Pets of Harvard: Tiki

SO. CUTE.
SO. CUTE. By Courtesy of Nikki Daurio

Kirkland House is famous for its furry residents, and Tiki, the absurdly cute, eight-month-old service dog of Nikki Daurio ’20, is no exception. After seriously contemplating suicide last year, Daurio took a year off from Harvard, and this year she says she can “see how much healthier I am.” Daurio credits herself for getting healthy through her treatment, but says that Tiki has been invaluable to her. Daurio says of Tiki, “Harvard is a completely different place with her. I don’t understand how I went through three years at Harvard without her.”

Daurio got Tiki from a goldendoodle service dog breeder, Cali Pals Service Dogs. For the first two months of her life, Tiki was exposed to all sorts of environments, including a construction site at seven weeks old. She then completed a month of non-service dog obedience training before Daurio got her in May. The pair continued working on obedience training until Tiki was four months old, after which they underwent service dog training at Orange County Service Dogs three times a week.

Daurio and Tiki trained for around six hours a day all summer using a variety of methods. Daurio says that it’s hard because “you’re treating this dog as medical equipment” and yet “they’re also a puppy.” She says that service dogs “still have off days. We continue our training every day.”

Tiki was almost named Waves, as Daurio feels a deep connection to the ocean. By the time Daurio got her, Tiki had already been trained to respond to her given name, Kiki. Daurio decided to keep the same sound, and named her Tiki for its association with the tiki torch in “Survivor” and its relation to the beach.

Daurio is impressed by the dual roles of service dogs, noting “On and off-vest, it’s like two different dogs. When she has her vest on, she knows she’s working.” However, when the vest come off, “she likes to remind me that she’s a puppy.” Even with all of her skill and training, Tiki hasn’t mastered drinking water without submerging her entire face. “That’s why she has a permanent mustache,” laughs Daurio.

Tiki and Nikki!
Tiki and Nikki! By Courtesy of Nikki Daurio

So what’s the difference between service dogs and emotional support animals? Daurio explains that essentially, “there are three main categories: a therapy dog, emotional support animal, and service dog.” While service dogs have specific tasks they are trained to perform to help one individual with a disability, neither emotional support or therapy dogs are task trained. “Therapy dogs are meant for many people,” Daurio says. Like service dogs, “emotional support animals are meant for one person, however, they are not task-trained.” Only service dogs have public-access rights, but emotional support animals can fly and live in no-pets buildings.

Tiki has three tasks: deep pressure therapy, interrupting signs of self-harming behavior, and providing a brace to help Daurio if she needs help getting up or feels like she’s going to pass out. To ensure that she is fully capable of doing her job while she is working, Tiki needs clear boundaries on what behavior is and is not acceptable. For example, she is only allowed to play with dogs in a designated space at designated times. Tiki won’t be considered fully trained until two years old, and even then the training will continue.

{image id=1341518 size=medium align=right caption=false" byline=true}When asked about what it’s like living with a service dog, especially as a student, Daurio admits, “It’s not a privilege to have a service dog. It’s really annoying.” She says “if I didn’t need a service dog, I would love to not have a dog with me everywhere I go.” But Daurio can’t speak highly enough of Tiki. “She works so hard. That’s another thing that’s hard about having a dog at school: They work so hard that it’s hard to correct bad behavior when they’re off-duty.”

As for how people should treat service dogs in public, Daurio says, “don’t stare at them. If they’re putting effort and energy into not paying attention to you, that takes away from them doing their job.” While dogs are cute and it’s easy to get excited every time you see one, Daurio says, “I hope that people reading this article, when they see a service dog in public, they just ignore it.”

Tiki and Nikki with Captain America!
Tiki and Nikki with Captain America! By Courtesy of Nikki Daurio

There are two moments that Daurio points to that stick out of her memories with Tiki. The first is when, at five months old, Tiki was “incredible” at Disneyland. “It showed me that I can live a life with a service dog, and she’s amazing. I love her so much.” The second is “the first time she tasked without me training it, I was crying, and she jumped up and interrupted. And in that moment I was like, this is my dog. This is my service dog, and we’re gonna be together forever.”

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