Look but don’t touch

She may be cute and cuddly, but Gary Mitchell’s Tibetan Spaniel is not for public petting.

‘Wednesday’ is a psychiatric service dog trained to assist her handler who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Similar to a guide dog, Wednesday never leaves Mr Mitchell’s side and acts as a soothing influence during panic attacks.

Wednesday’s constant accompaniment of Mr Mitchell has been certified by a psychologist, but her owner says awareness of assistance dogs is lacking in the community.

This was typified by a recent run-in at a cafe  when Mr Mitchell was told he could not have his dog inside, despite having the same rights as a seeing-eye dog.

“I went into a cafe and she had the jacket on and the owner came up and said you can’t have the dog in here, you have to put her in the car,” Mr Mitchell said.

“I said ‘no, you can’t stop me’, and I stood my ground, then a girl (who worked there) said ‘you can’t do that’ (to the owner).

“The caf now has new owners and I’ve made them aware of the story and they’ve said to come in with her and we’ll sort it out.”

Mr Mitchell said most businesses were understanding once he explained his situation, but wanted to make the community aware of the role of assistance dogs.

“She’s not an assistance dog where they’re required to turn on lights… get your keys, I’m able bodied so I don’t need her for that,” he said.

“She’s a psychiatric assistance dog which is different to a normal assistance dog.

“I take her everywhere I go, she’s always with me, so that if I have a panic attack outside she’ll jump up (and calm me down)… she knows when I’m having a downer.”

Wednesday is six years old and was trained as an assistance dog about 12 to 18 months ago. Mr Mitchell said it was important people took note of the fluoro jacket and respected what it meant, irrespective of those puppy dog eyes.

“She’s a working dog, so people are not supposed to touch her, but she’s got that cute factor about her,” Mr Mitchell said.

“You wouldn’t pat a guide dog so they shouldn’t be patting her.

“It’s an awareness thing; people are not used to it so if they see the story, see the dog, they’ll say she’s a working dog and we’ll leave her alone.”

Mr Mitchell’s public service announcement comes on the eve of Mental Health Week, which runs from 9-15 October. World Mental Health Day is Monday, 10 October.

For more information about MHW, visit www.mentalhealthvic.org.au