Rachelle Briscoe has had her service dog, Loki, for more than two years — and it’s been life-changing.
“Oh, I don’t know where to start,” Rachelle says. “She’s given me a lot more independence.”
Loki is a medical alert service dog from Leash of Hope Assistance Dogs and has been trained to alert Rachelle when there’s a problem.
“She helps bring my heart rate down if it’s racing too quickly,” Rachelle explains. “She’s able to alert me before I even know.”
The pair have completed all of their training and just need to do the test to get a B.C. service dog certification card.
But Rachelle was shocked to find out that in addition to a $200 assessment fee, she’d also have to pay a $360 travel fee for the only assessor on Vancouver Island to travel from Nanaimo to Victoria.
“It’s pretty ridiculous,” Rachelle says. “That’s about half a month’s rent! The majority of us are either on disability or we’re low income and the cost of the exam is outrageous.”
Danielle Main, who founded Leash of Hope, agrees.
“When dealing with people with disabilities, accessibility should be the priority!” Danielle says. “Not having an assessor here in Victoria or not being able to accommodate that without the expense to the client seems pretty unreasonable.”
The Justice Institute of B.C., which runs the program, declined to comment and directed us to Ministry of Public Safety, “as the owner of the program.”
But in an email to Rachelle, they wrote, “we realize this is a significant extra fee” and said they try to book other assessments on the same day so that the travel fee can be split by up to three people.
But the email went on to say: “Please note this is not guaranteed in any way, therefore, if you are the first team to book for Victoria, you are responsible for the full travel fee.”
“To feel like the actual governance of it isn’t on our side, it almost feels like we’re fighting them against, it’s just very discouraging,” Rachelle says. “I would love to see that changed.”
The assessment fees apply to any dogs trained by their handlers or schools not accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) and have to be redone every two years.