest helps a dog doing a job and their handler too. It provides identification and allows the public to know the dog is working. As a handler you can chose any vest you wish and the options are really up to you. However, a vest does not mean a dog is a qualified Service Dog and paperwork from the handlers treating physician or forms from an accredited organization are needed*. Buying and putting a service vest on any dog is a crime and it also makes people with trained Service Dogs have a harder time in public. Remember a service vest is only for a working dog and not to let your non-working dog in a store with you. Service Dogs have years of training and are medical devices for their handler. Travelling in a wheelchair when you do not need one is the same as posing a non-Service Dog in a working vest.

*Check your local laws for what is needed for accessibility.

I would love to see more examples of other vests used by Service Dogs because there are so many options!

Toki’s old vest
Toki in her new vest

A Service Vest Helps Identify a Working Dog.

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Toki @ Anime North 2015

Last weekend was our first large convention together and we had a great time. Toki and I have been to smaller conventions but Anime North is a much larger convention. Anime North is an anime convention held in Toronto,Ontario (Canada) and is held once every year in May. The demographic is a younger audience and is always a fun event filled with lots to do and see. I decided that this convention Toki would be on ‘semi-duty’; meaning I allow people to pet her and she would only have her vest on when inside the convention center. The majority of the convention is outside and everyone hangs out together so I thought it would be good exposure for myself and for her too. I even managed to make her a few costumes for the event so we could both enjoy the fun together as I cosplay at many conventions. I have broken up our adventure into sections just because so much happened that weekend and I want to share it all!

Hotel

This convention also meant staying in a hotel for a weekend. The hotel we stayed at was very accommodating and even allowed Toki to be without her vest when we walked her for bathroom breaks. I had to fill out some paper work and have them photo copy my notes so they knew she was a Service Dog and could be allowed access to the hotel. They even explained she could come to the pool area when I asked about it. I was so nervous I would have to explain myself to them and make a scene in front of people. It was nice to not have to feel anxious and stressed out about the experience. Toki loved the hotel room too and we had a great time with friends staying in the hotel room with us. It was a nice experience and Toki was very well behaved by the pool while friends and I swam and had a great time.

Convention Time! 

Toki had a great time and even had her photo taken numerous times at the convention. People seemed to really enjoy seeing a dog in cosplay at the convention. I took the opportunity to explain that Toki is my Service Dog and what she does for me. It was nice having people truly interested in her work and not judgmental at all. I even managed to help some people who were interested in Service Dogs for their own mental health as Toki is a PTSD Service Dog. It felt really great knowing I was respected and so was Toki. I only had a few incidences where people pet Toki without permission and she had her vest on but I was very calm and explained that they needed to ask as she is a working dog. It was an amazing experience and I am happy I took the time to educate people on Service Dogs. Next year I am hoping to have business cards made for my blog because I had so many people interested!

Dealer’s Room

It was very hard to maneuver the Dealer’s Room as it was very busy and crowded. The main issue was that Toki is a small dog and no one bothers to really look at the floor when they are walking and shopping. It got so bad with people kicking or stepping on her that I had to have my fiance pick her up. I found it very hard to stay in there very long as my anxiety was very bad because of the situation. I could only imagine how hard it was for people in wheelchairs or with other mobility devices. I think that is one thing that conventions seem to not be very fun for and I wish they could make accessibility easier for  for people who need the assistance. I was thankful to have my fiance carry Toki but I felt bad for people who did not have a choice. I think people just need to be more aware of their surroundings. I did manage to find a few things to buy; including some new Toki Doki charms for Toki’s vest and a Toki Doki button as well. So the stress and anxiety was worth it in the end I suppose.

Outside & Sun!

The weather this year turned out to be sweltering on the Saturday and Sunday and this meant lots of breaks for water and shade. Toki was in her sunglasses and doggy sunscreen and we made sure to hydrate her as much as possible. This is one thing I can not stress enough to people with dogs. Dogs can get heat stroke and become dehydrated just like humans can. They are also able to get sunburns too and they need to be protected. Look into doggy sunscreens and also purchase a pair of Doggles for your puppy. The Doggles are not only functional and great for protecting your dogs eyes but they are also a fashion statement too. Toki had so many people in love with her sunglasses and I made sure to explain that they are needed, especially because she does not have eyelashes or fur around her eyes due to a skin infection when she was young. So remember to keep your dog whether a Service Dog or not, out of the sun or provide them with the protection they need. I  always am sure to keep a bottle of water for my dog with me and it really helped Toki at Anime North with the heat wave that we all experienced.

Toki’s Costumes

Here are some photos of Toki’s costumes which I made myself and went along with the costumes I was wearing for the day. The crowds of people seemed to adore the costumes on her and she seemed to like the attention and wearing them. It also gave allowed me to talk to people about her and her job. I love educating people on my Service Dog!

Lumpy Space Dog
Lumpy Space Puppy

I cosplayed Fionna from Adventure Time so Toki was LSP!

Boop!
Boop!

I went as Nora from RWBY so I made Toki a shirt that said “Boop” from the show.

More Photos

Photo by Terri Boake
Photo by Terri Boake
Photo by Phil Gotfried
Photo by Phil Gotfried  
Photographer unknown
Photographer unknown

We both had a great convention and we can not wait until next year to do Anime North again. The next convention we will be attending is this weekend at Niagara Falls Comic Con!

Service Dogs are not always at work and can enjoy some play time too! 

Children & Service Dogs

I decided to write this post because of an incident I had recently while out at a fast-food restaurant. Let me begin by telling you my experience.

It was dinner time about a week ago when my fiance and I decided to go for a bite to eat at a local fast-food restaurant. Toki was put in her vest and we proceeded inside where I found a seat that was out-of-the-way and in the corner where I was most comfortable. Staff members acknowledged Toki as I sat down and got her into a comfortable position under the table. As my fiance left me to order our food I noticed a young woman standing in front of the washroom, waiting for someone. She looked at me and said, “I am surprised they let your dog in here.” which I then explained that Toki is my service dog. After I explained myself to the woman, she than started calling out loudly to her son to come see my “puppy”.  She then started talking to my dog as if I was not even there. Thankfully, as her son came over; so did my fiance with my food.  It stopped the woman from distracting my dog and calling out to her son.  She then left towards the table she was dining at.  I was left in shock and having to explain to my fiance what the woman did. He was quite upset about it too and we both wished children were taught more about Service Dogs and that they are working.

So here I am now writing the post I wanted to write to let parents know that teaching their kids proper etiquette is the best thing they can do. I always feel bad having to tell another person’s child that my dog is working and they can not pet her. It makes me feel better when I hear parents explain to their kids that my dog is working and to leave her alone. It really doesn’t bother me if a child sees my dog and acknowledges it. What bothers me is when a parent lets their child come up and just pet or distract my dog. It also makes me feel terrible when parents get upset when I say “no” to their kids with my dog.

Please parents teach your children and friends that Service Dogs are meant to work and perform a duty for their handler. Know that not all dogs are for kids to pet and play with. Just kindly let them know that the dog is working and to not distract them. I have even seen parents make a game of being quiet around my dog; which I really appreciate. Please make it fun and a learning experience for your children.

Illustration by Samantha-Jeanne
Illustration by Samantha-Jeanne

 Teaching the younger generation about Service Dogs, makes a brighter future for the handlers who use Service Dogs. 

Updates Coming Soon!

1166Updates coming soon…. Just catching up on some sleep after a long weekend!

My first convention with Toki

Attending local conventions is something I have always enjoyed. Each year I attend comic and sports conventions when I can. The first convention with Toki this year was a Sports Card Expo and I was a little hesitant because I knew kids would be there and crowds too. I did have a few encounters that I found quite memorable while out at the Sports Expo with friends and my Fiance. Let me share my story with you:


It was the first weekend in May and my fiance and I lined up to attend the Expo with Toki dressed in her vest, ready to work. I was in front of a nice man in line who seemed to enjoy seeing Toki- I could hear him saying “Awww” so I knew her cute face was acknowledged. When we got close to the door the man held the door for me and said that he knew Toki was working and that he knew he could not pet her but she was a sweet little dog. It actually was a good interaction and I was happy to hear someone understand she was working. Many parent’s told their kids “No,no Hunny that puppy is working; we don’t pet them.” which was nice to hear as well. It made me comfortable knowing kids were learning good lessons and manners. Even the handsome police officer at the front entrance smiled and let me through the side door when leaving with Toki- always a bonus!

But, with the positive encounters came the not so nice ones or the ones that made me uncomfortable. I had an issue when entering with Toki because of the turnstiles they were using for participants entering. I knew the fit would be tight and awkward for me, so I asked the woman manning the entrance to please let me through the middle where chairs were placed to keep people from entering the large opening. She stopped her conversation with another volunteer and acknowledged me and then carelessly moved the chairs and proceeded to look at my Service Dog and exclaim, “What’s wrong, poor puppy can’t go through a turnstile?” The tone she used came off as very rude and condescending but I just ignored her and went about my day. Although, I really could not believe how she reacted when I politely asked her to please let me in the other way.

Then there was the man who approached me at a busy vendor table and asked if I had watched a documentary about fake service dogs. My face turned to a pale white and I stood with my mouth wide open in disbelief. I really could not understand why this would be something to approach me about. He did not even introduce himself or start conversation with me but the first thing he thought to say was to ask myself about fake Service Dogs. It kind of made me wonder why he would ask me and why in a public place among a crowd of people. He then continued telling me about the documentary which I really had no interest in and then loudly said, “Not that I am accusing you!” and then walked away. I stood dumbfounded and did not even know how to comprehend the meeting. My fiance was next to me and turned and asked if I was okay and why the man felt he needed to tell me that. I can not speak for what the man was thinking but my thoughts were racing and all I could think was, ” I hope no one thinks I’m a fraud.” and it was kind of an awful feeling. One thing I notice is that I dislike being confronted or approached in public places and asked questions about my dog. I really feel it is not anyone’s business but my own as to what Toki does for me.

The last thing was something I had happen for the first time and did not know how to react. A man at his vendor table was whistling at Toki and calling out to her loudly from across the aisle. I seriously wanted to walk over and say something but I am far too shy and just kept walking trying to keep Toki focused. I have only had my Service Dog for 2 months so I am sure there will be more of this happening. It’s really irritating that people do not know that Service Dogs are not just cuddly pets but that they are doing a job for their handler. When distracting my dog it not only distracts her but also sets my focus completely off  and actually causes me to panic. I am lucky I had my fiance there with me to help as well when I was flustered with the boisterous man.

I know that a convention is a big step for Toki and I am very happy I was brave enough to go to the Sports Expo with her. It was really nice being able to enjoy myself and not worry about getting lost from my friends in the crowd. It was also nice knowing I had Toki there to keep me focused the whole time from bumping into things or people. It was quite the adventure and I am looking forward to more conventions with her this year!

Featured image

Never distract a Service Dog as they are working and need to focus.

Laws + Accessibility

I know that people are not accustomed to seeing a cute dog on a leash at a shop,restaurant or any kind of social gathering. People seem to think that only people with seeing,hearing or mobility issues can use Service Dogs or Guide Dogs. This is not the case at all and nor is it true!

Legally anyone with a disability (physical or mental) can use a Service Dog with permission from their doctor with a letter or form. The “Doctor” being your own doctor and not a Veterinarian for your dog. Yes, I have had people ask if their Vet can “okay” a Service Dog and the answer is, No. It must be your personal treating physician who will work with you and your needs.

I have had many issues with accessibility because people are not educated on the rights of those with disabilities. Also, I can not make it clear enough that NOT ALL DISABILITIES ARE VISIBLE.  The note provided from a doctor will help with gaining access as it serves as proof that the dog is needed for your personal disability. I have included the AODA (where I am located) but the laws may be different where you live and I suggest reading into them to know your legal rights.


 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

 4.  (1)  This section applies if goods or services are provided to members of the public or other third parties at premises owned or operated by the provider of the goods or services and if the public or third parties have access to the premises.

(2)  If a person with a disability is accompanied by a guide dog or other service animal, the provider of goods or services shall ensure that the person is permitted to enter the premises with the animal and to keep the animal with him or her unless the animal is otherwise excluded by law from the premises.

(3)  If a service animal is excluded by law from the premises, the provider of goods or services shall ensure that other measures are available to enable the person with a disability to obtain, use or benefit from the provider’s goods or services.

(8)  In this section,

“guide dog” means a guide dog as defined in section 1 of the Blind Persons Rights’ Act; (“chien-guide”)

“service animal” means an animal described in subsection (9); (“animal d’assistance”)

“support person” means, in relation to a person with a disability, another person who accompanies him or her in order to help with communication, mobility, personal care or medical needs or with access to goods or services. (“personne de soutien”)

(9)  For the purposes of this section, an animal is a service animal for a person with a disability,

(a) if it is readily apparent that the animal is used by the person for reasons relating to his or her disability; or

(b) if the person provides a letter from a physician or nurse confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to the disability.


 Remember you have the right to be a part of society just as anyone without a disability does. Stand up for yourself and know your human rights!