A Great Day Out at the Mall!

I just got back home from a good day out with Cory (my fiancée) and Toki. We decided to go take a walk around the mall and just browse the shops. I had a few interactions with people today that I would like to share, because I want to blog more about our adventures and public encounters.

When we finished shopping at a store we decided to take a seat on the chairs in the mall which were arranged nicely with little tables. I got Toki to lay down in front on my legs and proceeded to have a conversation with Cory. While speaking with him I did notice a few stares but the worst was when I looked over and saw a whole family turn around and them come over and point at me exclaiming, “Oh look it is a Service Dog!” I seriously watched a group of people come over and point at Toki and I like we were a zoo attraction or something. It really upsets me when people don’t stop and think what a person feels like being pointed out in public. I am someone with a disability who needs my dog and when you point and say things it brings a lot of attention to myself that I do not want. I know people want to point Toki out because she is cute and a dog isn’t seen everyday in public places, but they have to remember that there is a handler attached to that dog and they need them for a disability. I see it like pointing out someone who has a wheelchair or a hearing aid. You would never say something because you know it is rude to do so. The same etiquette applies with a Service Dog and handler.

Later on, we decided to take a trip into Chapters to look at some books because I am always looking for something new to read and I collect art books. Toki was very well-behaved and laid down while we were browsing, she even stayed in her spot when I went down the aisle for a book. I was coming around the corner with Toki when I saw a young girl and her father coming towards me and I knew they had followed me from the aisle next to me because I saw them earlier. The father stopped me and asked, “Can we see your dog?” I then explained that she is working and a Service Dog. He then said to his daughter, “See that is why we ask first.” and left with her. I heard him saying as they walked by that I must be training the dog for work. I don’t know why people assume I am training Toki, I have heard it more than once. It really upsets me because I don’t know why people think that way. Maybe because I am young and don’t look disabled but we have to remember that not all illness’ are visible. I need Toki to help me and she is trained for myself. I am not training her for an organization or for the needs of someone else. I kind of wish the father knew more about service dogs so he could explain why Toki is working or why she can not pet her. I always feel bad saying “No” to people who ask so nicely, but Toki has to stay focused on me in public.

After a long time in Chapters we then headed to Starbucks and had frappuccinos on the patio while Toki laid down under my seat. She saw some crumbs from a sandwich sitting next to her and did very well leaving it alone. Although a few people made my day feel uncomfortable, I still had a great day out enjoying myself with Toki and Cory. Toki did very well and is now lounging on her pillow-bed while I make dinner.

I really hope to share some more adventures with you all soon!

All ready for a car ride!
A pooped pup!

Please do not point and bring attention to a Service Dog as it brings unwanted attention to the handler.

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FAQs

What breed is Toki? 

She is a Rat Terrier.

Where did you get Toki?

Toki was adopted from Just N Time Rescue in Barrie,ON and was a rescue from a hoarding situation in Ohio. It is hard to believe how far she has come since then and I thank Just N Time for her everyday.

How old is Toki?

An estimate of her age is between 4-6 years old and an exact age is not known because she was a rescue.

Is Toki a certified Service Dog? 

Toki is not a ‘certified’ Service Dog but that does not mean she is not a Service Dog. She is not from an organization but has been trained by myself with the help of trainers, to my specific needs. Service Dogs do not need to have certification to work in Ontario,Canada but proper paperwork is needed from a treating physician.

What makes Toki a Service Dog and not a pet? 

Toki is trained to help me with any issues related to my medical condition. She is trained on queues and body language to assist me when necessary. She is brought into stores with me because she is needed for me to function daily. Toki is not just a dog out for a walk and fun time, she is a trained working dog.

What Does Toki do for you?

I do not feel comfortable going into specifics but Toki helps me with my daily life. She helps me when I need assistance with my condition. Toki is a PTSD service dog and that is all I really feel comfortable with people knowing. What exactly she does for me is really personal and when I am asked, I find it very rude because it really isn’t anyone’s business but my own.

What does PTSD stand for?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Does Toki know any tricks?

 I have not trained Toki to perform any tricks because I feel it is not relevant to what she is needed for in my life. Don’t get me wrong though, she can make a whole bowl of food disappear!

Does Toki go everywhere with you?

Toki goes everywhere with me including stores and restaurants. The only time Toki does not go with me somewhere is if it is not good for her health/safety. She stays home with my Mom during these times. This would be places like the zoo due to the possibility of her catching something from the animals or the beach because there is a risk she can get heatstroke. I always put her health and safety into account before I take her anywhere with me.

Can I pet Toki?

No, please do not pet or distract my dog as she is working and needs to focus on myself. If Toki is not working, than she can be pet but please always ask first.

Is Toki an Actual Service Dog?

This is a question I get a lot with Toki and usually I reply with “Yes, she is.” It seems the public believes that only dogs coming from organizations are “actual” Service Dogs.  I am here to put that myth to rest and let everyone know that any dog can be a trained Service Dog no matter what the size or breed.

JD Serada Photography

All breeds can be trained to be a Service Dog if the dog fits the right demeanour. Just because a certain breed has a bad reputation does not deem them unfit to work or define their ability to perform in public. Toki looks a lot like a Jack Russell so people automatically assume she is a hyper mess. Well not all Jack Russells are crazy when trained properly and Toki is not even a Jack Russell; she is a Rat Terrier. She is a dream to train as Rattie’s are very trainable and she also has a very docile personality which was perfect for myself as her handler and trainer. She has been trained in obedience and the services she provides me with. Small dogs are usually used for tasks that do not assist with mobility or standing. This is because they are low to the ground and require the handler’s ability to crouch down to them. Toki is not used to assist me with my mobility so being small is not an issue for myself. She can still jump up if she is needed and I can get close to her when I need to.

On numerous occasions I have been asked if Toki is a “real Service Dog” and i have always been so confused as to what a “real Service Dog” was.  Toki is a “Service Dog” so I am unsure what people are defining as “real”. I would never ask anyone with a medical device if it was real and it is actually quite rude to ask.  It does get very annoying to have to explain to people she is a trained Service Dog and that Service Dogs do not have to come from a special organization. Toki is used to assist me and what she does for myself is really no one’s business. She is used to help me with my daily living and that is all you need to assume when you see us.

Please know that any dog big or small and any breed can be used as a Service Dog and what they do for their handler is very personal and not really anyone’s business but their own. As people we should not be asking about medical history or diagnosis’ when we see someone with a medical device; which is what a Service Dog is. Just know that when you see a Service Dog they are helping to make their handler’s daily life a much better experience.

Any dog can be a Service Dog no matter the breed or size. 

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.