In my last post I introduced you to author Leigh Brill Singh, and a few of her ideas on travel with pets. Leigh is an expert because she has traveled so much to promote her book her book, A Dog Named Slugger, as well as the service dogs that have changed her life. Here, in part two of our discussion, she shares more excellent tips on traveling with dogs.
How much do you travel for your work?
I’m fortunate to be able to do most of my writing and advocacy from home. Health issues sometimes limit my adventures. At the same time, I still love to travel for work as well as for fun. My husband, my dogs, and I enjoy trips across the state and throughout the nation when we get the chance. Sometimes, we are able to combine work and relaxation. For example, we recently traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia, to speak on behalf of Saint Francis Service Dogs and share information about A Dog Named Slugger. My family and I then added a few extra days to our trip so that we could relax, do some sightseeing, and explore Colonial Williamsburg. We loved every minute of that trip!
How do your dogs help you travel?
In recent years, I have traveled throughout the U.S.—from Virginia, to Washington D.C., to Chincoteague Island, to New York, to California. My dogs have accompanied me on each of these trips and help me when I travel just as they do when I am at home or in my community. My service dogs provide mobility support, retrieve dropped items, carry my belongings, and help me navigate steps and hills safely. One thing I’ve learned about service dogs—they do more than make it possible to move across a room. Sometimes they inspire you to move far beyond your own comfort zone, into vast and awesome places.
I think it’s hard enough to get through security with a carry-on bag, let alone a dog or two. Are hotels and airlines accommodating?
I’ve been fortunate—during most of my travels folks have been aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act (which was passed in 1990). Professionals in the air travel and hospitality industries are usually more than willing to follow it. I always carry my dog’s official service dog identification card as well as a copy of the law pertaining to service dogs. When traveling by air, I’ve found it is a good idea to arrive early so that I have plenty of time to move through security. Service dogs are required to go through security checks and my dogs have been trained to stand quietly while security personnel conduct a thorough screening. On a funny note, I’ve noticed that my dogs enjoy riding in the motorized carts that whisk us through big, busy airport terminals. They sit calmly on the cart with me and seem to like the chance to watch all the other folks scurrying past us.
My experiences while traveling by air have been primarily positive. The biggest challenge is one I imagine most frequent flyers are familiar with – being in a small space for a long time can get tedious. That’s true for service dogs just as it is for people. Thank goodness part of my dogs’ training involves learning to do a “down/stay” for an extended period of time. I admit, my highly-trained dogs are sometimes more patient than I am on long flights. When I travel in the company of my service dog, I always call the airlines and hotels in advance to let them know what to expect. I do this as a courtesy, and I have found that it helps things go smoothly for everyone concerned.
Do you have tips for anyone who is thinking about traveling with dogs?
In general I suggest finding ways to make traveling with your dog FUN and comfortable for you and your pet. Take things slower if you need to—having quality time with your dog is worth it. Because my own dogs are certified service dogs, they are welcome in places where most pets would not set a paw, but if I were traveling with a pet, I would research pet-friendly accommodations and vacations. Happily, these are becoming more and more popular.
Whether you travel with a pet or a service animal, I recommend the following:
- Take your dog to the veterinarian before you travel—to be sure your canine companion is healthy, up to date on vaccinations, and set to take a trip.
- Pack the food (and even the water) that is part of your dog’s regular diet. This will avoid reduce the likelihood of being on a trip with a pet whose tummy is upset.
- Take along a bed or blanket your dog normally sleeps with. This will help him or her feel comfortable and at home in a new environment.
- Be positive when introducing your dog to a new place. If you are upbeat and confident, hopefully your dog will be, too. Make sure to spend time focused on your dog while in your new environment. This will help your dog understand that new places are fun and you will each get more out of your shared adventure.
Got any funny stories about traveling with your four-legged companions?
Life with a service dog is always an adventure, and traveling with a working dog is no exception. One of my favorite funny experiences took place when I was flying cross-country with my dog Kenda a few years ago. I had been allowed to pre-board our plane in order to have time to get in and get Kenda comfortably settled. We were given the bulkhead seat so that my canine companion would have a little extra room to curl up on the floor at my feet. That’s precisely what Kenda did; she tucked herself in and rested comfortably and quietly as we took to the air. Most of our fellow passengers who boarded the plane after us did not even notice her. Some time later, lots of folks were up, moving back and forth to the lavatories and stretching their legs. A long line formed in the aisle next to my seat. People simply stood quietly, absorbed in their private thoughts. An attractive lady in a business suit looked over at me. Her gaze traveled down to my feet. She saw Kenda, but barely gave my sleeping dog a second glance. A moment later, Kenda woke up. She lifted her head and looked around. The confused businesswoman shrieked, “Oh Lord, it MOVED!” Her shock quickly turned to embarrassment before coaxing the corners of her mouth into a good-natured grin. “Oops, I’m so sorry,” she said. “I thought your dog was stuffed.” Soon everyone around us was chuckling, sharing some unexpected humor.
Traveling can be hard work, with or without disabilities. What would you tell people to inspire them to make the effort to travel? Why not just stay home? Seeing a new place—or even a familiar place in a new way—broadens your perspective. Never underestimate the power of a getaway to refresh your spirit. If you are dealing with a disability or other specific challenge, plan your trip, figure things out, and then get out there and see something new!