A shopper stricken by severe anxiety attacks was asked to leave a Northland supermarket after entering the store with her specialist disability dog.
Toni Bunyan-Watkins took her medical assistance dog Milan when visiting Tikipunga's Countdown store this week but was told she had to leave.
At the time, Milan was wearing his working vest adorned with patches stating he is a "Working Dog" and a "Medical Assistance Dog".
Countdown has since apologised, saying disability assistance dogs and guide dogs are welcome in its stores.
Bunyan-Watkins said she had entered the supermarket to do some shopping while visiting family in Whangārei.
When in the supermarket, she was approached by a staff member and asked if the poodle was a guide dog.
Bunyan-Watkins said he wasn't, explaining Milan was a disability dog for anxiety. She was then asked to leave.
The incident unfolded on Tuesday just before midday.
Bunyan-Watkins said she asked to speak to the manager. She said the staff member told her he was the manager and reiterated the dog was not allowed inside the supermarket.
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She said she tried to show the manager her official identification card naming her as a certified handler and Milan as a trained and certified assistance dog.
"I could feel my anxiety rising and I had to get away. I went round the corner and lost it ... I could hardly breathe," Bunyan-Watkins said.
Two women shopping at the time came to her aid. One of them was a doctor, who coached her through her breathing.
Bunyan-Watkins managed to collect a few more items before she went through the checkout.
She offered thanks to both women, saying she doubted she would have been able to find her way out of the store without their help.
"I don't like being vulnerable. I just lose control of my emotions and they all pour out at once," she said. "I couldn't drive I was so upset."
She said Milan licked tears from her face as she sat in the car trying to calm herself enough to drive back to her son's house.
Bunyan-Watkins suffers from titubation, a nervous disorder which causes her head to nod and her body shake uncontrollably. In addition, she suffers anxiety attacks.
She has also had two strokes, one which left her in hospital for five weeks. Milan was by her side the whole time.
Bunyan-Watkins said she had been asked at other businesses for official identification before, but this was the first time she had been asked to leave a store.
Bunyan-Watkins called for greater understanding of people with medical assistance dogs.
Milan is trained to alert her when he detects changes in her body, suggesting an attack is coming.
"He pokes me with his nose and I know it's time to sit down and take some time out. I can usually feel something is coming and he lets me know about the same time.
"Out of this whole thing I hope it brings awareness about these working dogs. Assistance dogs aren't all Labradors or golden retrievers and can be a miniature poodle like Milan."
A Countdown spokeswoman said the company was sorry for any distress caused to Bunyan-Watkins.
Disability Assist and Guide Dogs were welcome in Countdown stores, but in this case there had been some confusion over the dog.
"The team approached Toni because her dog was a little smaller than we're used to seeing and the jacket indicating it was a Disability Assist Dog was also smaller," a spokeswoman said.
"She's welcome to bring her dog with her while she is shopping at any of our stores. We are genuinely sorry for any confusion. We're happy to investigate this further with Toni and our team directly as we want to make sure that she is able to shop with us, with her dog."
Belinda Simpson, founder of Perfect Partners Assistance Dogs Trust, said the highly trained canine companions were a life-line for people with serious medical conditions.
"They are not pets with privileges. They have such a bond with the person and they are an integral part of their life."
Simpson said assistance dogs were not always Labradors or golden retrievers and included huntaway crosses, German Shepherds, bulldogs and miniature poodles.
"It's about people having an understanding and an awareness. We don't expect people to know all about these dogs but we expect them to be sensitive and understanding."