Service dog’s in Ontario are allowed access to anywhere the handler goes by law, however, there are limits when it comes to behind the counter food service. Service animals are typically not allowed behind counters in places where food is manufactured, processed, or sold. Guide dogs (for the visually impaired) are allowed to have the dog behind the bar but not where food is manufactured. Visually impaired dogs get more rights due to the necessity of the dog’s tasks (guiding the handler). It’s a little unfair that people who have service animals for other disabilities such as mobility, mental health, hearing, and autism don’t have the same rights but it’s something we have to deal with. Many people who have service dogs are unable to work in the food industry such as Tim Hortons, Starbucks, Dairy Queen, McDonald’s, or any restaurant chain, etc. which really limits the handler’s chance to live a regular life. Most of the time we cannot work full-time due to the disability and with our options being limited to what part-time places we can even apply to, it can create issues with money which limits our opportunities as people.
If you already know my history with mental illness you can skip this part of the article or click here to learn more about my story. I suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and spent my adolescence in multiple mental health institutions. I spent ages 13-14 in Ontario Shores, 14-16 in Lakeridge Health, 16-18 in Toronto General Hospital, and 18-19 in Homewood Health Centre. My disability took over my life for a long time, I didn’t grow up in a high school or even at my family home. I grew up in a hospital with doctors and dry mashed potatoes. After recovering from several co-occupant disorders that stemmed from my diagnoses and learning how to cope with my disorder in a healthy way I was discharged from the hospital and sent home. Against all odds, I graduated high school on time with honours and was accepted into university. After a couple years as an outpatient, which I spent perfecting my treatment plan and creating my best possible life, I decided to go back to university and get my degree. One of the major parts of my treatment program was the integration of my service dog, Peach.
I had to quit my job as a dog bather at Petsmart because I was moving to Hamilton for school, of course, school is a lot of money and with real estate being at its peak I needed to get a job, so I applied to Starbucks. I lived right down the street from a store and always loved the inclusive atmosphere. After going through the initial interview process I was hired at the Locke Street location in Hamilton. I started off my time there alone, I needed to raise enough money to put Peach through her training school and certify her as a service dog. After going through the adoption process and raising the necessary training fees, Peach went off to boarding school for a couple months. When she was at (what I liked to call “university”) I worked at Starbucks and requested the accommodation of having my service dog with me at work.
You may be wondering why on earth I would need a service dog with me everywhere I go if it’s simply for mental health, I have my senses and a service dog by the naked eye doesn’t seem to be necessary. BPD is a personality disorder that manifests itself in several parts of the sufferer’s life. Patients go through what is called “switching” which is seeing a coworker or customer as perfect and then terrible. This is based on nothing but is a symptom of the disorder. Due to this symptom people with BPD rarely keep their jobs, switch from place to place, and never really get the greatest references, if allowed a reference at all. Again, this has nothing to do with the patient, it is simply a part of the disorder as coughing is to having a cold. People with BPD suffer from severe impulse control, 10% of people with BPD will commit suicide, and the statistic for death by complications of the disorder is not yet known but estimated to be much higher. Patients are known to bite themselves, starve themselves, tear off their finger and toenails, choke themselves, cut themselves, burn themselves, etc etc. Again, this is a symptom of the disorder but many patients can go weeks, months, years, and even decades with no self-harm at all. People with BPD have highly addictive personalities making them more susceptible to things like eating disorders and addiction. Clearly, a person with BPD can easily be at risk of hurting themselves and due to the nature of the disorder (BPD patients actually have quicker and stronger mood fluctuations than BiPolar disorder), a patient can go from zero to a hundred on the smallest of triggers.
I started to have a bit of trouble at work when switching started to first appear, I ended up having several anxiety attacks and without the openness of my manager, I would have likely quit at the first chance I got. I sat down with my district manager and store manager a few times to go over how they could support me at work with my disability and we created a system that would work best for everyone on the team. Click here to learn how to accommodate a co-worker with BPD. We discovered that having my service dog at work would make my work life incredibly easier and I could be a successful barista with her there. Peach provides deep pressure therapy, emotional support, medication reminders, guidance towards safe spaces, and alerts when I’m in danger. She also provides a barrier. I suffer from crippling anxiety attacks which can leave me laying in the middle of a parking lot, unable to move. Due to past trauma, I don’t like hospitals but obviously, people tend to call 911 if I am down. Not only does Peach guide me to a safe space but she has documentation and warnings to advise the public not to call 911. The only time a citizen should call 911 if I am down is if Peach is alerting (barking) and nudging at people to bring to me. Remember to always follow a service dog if it approaches you, these dogs are trained to get help when the handler is down and in need of immediate assistance, this could include the handler having a seizure, a stroke (etc.), or if the handler is hurt. As you read in the paragraph above this, those are clearly things of necessity in my daily life. If you look in the table below I further outline the tasks and reasons for Peach.
It took a couple months for Starbucks to get all of the legality straightened and for me to submit all of the doctor forms and training school certifications. Our team figured out the best way to support me at work, and I was delighted with the news that Peach is the first mental health service dog to be allowed behind the bar at Starbucks across Canada!
I’ve put together a list of causes and reasons Peach is necessary at my place of work in an easy-to-read format.
- Due to poor impulse control and dissociation, walking in public can be both difficult and dangerous for me. Having Peach as a guide allows me the opportunity to walk safely by guiding me to destinations, away from roads, providing alerts to impulse behaviours, and moving me out of harm’s way.
- Peach performs deep pressure therapy (DPT) as a grounding measure when I hallucinate or have flashbacks which protect me from wandering, and keeps people from calling 911 if I am lying or sitting alone in a dissociative state.
- Peach interrupts any type of compulsive or impulsive behaviour.
- Peach reminds me when to eat, take my meds, do daily hygiene routines, go to sleep, and wake up. This is needed due to the amount of time I spent in the hospital resulting in poor self-management skills in my daily life. For example, all my meals were made for me, I was told when to shower and for how long, my room was cleaned for me on a daily basis by the maintenance team, etc.
- Peach alerts citizens if I am in a life-threatening situation such as acting on impulses or self-harm.
- Peach is an icebreaker to interpersonal relationships along with a comfort during racing thoughts and mood fluctuations. This is essential at work because when I deal with a situation that I am uncomfortable with I can easily go into a state of panic, self-harm, hallucinate, a crying fit, or have to fight off major impulses. A situation that can put me in this state could be as simple as someone not smiling back at me.
- As you can probably guess, Peach also provides comfort and emotional support on a daily basis!