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.
Well, I learned some valuable lessons this year about traveling internationally with my service dog, Whistle. As you know, Whistle and I were trying to travel to London early this Fall for me to speak at the World Health Organization’s 2010 Safety Conference regarding violence against children with disabilities. Unfortunately, Whistle was not able to make the trip this year.
I learned the hard way that Whistle was not eligible to enter the United Kingdom (UK) due to the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) which requires six months to pass after the blood draw date before an animal can enter the UK. Whistle’s blood draw was completed in less than the six month time frame and as a result, I had to make a difficult decision about traveling without him.
I decided to go ahead with my travel plans and I did speak at the Safety Conference. It was bittersweet because Whistle was not able to make the trip with me. However, I am happy to report that in the future, Whistle can travel with me to the UK because his blood test had a positive result. That means that he will remain PETS compliant for the rest of his life as long as I keep his rabies vaccinations up to date, with no gaps in coverage.
All we have to do now is to provide a rabies vaccination certificate, proof of microchipping and obtain an EU veterinary certificate completed by Whistle’s vet and endorsed by my local USDA vet. It might sound like a lot of hoops to jump through, but after the fiasco we experienced this past summer, it seems like a stroll in the park.
I expect that Whistle and I will get another opportunity to visit London and the UK. Here’s to hoping that he and I will soon be strolling along London’s Thames River and enjoying the beautiful view from the London Eye.
Earlier this year I was invited to go to London in September to speak at the World Health Organization’s 2010 Safety Conference regarding violence against children with disabilities. I was SO excited because Whistle and I have never been to London and it was definitely on our list of places we wanted to visit.
My retired service dog, Morgan, my husband, Franz, and I had traveled to Hawaii in 2001 and I was familiar with some of the rabies test requirements that we had conducted in order for him to be admitted into Hawaii. I had heard that the United Kingdom had relieved some of their tight quarantine restrictions for service dogs and that the new procedures were very similar to Hawaii’s requirements.
I immediately contacted my veterinarian and made an appointment to get the paperwork started. Whistle’s vet, Murt and his vet manager, Lisa, immediately went to work obtaining a serum blood sample to test for antibodies to the rabies virus. It is called the Titer Test and can only be conducted at Kansas State University. I paid the hefty fee and Whistle’s test was conducted on May 16, 2010.
Simultaneously, I was working with my amazing travel agent, Joan Diamond of Nautilus Tours & Cruises. Joan specializes in disability travel and she immediately contacted the UK’s Animal Reception Department for information regarding Whistle’s entry into the UK. The Animal Reception Department informed Joan that I needed about two months lead time in order to provide them with (1) an EU certificate (a form that Murt and Lisa would have); (2) a letter from my doctor saying that I have and I need a service dog; and (3) a copy of a certification indicating that Whistle has been trained as a service animal.
These items should be a piece of cake. I gathered all of these required documents, scanned them into my computer, and emailed them on August 5 to the contact person at the Animal Reception Department. On August 9, I received an email from the Animal Reception Department stating:
“I am sorry to tell you that Whistle is not eligible to enter the UK until 15th November 2010 under the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) as six months must pass after the blood draw date before an animal can enter the UK. Whistle’s blood draw was on the 16th May 2010 so therefore he is not eligible for entry until 15th November 2010.”
I couldn’t believe it! I was in shock and disbelief. Here I am in the midst of celebrating National Assistance Dog Week only to be told that I have been denied access and am not allowed to travel to London with Whistle. Honestly, I am still in shock.
I contacted Joan and Lisa right away and they began trying everything they could think of but everyone they contacted said it’s the law in the UK and I have no recourse. Why didn’t they tell us that before I put Whistle through the blood test and paid the expensive costs to have the Titer Test conducted?
I responded to the individual that delivered this devastating email and am awaiting a response. I am also trying to contact the USDA Veterinarian in Albuquerque. However, I’ve been trying for days now and the telephone in their office just rings and rings but no one has answered as of yet.
I am at a loss as to what my recourse might be at this point. I was so excited to get the chance to go to London. As you know, it is so difficult to travel with a disability. Going to London was a dream come true for me and Franz but now it is bitter sweet because it looks Whistle and I won’t be able to travel together. We will be denied access.
How can this be happening in 2010 in a modern urban country like the United Kingdom? It is baffling and distressing to me. Unfortunately, I am constantly reminded that we still have a lot of work to do to advocate for individuals with disabilities AND the assistance dogs that contribute so much to their lives.
I thought London was calling (flashback to the old song by the Clash) but now, I’m not so sure.