Visiting Universal Studios in Orlando with a Service Dog

January 24, 2011 · Posted in Public Interaction, Service Dogs Travel · 6 Comments 
Whistle at Universal Studios

My husband, Franz, service dog, Whistle and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Orlando, Florida for work. While we were there we took some time to visit Universal Studios. We are big Harry Potter fans and we were interested in visiting the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios in Orlando.

As a wheelchair user with a service dog, I was a little nervous about accessibility. Boy, were my concerns quickly put to rest. Prior to our trip, I read a helpful article written by Kleo King, the senior vice-president of ABLE to Travel and Accessibility Services that was published in the November/December 2010 issue of Action the magazine of the United Spinal Association entitled “Accessible Wizardry in Orlando”.

The article discussed accessibility for the various rides as well as the streets and shops in Hogsmead. However, it did not mention accessibility regarding service animals.

As we entered the Universal grounds, we made a bee line to the back of the park to the Harry Potter attraction. Like two anxious children, Franz and I entered the gates of Harry’s wizarding world with awe and excitement. We followed the smooth cobblestones toward the Hogwarts castle.

To our amazement, we entered the castle and were quickly greeted by a young man dressed as a Hogwarts student. He led us through the winding corridors toward the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. This is the crown jewel of the Harry Potter attraction. As we wound our way through the castle, he highlighted some of the main attractions which included Dumbledore’s office, the infamous Sorting Hat, and a brief encounter with Harry, Hermione, and Ron.

It was truly magical. Our guide took us to a separate area where I could board the Forbidden Journey ride. It was a private area where an attendant, also dressed as a Hogwarts student, summoned a car that would whisk us away into Harry’s world where we would come face to face with a dragon!

As the car was summoned, another friendly Hogwarts student greeted me with two options. Would I like to place Whistle in a crate/kennel while Franz and I rode the Forbidden Journey? Or, if I did not want to place him in a crate, would I prefer for him to hold Whistle’s leash?

I chose the crate. He opened a door and in a small room there was a large, wire crate. Whistle looked practically giddy when he caught a peek of the crate. Before I knew it, Whistle was laid out for a much deserved nap and Franz and I were off on a new adventure.

Although it always makes me a little nervous to be separated from Whistle, I gave a sigh of relief knowing that he would have a few minutes of peace and quiet while Franz and I went to rescue Harry, Hermione and Ron from the dragon.

My next delight came when it was time to actually board the ride. To my joyous surprise, I had complete privacy while I investigated the car and explored how I would safely transfer from my wheelchair into the ride. With the privacy we were provided, I was easily able to transfer into the ride and Franz was able to safely park my wheelchair in an area close to Whistle’s crate.

As we were safely secured into the ride, the music started, the wind began to blow and we were whisked away into the world of Harry Potter. It was pure enchantment. For five brief minutes, I felt like I was riding a broomstick on the Hogwarts grounds. As a wheelchair user for almost 40 years, I love any opportunity that gets me out of my wheelchair and flying through the air at fast speeds. It was utter bliss.

And, the icing on the cake was that Whistle was content being snugly secured in his crate under the watchful eye of the Universal attendant. Throughout the day, we visited and revisited Hogwarts along with other attractions. Franz and I rode the Forbidden Journey three more times that day and we even rode the Dragon Challenge roller coaster. Whistle used each opportunity to get a few minutes of sleep before he went on to his next adventure.

I was so impressed that the Universal staff had given so much thought to their guests’ individual needs. They graciously welcomed us at each ride and offered Whistle the opportunity to stay with an attendant or be placed in a crate. Now I know that not every service dog and their handler will want to utilize a crate, but for me and Whistle, it was a wonderfully safe and secure option.

And knowing that Whistle was safe and happy, made our experience at Universal Studios that much more enjoyable. We are looking forward to more magical visits to Universal Studios and Harry Potter’s Wizarding World.

Finding the Right Dogsitter is Critical for Retired Service Dog

January 18, 2011 · Posted in Aging Dogs, Doggie Healthcare · Comment 

One of the beauties of having a service dog is that your dog gets to go everywhere with you. That all changed when my service dog, Morgan, had to be retired. All of a sudden, I had to travel for work with my new service dog, Whistle, and Morgan was stuck at home with the cats.

Morgan has several health issues and he needs someone who is available to let him out regularly for toileting. He also has medical issues crop up unexpectedly, so he needs someone to keep an eye on him and to monitor his wellness.

As a result, I knew I had to find the right dogsitter to stay with him whenever we are traveling. As you probably know, this is no easy task. For years, we have had the same dogsitter, someone who is practically a member of our family. However, this year her other job caring for a woman who is elderly has become more intensive and she is no longer able to provide the level of dogsitting services that Morgan requires due to her commitment to this woman and her family.

So, I embarked on a quest to find another dog and housesitter that could provide Morgan with the care and companionship that he needed and deserved. I began by talking with friends who used dogsitters to seek referrals. I also checked the bulletin board at my vet’s office for business cards and people looking for dogsitting gigs.

I received several names and began contacting these individuals. First, I interviewed them on the telephone and discussed their experience and credentials. Next, I conducted a second interview with the top three candidates. I invited them into our home for a personal interview and to meet Morgan.

Each time we go on a trip, I leave explicit written instructions regarding Morgan’s daily routine, feeding, and medications. I reviewed this list with each candidate and discussed Morgan’s particular needs.

I also asked a variety of questions including:

  • Do they have a reliable vehicle that they could use to take Morgan to the vet if necessary?
  • Would they be spending each night in our home to care for Morgan?
  • Would they be able to take him for a short walk each day?
  • Could they understand his feeding and medication instructions? And, were they able to prepare his meals and maintain his daily routine?
  • How had they handled emergency situations in the past? What types of situations had they responded to with other clients?
  • Were they aware of our local Emergency Vet?
  • Would they be dogsitting for any other clients while we were away?
  • Did they have any animals of their own? And, if so, who was caring for them while they were dogsitting for Morgan?

These were just some of the questions that I discussed with each candidate.

The candidate that I eventually selected was very engaged. She actually had me complete an application and she interviewed me as intensely as I was interviewing her. I really appreciated her organization and seriousness regarding her dogsitting duties. Based on her questions, it was clear that she was experienced and passionate about the animals that were left in her care. She came to the interview on time and she was dressed professionally. She also questioned me about my vet, about taking Morgan out of our home for walks and emergency vet appointments, her expectations for payment, etc.

I was pleasantly surprised by her level of competence. When it came time for us to leave Morgan, I felt confident that she was up to the task and that he would be in good hands while we were away. I am happy to report that we are having a wonderful relationship with our new dogsitter and Morgan adores her.

On our last trip, she arrived as we were loading my van to leave for the airport. We said our good-byes and were off. I forgot something and we came back home for a brief moment. As I entered our family room, there she was, sitting on the couch with her laptop computer with Morgan nestled by her side. He appeared to be in utter bliss.

I was so overjoyed to see how much he truly enjoyed being with her and how comfortable the two appeared together. For me, having the right dogsitter has been critical to curb the guilt I feel each time I leave Morgan at home while Whistle and I go on another trip.

Happy Birthday Betty White!

January 17, 2011 · Posted in People · Comment 
Betty White

Actress-comedian and assistance dog champion, Betty White celebrates her 89th birthday today! What a role model and tireless advocate for assistance dogs and all animals everywhere.

We can all take a lesson in life from this bubbly, vivacious, hard-working, and dedicated individual. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to visit with Betty on a couple of occasions and she is one of the most delightful, upbeat women I have had the chance to meet. Most recently she visited with me on Working Like Dogs on Pet Life Radio in celebration of National Assistance Dog Week. And she was the first person we thought of to write the foreword to Working Like Dogs: The Service Dog Guidebook. Betty can teach us so much about how to succeed in life and how to be true to ourselves and our causes.

Betty is truly passionate about animals and she has a special place in her heart for assistance animals. Perhaps that is due to her beloved golden retriever, Dinah, who Betty adopted when Dinah could no longer work as Tom Sullivan’s guide dog. Ironically, Dinah lost her vision and she could not perform the tasks that Tom depended on for his daily activities. Betty stepped in and welcomed Dinah into her home. She provided the love and support to both Tom and Dinah that enabled each of them to move forward to the next chapter of their lives. If you’re interested in a good read, check out Betty and Tom story about their experience in The Leading Lady: Dinah’s Story.

Betty is a renowned actress and animal activist. Happy Birthday to you dear one, and thank you for all the laughs you continue to give us and for all that you have done and continue to do for animals AND for individuals with disabilities. The world is truly a better place because you are in it!

Victory Ranch and the Great Pyrenees

January 9, 2011 · Posted in Service Dogs · Comment 
Victory Ranch

This past fall my husband, Franz, service dog, Whistle and I took a drive into the rural countryside of northern New Mexico. It was a beautiful fall Saturday morning, the leaves had changed colors to a vibrant red and orange and there was a crisp breeze in the air. We drove from Santa Fe, New Mexico north to Mora, New Mexico, to visit the Victory Ranch.

Victory Ranch (VR) owners boast that VR is the largest alpaca ranch in the Southwest United States. Over 200 alpacas freely roam the VR’s 1,100+ acres. And although the alpacas are adorable, we were going there to meet the Great Pyrenees, dogs who work on the ranch as guardians of the alpacas.

When we drove onto the ranch, we noticed several signs prohibiting dogs. I thought the “No Dogs Allowed” signs applied to pets and not to service animals. As we parked my van, an employee was heading into the main store area. I asked him about the signage and told him about my service dog, Whistle. He informed me that the reason no dogs were allowed on the premises was because of the overwhelmingly protective and territorial behavior of the Great Pyrenees. He said they were so protective of the herd that if they sensed another dog on the premises, they would not stop harassing them until they were removed. He said they had been known to seriously vandalize cars that had a dog inside.

Wow, that was an intense thought. He suggested that we move my van and Whistle to a safe area under a tree just outside the ranch gate. Franz quickly moved my vehicle and more importantly, Whistle, to this safe, shaded area.

We proceeded into the store where we were greeted by ranch staff. We signed up for the opportunity to feed the baby alpacas. For a small fee, visitors can receive a tour of the grounds and the opportunity to hand feed the young alpacas. What a treat it was to get to meet these young animals. They were extremely interested in the oats that the staff had supplied as treats.

As we were swarmed by the hungry, adorable alpacas, I felt a heavy weight bear down on the left side of my power wheelchair. I looked over to see a gorgeous, large, white Great Pyrenees looking me straight in the eye. He was a gentle giant. He did not make a sound but believe me; he made his presence and his desire to be petted clearly known.

This is what we had come to see. This livestock guardian working dog was everything I had imagined. He appeared to be over 100 pounds and he seemed to have traces of light tan or lemon in his coat. The staff explained how these dogs guard the herd. And this particular dog had the scars from a recent battle with a local beaver. The Great Pyrenees won, but not until after suffering some battle wounds on his neck and chest. These dogs willingly sacrifice everything to protect their herd, even their lives.

As we visited with Darcy Weisner, VR Manager, she described how the seven Great Pyrenees at Victory Ranch instinctively work to protect the herd. She described how these gentle giants literally became part of the herd as they strategically place themselves in the pasture among the alpacas.

Darcy explained how the dogs change shifts every day. She said that when the Great Pyrenees out in the field get hungry, they bark to the dogs in the barn to come out and relieve them. She went on to say that the Great Pyrenees take their job very seriously, and when they identify a predator or potential danger, they aggressively pursue it. However, they always remain mindful to leave two dogs behind with the herd at all times.

Franz and I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn about the Great Pyrenees as another type of working dog. And, all I can say is that ALL working dogs rock!

IAADP Needs YOU to Get Clicking and take the Pepsi Challenge!

January 6, 2011 · Posted in Assistance Dogs · Comment 

The International Association for Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) is a contender in the Pepsi Refresh program, hoping to win funding for emergency veterinary care and other projects. They made it into the top 100 in December, but now they need your help to move into the top ten so they can win!

You can vote up to three different ways every day in January: on the Pepsi website, through Facebook and by texting. Go directly to IAADP’s Pepsi Refresh page or to the IAADP website for more information and to vote. You will need to register to vote the first time, but that just takes a minute and then you can quickly vote every day.

Toni Eames, IAADP president and Joan Froling, IAADP chairperson, were recent guests on the Working Like Dogs radio show. They spoke about the Pepsi Challenge, as well as the latest information on revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act definition of service dogs, and airport relief areas for assistance dogs.

A recent IAADP email asked:

Could you find it in your heart to help IAADP become one of the Top Ten Vote Getters in our category by voting from January 3rd to the 31st?

The email also said there’s a new way to get more votes for IAADP by networking with other causes:

NEW IDEA FOR JANUARY!  If you look at the COMMENT section on our Pepsi webpage, you’ll see other projects voting for ours every day and leaving a message. If you use the Search box at the top of our page to visit their Pepsi webpage and return their vote and leave them a Comment with the Title of our Project, they will gratefully send more votes to IAADP through their network!  We’ve learned this mutual support method has helped a number of projects become one of the Top Vote Getters in their category, thus winning the funds they were seeking.  So this is a great way to assist IAADP to obtain extra votes each day!  Pepsi lets you vote online for up to ten different grant proposals a day.

I’ve been voting for IAADP every day since December.  Now I’m asking you to join me!

With your help I think we can push them into the top 10. You can help IAADP to assist individuals with disabilities and the dogs they are partnered with. Get clicking and help IAADP win the Pepsi Challenge and earn well-deserved funding!

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