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Introducing Poppy

As the Archive and Records Assistant in RASC at Brunel University, London, I would like to discuss my experience integrating my assistance dog, Poppy within the archive. When my doctor first recommended that I may benefit from an assistance dog I balked. I could not see how I could possibly have a dog in the archives, and maintain my responsibilities to the collections under my care. However, after two distressing incidents my husband and I realised my health and safety should be our first priority and we needed to find a way to make it work. 

The final straw occurred after I had been working in the archive for just over a year following a trip to Whipsnade zoo with my husband. While I was getting coffee, my husband stepped outside to take a phone call. While he was outside the fire alarm went off and I did not hear it. My husband got into a scuffle with a security guard trying to re-enter the building to find me, while I sat in the café blissfully unaware, reading a book. Thankfully it was a false alarm and everything was fine. However, the incident shook us so much that as soon as we got home we filled out an application for a hearing dog.

Poppy with stuffie

Poppy has been a huge help in my day to day life but introducing an assistance dog to the office has not been without its ups and downs. Here are some of the issues I encountered and my solutions;

  1. Poppy in the strong room:

Our biggest concern was having Poppy in the strong room. Clearly I cannot lock her out when I am in the room, as she needs to have access to me at all times. After discussions with Hearing Dogs we established that as long as Poppy was in the same room and had free access to me (i.e. not tied up) she could still do her job. I also had concerns around Poppy getting injured if her toes caught in the tracks from our rolling shelves.

Poppy strong room

Following trial and error, Poppy now settles in her own spot beside the strong room door. 

I was also forced to consider my own habits in the strong room including sitting between the shelves to rummage through boxes. I now use a trolley to put the boxes on, then roll the boxes near to Poppy where I can work instead. We also worked on having Poppy settle in the strong room for longer and longer periods to allow me to do more time consuming tasks such as location listing. 

       2. Free access to water:

This issue was more difficult to overcome as I did not feel comfortable bringing water into the strong room under any circumstances, no liquids being near the collections being a cardinal rule of archiving. My solution in the office was to introduce a “no spill” water bowl (which you can find on Amazon) but this didn’t solve the problem for when Poppy was in the strong room. 

 Poppy bowl

In the end my solution was to go back to my desk at least every 30 minutes in order to allow Poppy to have a drink if she needed to. This also allows me to check my email and have a drink myself. 

      3. Potential “mess”:

Even the best trained dog runs the risk of having an “accident” occasionally. As a result this was one of our concerns when going through the risk assessment. The preventative solution is to take Poppy out frequently and she has learned how to ask to go out. However, in the event that despite these precautions, Poppy were still to have an accident we have acquired several biohazard disposal packs. This is a pack about the size of a novel which includes PPE, powder to absorb any liquids, scoop to clean up mess, disinfectant spray, and disposal bags.

       4. Having Poppy around researchers:

Although I have a legal right to have Poppy with me anywhere the public may go, I am also aware that there are people with allergies and phobias. We inform all researchers that there is a dog on site, and ask if they are comfortable with her being present. No one has replied adversely yet, but if they did we would adjust who sits with the researcher to ensure that Poppy is not in the room. When Poppy is in the reading room, she has learned to settle under the invigilator desk and sleep. For people who come without an appointment and those who use the study areas outside our office we have a sign to inform them a working dog is onsite and politely ask that she is not distracted.


Poppy has made a big difference to my life both personally and professionally. I truly believe that she makes me a better employee because I can focus on my work and not worry about unforeseeable incidents. Also, being the wonderful dog that she is, she helps reduce my anxieties and taking her for a walk during our lunch break has done wonders for my mental health. I appreciate the support of my manager and co-workers in not only going on this journey with me, but also standing up for my rights when challenged. I hope that in sharing my story this will help others in seeking the adjustments they need and support individuals with disabilities entering my profession.