Tag Archives: Leigh Brill

Traveling With Dogs: An Author’s Tips and Inspiration

Pato demonstrates his focus and training even amid the sights, sounds, smells, and horses she and Leigh Brill Singh encountered in Colonial Williamsburg.
Pato demonstrates his focus and training even amid the sights, sounds, smells, and horses he and Leigh Brill Singh encountered in Colonial Williamsburg.

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? 

Leigh Brill Singh's beloved dog, Slugger, was always ready to hit the road.
Leigh Brill Singh’s beloved dog, Slugger, was always ready to hit the road.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!




Dog Stories That Are an Inspiration for Life and for Travel -Part One

Slugger, a natural traveler, loved to be on the move--across town or across the country. Here, he's waiting for his next adventure.
Slugger, a natural traveler, loved to be on the move–across town or across the country. Here, he’s waiting for his next adventure.

I’m the world’s biggest dog lover, but I generally avoid “dog stories” because I invariably wind up sobbing. They’re always sad. I’ve never really recovered from reading Old Yeller in grade school.   But, I recently discovered author Leigh Brill Singh, a fellow dog lover who has her own dog story, A Dog Named Slugger, about how her service dog transformed her life as a person with cerebral palsy.  When I heard how much she travels from her Virginia home to promote her book, “ability awareness,” and the Saint Francis Service dogs that have changed her life, I had to share her story on Off The Beaten Page Travel.  Our interview will appear in two parts, so stay tuned for Leigh’s ideas and tips about traveling with pets, whether they’re service animals or not.  Before you read this post, grab your Kleenex and check out a video about Leigh and her canines.  http://vimeo.com/12630552  And, be sure to check out part two of our Q and A.

Okay, Leigh, I’m tearing up just looking at the cover A Dog Named Slugger, soADogNamedSlugger tell me a bit about your book and why it’s worth getting dehydrated to read it. 

A Dog Named Slugger is more than “a dog book.” The story offers an intimate look at what it means to live with a congenital disability. It goes on to reveal how my own life was shaped by cerebral palsy and ultimately re-shaped through my partnership with an amazing Labrador. My first service dog, Slugger, taught me to define myself not by what I had to overcome, but by what I had the courage to become. His message to me was, “I’m here for you. No matter what.”  That message inspired me. It gave me hope. Given the challenges so many folks face these days—from economic worries, to the multi-level stressors of war, to threats to health and well-being—we all need hope. That’s a big part of why I wrote A Dog Named Slugger. It’s one way I can pass along some of the many gifts that my big yellow Lab first offered me.  Just like the remarkable dog who romps through its pages, the book proves that a gift is most beautiful when it is shared.

Do you have other books in the works?

I’ve been very honored to hear from readers throughout the world who have described A Dog Named Slugger as an eye-opening, entertaining, and uplifting read, one they’ve read over and over until the spine is creased and the their favorite pages are “dog-eared.”  Readers ask, “What happens next?” and I am hard at work on the answer. My second book will pick up where the first ended and I’ll also be introducing some new friends, both human and canine.  But, my well-trained service dogs could tell you I’m not always good at executing a “sit/stay” at my writing desk; these days my sweet Lab Kenda and my hard-working Golden, Pato are helping me improve that skill. In addition to writing the sequel to Slugger, I’m exploring some ideas for a fictional children’s book series featuring a young girl who solves mysteries with the help of her service dog. It will likely be a while before the project is ready to launch, but it sure is fun.

I understand that the book has become a springboard for your efforts to promote the importance of service dogs and “ability awareness.”

I serve on the board of directors for Saint Francis Service Dogs and volunteer in a variety of ways to further the foundation’s mission. I especially enjoy talking with other service dog partners and lending support to new teams. My dogs and I often provide ability awareness presentations, that is, teaching people about the abilities of people with special needs rather than their disabilities. Whether we are teaching elementary school youngsters about diversity or assisting with fundraising efforts for Saint Francis Service Dogs, my canine partners and I love every opportunity to spread a positive message.

Recently, my efforts have reached even further than I could have imagined.  I was contacted by the Centre for Learning Resources (CLR), in India. CLR’s mission includes broadening educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth living in rural India. Now, after months of hard work and collaboration, an adaptation of my book will be included in the centre’s ESL (English as a Second Language) materials to help inspire and educate youngsters there.

I often encourage people to read books, then go do something related to the topic/story of the book.  So, if one were to read A Dog Named Slugger, what would you suggest doing as an activity?  For example is there someplace to visit or volunteer where they train service dogs? Maybe have a fundraiser for the cause? 

I love the concept of reading a book and then following up with a related activity. That

Trained to climb into her car when asked, Pato waits for Leigh Brill Singh to give him the "load up" command.
Trained to climb into her car when asked, Pato waits for Leigh Brill Singh to give him the “load up” command.

would likely add to the “take home value” of both the book AND the experience. That pairing could also lead to unexpected treasures—a new hobby, greater understanding… the possibilities are endless.  Readers of A Dog Named Slugger might enjoy learning about service dog organizations. I encourage everyone to find out more about Saint Francis Service Dogs. Tours, and special events at the training center in Roanoke Virginia are a great way to get involved. Assistance Dogs International also provides a helpful list of other service dog organizations throughout the nation and beyond. In my experience, most service dog organizations are thrilled to have volunteers—the work of raising, training, and placing service dogs offers lots of opportunities for folks to use individual talents and interests.

I also hope that people who read my book will incorporate new awareness into their everyday lives.  Perhaps the story I’ve shared will enable readers to have greater insight into what it means to deal with a disability.  Hopefully my work will also illuminate the important roles that service dogs play in the lives of their human partners. Here’s one example:  If you are traveling and you happen to see a beautiful dog assisting a disabled person, DO NOT PET the dog. I know that for many dog-loving folks (including me), petting the animal feels like an automatic response, but it’s not the wisest one.  It is far better to ask a working dog’s handler if petting is permitted.  If not, it isn’t because the handler is being unfriendly or snobby; it is simply because petting a service dog who is working can distract the animal and cause problems for the dog’s partner. Such service dog etiquette is helpful for service dog teams everywhere no matter where you roam.

Any other great dog books you love? 

I love good books of all descriptions! Some of my all time favorite dog-themed books include:

Amazing Gracie: A Dog’s Tale—by Dan Dye

A Big Little Life—by Dean Koontz

The Art of Racing in the Rain—by Garth Stein

A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans—by W. Bruce Cameron

Where the Red Fern Grows—by Wilson Rawls

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle— by David Wroblewski

To find out more about Leigh and her dogs at http://authorleighbrill.com