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.

Service Animal Relief Areas at Airports

July 26, 2010 · Posted in Public Interaction, Service Dogs · 10 Comments 
Relief area, please!

Have you traveled through an airport since the U.S. Department of Transportation required airports to install service animal relief areas? Whistle and I flew to Washington, D.C. last week. We traveled through the Chicago Midway Airport and Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C.

We had a three hour layover on the way to Washington, D.C. in Chicago. I was so disappointed to see that the relief area was outside the secured perimeter at baggage claim. My caregiver took Whistle out and they had to go through security. We asked security if they could come back through the line any faster and were told they would have to go through the normal line. This was awfully time consuming and even though we had a three hour layover, we barely made our next flight. The security line was extremely long.

On the way back, Dulles did have a fenced in dog relief area. However, it too was outside of the secured perimeter and requires handlers to return through security. Once we landed at Chicago Midway, the security line was so long that we felt my caregiver would not have enough time to take Whistle out to the relief area and return through the enormous security line.

We asked a TSA official and a Chicago police officer and they both informed us that she would have to return through the security line with Whistle. They made no attempt to assist us and they didn’t really seem to know what I was talking about when I asked about a service dog relief area.

What we needed was a TSA security escort as a reasonable accommodation to get Whistle to the relief area and back through security so we could access our gate in a reasonable amount of time. That’s not what we received.

Poor Whistle did not have the opportunity to relieve himself and he was desperate to go out once we landed in Albuquerque. The Albuquerque airport does not have a specific dog relief area either. There is a grassy area that is unfenced and located outside the security perimeter where he relieves himself. And of course, there are no baggies or readily available trash bins.

I am contemplating filing a complaint with all three airports regarding their lack of compliance with the Department of Transportation requirement. I do not like to file complaints but I fear if we don’t self-advocate, this lack of responsiveness will continue indefinitely. Have you had any airport experiences with service dog relief areas? Did you file a complaint?

Courthouse Dogs Help Ensure Justice is Served

July 5, 2010 · Posted in Public Interaction, Service Dogs · 2 Comments 
courthouse

Have you heard of a courthouse dog? They’re not legal experts, but these specially trained dogs are being used in the criminal justice system to help provide support for crime victims and their families, and even for social workers or other staff members.

Increasingly, courthouse dogs are being used in states across the country. Although they’re called courthouse dogs, these dogs often work not only in the courthouse, but in facilities like child advocacy centers. Courthouse dogs are typically therapy dogs; however, some of these working dogs may have more advanced training as assistance dogs and can even work as medical alert and response dogs.

Daisy is one example of an advance trained, assistance dog pulling double duty as a courthouse dog. I had the privilege of interviewing Lori Raineri and Cameron Handley about Daisy, and her role at the Yolo County, California Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center (MDIC) on Working Like Dogs at www.petliferadio.com (please feel free to listen in to their full interview).

Lori personally trained Daisy as her assistance dog. She loved Daisy so much that she felt compelled to share Daisy’s talents with others. Lori reached out to her local District Attorney, Jeff Reisig, about creating a courthouse dog program. Reisig loved the idea and connected Lori with Cameron, the director of the MDIC. Through their joint efforts, the Yolo County pilot courthouse dog program was born!

The program’s goal is to reduce the trauma a child goes through when dealing with the stresses of the criminal justice system. Daisy helps calm the children and others participating in the process. She also helps them begin to trust again and to start the healing process. For professionals in the system, Daisy provides some relief from the emotionally draining situations they deal with day after day.

Daisy is there at the Center to greet the children when they arrive, and if they want, she can be with them during interviews, medical exams, and in court. Daisy knows a large number of commands, even in multiple languages. She can do tricks to break the ice, but then gets down to business, just quietly being there, comforting the children and their families during a tough time.

You can listen to the complete interview to discover more about how this public-private partnership was developed, all the tasks Daisy performs, and even how this unique government worker commutes to the office. You can also get ideas about how you might be able to start a similar program in your community.

I was so impressed with the work Cameron, Lori and Daisy, are doing together. I hope you are, too. I was also excited to see that the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (www.iaadp.org) are including a session on Courthouse Dogs at their upcoming Conference to be held September 25, 2010 in Seattle, Washington.

National Service Dog Eye Exam Event

dog eye care

Hats off to the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) and Merial® for conducting the 3rd annual National Service Dog Eye Exam Event throughout the month of May 2010. Through this event, more than 170 board certified veterinary ophthalmologists in the U.S. and Canada will provide free sight-saving eye exams to thousands of service dogs including guide dogs, assistance dogs, detection dogs and search and rescue dogs who selflessly serve the public.

The ACVO website indicates that to qualify, dogs must be active “working dogs” that were certified by a formal training program or organization or currently enrolled in a formal training program. The certifying organization could be national, regional or local in nature. Specific service groups are listed on the website at www.ACVOeyeexam.org.

Owners/agents for the dog(s) must FIRST register the animal via an online registration form beginning April 1, at www.ACVOeyeexam.org. Registration ends May 16th. Once registered online, the owner/agent can locate a participating ophthalmologist in their area and contact that doctor to schedule an appointment, during the month of May. Appointment dates and times may vary depending on the facility and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. To learn more about and to register for the ACVO®/Merial® National Service Dog Eye Exam Event, visit www.ACVOeyeexam.org.

This event has a special place in my heart because it directly impacted my, now retired service dog, Morgan. About three years ago, Morgan developed severe problems with his eyes. I took him to see Dr. Kennard with Eye Care for Animals in Albuquerque, NM. Dr. Kennard quickly diagnosed Morgan’s degenerative condition and literally saved his eye sight.

Without Dr. Kennard’s rapid response, Morgan would have completely lost his eye sight. If that wasn’t enough, when I checked out of the clinic, I was presented with information about Morgan’s condition and medication to treat his eyes. What I did not receive was a bill for their services.

When I asked about the bill, the staff proudly told me about the National Service Dog Eye Exam Event. I can never thank Dr. Kennard enough for what he did and continues to do for Morgan and for the work he and so many other ophthalmologists are doing every day to protect and save the eyes of our devoted canine partners. I am forever grateful and I am now acutely aware of the importance of regular eye exams.

Are Dog Parks a Good Idea for Service Dogs?

March 12, 2010 · Posted in Public Interaction, Service Dogs, Training · 17 Comments 
socializing with other dogs

It seems like every time I turn around these days, some one is suggesting that I take my service dog, Whistle, to a dog park. As a person who uses a wheelchair, this is a little intimidating to me. I am nervous about letting Whistle off lead around strange dogs that neither he nor I know.

I am curious; do you take your dog on a regular basis to a dog park? How has that worked for you? We have a new dog park in my community and I have been interested in visiting it but again, I am nervous about letting Whistle off leash on terrain that can be difficult for me to navigate in my wheelchair. I am concerned about Whistle’s safety.

How safe are dog parks? I know there are great socialization benefits of going to a dog park but there are definitely risks also. A dog park is not your yard or a controlled training environment.

The jury is still out for me. I’m not sure if I feel comfortable taking Whistle to a dog park although I do think he would really enjoy it. Are dog parks a good idea for service dogs? Would you recommend them or avoid them? And if you don’t go to a dog park, how do you make sure your service dog gets enough exercise?

I guess I’m just really an over protective human partner but when I think about all the training and care that has gone into Whistle to support him as a service dog, I just don’t know if I can take the risk against the benefits.

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