A Tauranga care worker wants the role of support dogs recognised after confusion over his dog being allowed at council pools.

Jarrod Tumai cares for a teenager with nonverbal autism and they visit Greerton Aquatic and Leisure Centre or Baywave in Mount Maunganui daily.

Tumai brings his dog Poto along to keep the boy he cares for calm during the car ride because he can “lash out”.

“I took Poto, and they bonded straight away.

“Poto just sits there quietly with him, and he sits quietly with Poto. It’s just beautiful.”

Initially, staff at the Greerton Pool suggested he bring Poto into the pools instead of leaving him in the car, said Tumai.

For close to a year, Poto was allowed inside both facilities, but in December, Tumai was told his dog could no longer enter.

Tumai said this was handled unprofessionally because the teen was already in the pool and was really upset at having to leave so quickly.

“He was banging around, splashing, he was pissed off.

“Water is his happy place. So, it’s part of his routine.”

Tumai said he would have preferred not being allowed to enter when they first arrived.

“It’s like giving a kid candy and then taking it away from them. How can you, after a year, turn around and just say get your dog out now.”

Since then, Poto has been tied to a post and left in the shade of a small garden outside Baywave during their visits.

Tumai wants recognition for support dogs so they’re able to enter more facilities.

He would like to see Tauranga City Council and others change their policies to include support dogs, not just registered service or disability assist dogs.

“A support dog is not recognised.

“Why do we have to suffer? We’ve already got enough on our plate as it is. We don’t need to be attacked by society or the systems in place.”

Tumai said it was suggested Poto be trained and registered with the council, but training costs at least $30,000, which wasn’t affordable.

Bay Venues head of aquatics Matthew Strange said they acknowledge the comfort and support that Poto brings to the customer.

Council-controlled organisation Bay Venues manages the Tauranga City Council pools.

“We also appreciate the many benefits that arise from our customers spending time at our venues and the role our venues play in their daily and weekly routine,” said Strange.

“The customer is well-known and well liked by our team, and we look forward to continuing to have them part of our community of users.

“However, no pets are allowed inside any of Bay Venues’ aquatic facilities.”

Registered disability assist dogs or service dogs are the only animals allowed inside Bay Venues pools.

Strange said the only exception to this policy was registered disability assist dogs or registered service dogs.

“Poto is not a registered disability assist dog or a registered service dog and has not undergone any formal public exposure training or testing, so Poto is not currently allowed inside our aquatic facilities.”

The only dogs allowed inside have to be specially trained for busy and diverse aquatic environments, he said.

“We cannot make exceptions to that policy.”

“As soon as it was confirmed that Poto was not a registered disability assist dog or service dog, we let Jarrod know that he would need to contact Tauranga City Council and go through that process and training before Poto would be allowed in again.

“We organised a meeting with Jarrod, Tauranga City Council, and two representatives from Autism New Zealand at Baywave to talk everything through so that everyone is on the same page about why Poto is not currently allowed inside our aquatic venues, what would need to happen for that to change and to find a positive way forward.

Tumai said he would see if Poto could be left with a family friend near Baywave so he wasn’t left outside.

By Alisha Evans, Local Democracy Reporter

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air