I love to travel. And, traveling with a disability has presented me with many interesting challenges and situations throughout the years. So, of course, traveling with an assistance dog has added additional scenarios that I have had to address.
During my most recent out-of-state travel excursions, my assistance dog, Whistle, had some minor medical issues that required professional attention. On one trip, he developed a deep cough that was diagnosed as tonsillitis. On the last trip, I noticed him chewing on his back paw. He had a blister in between the webbing of his pad.
My husband, Franz, and I found ourselves on each of these occasions in a hotel trying to locate a qualified veterinarian in an unknown community. I am happy to report that on both occasions Whistle received excellent care. And because of this excellent care, we were able to complete all of our planned travel activities. But, it was a stressful situation until we were able to find a vet clinic and get the medical care and medicine that he needed.
I did learn a couple of things that I wanted to share with you. First, from now on when I travel, I will do some additional planning by checking with my local vet to see if he knows of a vet in our travel destination. If not, then it’s up to me to do some research and create my own resource list.
By simply searching the Internet, I can determine if there is a 24-hour emergency clinic in close proximity to our hotel. It should also be pretty easy to identify one or two veterinarians in the area along with a local dog supply store. I can then compile this information onto a one-page resource list.
The resource list can easily be stored in a plastic sheet protector and filed in my travel folder along with airline tickets, rental vehicle information, etc. Using colored paper is another tip that will make the resource list easier to locate when I might be stressed. Keeping a copy available in a backpack or some other carry-on luggage for quick access is important. However, just to be on the safe side, I will probably place a second copy in my suitcase as a back-up.
It does add one extra task to the packing and planning process but it will give me a sense of calm knowing that I have this information available to me in case Whistle has an urgent medical need arise.
Another quick tip that I wanted to share with you occurred during our first trip this summer. After we had identified a vet and while we were driving to that local vet’s office, I contacted Whistle’s vet and asked his staff to fax Whistle’s medical information to the attending vet in this city. That was very helpful to the new vet and enabled him to quickly assess Whistle’s health needs and overall health.
If you are a traveler with an assistance dog, it is inevitable that your dog might need veterinarian care while you two are on a trip. With a little pre-planning, you can respond to any situation and keep your assistance dog happy and healthy and your travel plans on schedule!
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.
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?
Traveling with a disability has always been an adventure but adding a service dog to the equation can create additional needs and experiences. I don’t know about you but I have had some pretty close calls trying to find a place to toilet my dog in places such as busy airports during long distance national and international travels and in urban cities that have little or no vegetation. On a recent trip to Denver, Colorado I had a similar experience.
I was a member of a conference planning team that was planning to hold a national conference in downtown Denver. We found the perfect hotel. Well, almost perfect. The hotel had no available toilet relief area for my service dog or for any assistance dog that might be attending the conference with his or her human partner. The hotel was located directly across from Denver’s Convention Center. Denver is a modern, western city. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to visit Denver’s Convention Center? Along with an incredible 40 feet tall steel blue bear that was created by the artist Lawrence Argent and peers inside the Convention Center’s glass windows is a sign that simply states “no dogs allowed on the grass”.
Well, we all know what that means. Here we were gazing at this beautifully landscaped green grassy area that no service dog, or any other dogs for that matter, can access. Instead, we had to travel by foot quite a distance through some downtown areas that felt a little insecure to the only available toileting area. This was not acceptable and was a potential deal breaker for this hotel to secure the contract.
I spoke with the hotel administrators about it and they vowed to solve this problem in order to win the contract to hold the conference at their hotel. We were all skeptical and a little nervous about this issue. As the months went by and the conference date rapidly approached, I would periodically call the hotel and ask how they were progressing toward a remedy for the relief area dilemma. I was always assured not to worry that the problem would be solved.
When the conference finally rolled around Whistle and I traveled to the hotel. We arrived after a six hour drive and Whistle had refused the opportunity to toilet when we stopped for gas. We both were delighted to see that the hotel staff had indeed remedied the situation. As we pulled into the parking garage, the valet proudly informed us that the a doggie relief area had been created within the parking garage. To Whistle’s relief (in more ways than one) we saw the doggie relief area as soon as we pulled into the accessible parking space. It appeared that the hotel maintenance staff had made a square area by strapping together the ends of 4” x 4” 8 foot long, pre-treated boards. I am guessing they used two 4’ x 8’ plywood sheets underneath to support the sod that was laid neatly on top.
Perhaps the best part of this grassy relief area was the red, wood fire hydrant that had been crafted and placed in the middle of the relief area. Also in the immediate vicinity was a stand that housed plastic bags for disposing of waste, paper towels, and a bottle of hand sanitizer. The hotel had indeed solved the problem and provided a safer, discreet, and much more readily accessible venue for assistance dogs and other canine guests to safely toilet. They had also strategically placed the structure in an area that allowed for both adequate wheelchair access around the structure and easy access to the structure from the garage elevators. This was a win, win situation for everyone involved and it gave me another story to share with my friends about the adventures of traveling with a service dog.