The Littlest Partner: How a Barista & His Corgi Became a Canadian First

“Everywhere we go, people know that we’re a team.”

He’s a writer and student leader who channels his experiences into fearless mental health advocacy. She’s a highly trained specialist who recognizes distress, performs deep pressure therapy, helps maintain medication schedules, and weighs in at about 25 pounds. Together they’re a pair of Starbucks partners unlike any other in Canada.

These days as Zee Malvern serves customers at his Hamilton store, Peach the Service Corgi is never far away. Sometimes she’s waiting patiently in her crate, sometimes she’s following dutifully on his heels as he heads out on his break. Wherever their day takes them, Peach is ready to swing into action to support her friend.

Zee was diagnosed with a mental illness at a young age, which has manifested through struggles with anxiety, depression, impulse control and eating disorders. While his teenage years were spent in treatment programs, now Zee attends McMaster University, where he helps lead campus mental health initiatives. He discovered that while the road to recovery is always difficult, the right partner can help you get there.

In the hospital, Starbucks became a place for Zee to take a much-needed break and, as he puts it, “learn how to enjoy food again.” That connection helped inspire him to apply for a job in 2017. But when Zee first joined the team, Peach was still in training.

Soon Zee began to experience anxiety, sharing that “without the openness of my manager, I would have likely quit at the first chance I got. I sat down with [them] a few times to go over how they could support me at work with my disability and we created a system that would work best for everyone on the team.”

Part of that system included Peach, now a proud graduate of service school. Her skills are impressive: she’s able to assess Zee’s mood, provide comfort at times of high stress and alert others to emergencies. But Canada restricts the type of animals that can work behind the counter: guide dogs for the visually impaired are allowed, while psychiatric service animals usually aren’t. Until now.

Zee announced the news on his blog: “It took a couple months for me to submit all of the doctor forms and training school certifications. Our team figured out the best way to support me at work, and I was delighted with the news that Peach is the first mental health service dog to be allowed behind the bar at Starbucks in Canada!”

His co-workers and customers are just as delighted by Peach. Her colleagues have even given Peach her own place on the recommendation board. But they also understand that she’s not there for belly rubs. She’s a pro. While she’s on duty, Peach is treated with respect by everyone in the store. Of course, hard work deserves a reward.

So at the end of every shift, she gets to enjoy her very own Peach-sized cup of whipped cream: a puppuchino.

Follow Zee and Peach’s journey together in Zee’s blog, MyZeeMalvern, to learn more about service animals, mental health, and ways to support your colleagues and friends.

thumbnail for Siren Craft System – elevating the Starbucks experience for our partners and customers

Siren Craft System – elevating the Starbucks experience for our partners and customers