Skip to main content

Quebec woman pushing for mental health support dogs to be certified as service animals


Karina Pommainville-Odell says her best friend, Mia, is her psychiatric service dog. They've been inseparable for four years.

"It was a really dark period for me, and I had just come out of the hospital a few days earlier, and there she was like my miracle," Pommainville-Odell said in an interview.

She said Mia can read her like no one else, and "knows when I'm about to have a bad anxiety attack and she will cue me in with her own signals."

Mia is certified through the organization "Chien A.S.E." and underwent a year of training.

"You get into greater detail about what your dog needs to do for your very individual needs, depending on the illness or disability," Pommainville-Odell explained.

But she said she continues to face pushback when Mia accompanies her because some restaurants and stores refuse to let them in.

"They don't understand that if it's a legitimate service dog, they can get a fine for not letting us in because it's discrimination," she said.

Mia. (Submitted photo)

John Agionicolaitis, director of ASISTA, the Quebec service dog foundation, says size doesn't determine whether the animal is a service dog.

"It's kind of like mental health. You don't see the help these dogs bring; small dogs as much as big dogs can help," he said.

Groups that work with people with disabilities say courts have recognized the legitimacy of service dogs and add that it is prohibited to discriminate against those who use them.

Despite that, Pommainville-Odell says it happens all the time, so she started a petition calling on Ottawa to bring in explicit rules for service animals, which she says goes far beyond seeing eye dogs.

The petition aims to change the signage at the entrance of federally regulated services and businesses by replacing the phrase "No dogs allowed" with "Assistance dogs welcome, but no pets allowed." It also calls for brochures to be distributed to educate the public about the role service dogs play for people whose disabilities aren't always visible. 

"The types of service dogs that exist that can look like a Yorkie or a poodle and anything in between and do not just wait for someone to come in with a wheelchair or a cane for it to be deemed acceptable," she said.

Agionicolaitis added: "They kind of find themselves in this grey zone, what do I do when I get refused? And our system is so archaic, we're not equipped for that, and for politicians, there's not enough political gain, right?"

So far, the petition has the support of her MP, the NDP's Alexandre Boulerice, and she's ready for a dog fight, adding, "If there are miracles, this is one with four paws."

She says with the help of Mia's four paws, they believe they'll be able to change laws. Top Stories

Stay Connected