Travel always takes a certain amount of preparation, including searching for the best ticket (cost vs. convenience) and accommodations (proximity to attractions, on-site amenities). So imagine the planning required if a service animal is in tow for the adventure.
Service animals vary in size (from a dog to a miniature horse) and the tasks they perform. Most people are familiar with guide dogs for people who are visually impaired and hearing dogs for those who are hard of hearing. But service animals also aid those with mobility challenges, alert people with diabetes to abnormal sugar levels and help people deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Not to be confused with emotional support or therapy dogs, a service animal is one that is "individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual living with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability," according to the U.S. Department of Justice. So write Henry Kisor and Christine Goodier in the recently released book "Traveling With Service Animals: By Air, Road, Rail and Ship Across North America" - a handbook for those in any human-animal partnership wanting to explore the world.
The book offers practical information on such topics as keeping to a schedule when it comes to eating and potty breaks for the service animal, where and what relief stations look like on all modes of transportation, where service animals are allowed to go, and how all of that translates in Canada and Mexico. Goodier, who lost her hearing progressively in adulthood and now wears cochlear implants, said that when she was planning her first international trip, she discovered that "no comprehensive, reliable travel guide existed for people in her situation." So she learned through trial and error. Kisor, a former Sun-Times book editor who has been deaf from meningitis since age 3 1/2, wanted to co-author the book because it combined his love for travel and for his service dog, Trooper.
"Many U.S. citizens and Canadians with disabilities want to travel but are unsure how they can do so with their service animals," Kisor said. "We meet people in our travels who are unsure of how to behave correctly around service dogs and want to do the right thing. Organizations that train service dogs are hailing the resource as long overdue for their trainers who haven't been sure how to answer clients' travel questions. We also think the book is valuable for people who work in the travel and hospitality industries as well."
The two pooled their knowledge, based on traveling with Trooper (Kisor's miniature schnauzer/poodle cross) and Raylene (Goodier's black Labrador); the book includes help on everything from packing for your animal partner to enjoying the animal-friendly rides at Disneyland. With additional tips from over a dozen handlers who collectively have logged hundreds of thousands of miles traveling with their dogs, Kisor and Goodier provide travelers with easy-to-use checklists, primers on import regulations and corporate policies, and quick advice on emergencies, among other information.
"Authors find their subjects where they can, and this was an obvious choice for me. I'd just finished a sixth mystery novel and hadn't yet come across a new plot, so finding good places to pee seemed the thing to do," Kisor said.
We talked with Kisor and Goodier about the biggest handler headaches, the best mode of travel for service animals and why "assistance animals" might be the preferred phrase over "service animals." The interview has been condensed and edited.
Q: What is the biggest headache when traveling with your service animal?
Kisor: For me, finding a good place for Trooper's potty relief. Dogs prefer natural surroundings, but sometimes they haven't a choice. This isn't so hard when traveling by car or RV, but trains and planes are on a tight schedule, and dogs can't get off when they gotta go. Cruise ships are easier, but sometimes relief boxes are put in places inaccessible in bad weather or contain filler uncomfortable for a dog's paws. It's not a piddling matter.
[Most read] Murder suspect grew frustrated when UIC student didn't react to his catcalls, prosecutors allege »
Goodier: My major headache for international travel is obtaining the complex paperwork to "export" the dog to a foreign land and "import" it back into the United States. The first task for a service dog partner is to find a veterinarian accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and qualified to issue and sign health certificates after examining the dog. I work with two USDA-accredited vets 10 minutes away from my house in Sarasota, Florida, but other dog handlers are not so lucky.
Q: You break down the differences in service animals. What is the best terminology to use for the animals?
Kisor: I prefer "assistance." But usage is still evolving. Federal law and the general public still use "service animals," and that's why we employ the popular term in the book. But "assistance animals" really is more precise, because the dogs and horses are trained to assist people with disabilities. Often people think of police and military K-9s and the like as service animals because they provide a service to cops and soldiers. Time will tell.
Q: Is there a certain form of travel that is much easier for handlers and their animals?
You have free articles remaining.
Kisor: I'd say that riding the bus is harder than sailing on a cruise ship. Bus seats are cramped. There's much more room and freedom to roam on a cruise ship, but the paperwork required for a Caribbean cruise can be daunting. Cruises to Alaska and Canada are much easier; all you need is rabies papers and a simple international pet health certificate from your vet. A great compromise is the long-distance train. You just show your ticket and hop aboard, and you're on the way. Both Amtrak in the United States and VIA Rail in Canada are exceptionally hospitable to service dogs. They'll even hold a train at a short station stop to relieve a service animal.
[Most read] Column: 'Please tell the weather girl to get some maternity dresses': WGN morning team shares garbage notes they got from viewers while pregnant »
Goodier: A road trip in a recreational vehicle can be liberating for service dog teams. As the scenery changes, the dog still has the familiar smells of a home away from home, and the handler sleeps in his own comfortable bed each night. During the day, great adventures await. I had always wanted to ride the Maid of the Mist boat that cruises below Niagara Falls, for example, and a friendly staff member provided my dog with a child-size plastic raincoat, so she could accompany me and stay dry. Hiking with me on trails in national parks and relaxing by campfires in the evening, my dog enjoyed our RV trips as much as I did, which isn't usually the case when we travel by other modes.
At New York's Niagara Falls State Park, service dogs are welcome wherever patrons are permitted to go. Chris Goodier said hearing dog Raylene was offered a child-size raincoat for a ride on the Maid of the Mist.
At New York's Niagara Falls State Park, service dogs are welcome wherever patrons are permitted to go. Chris Goodier said hearing dog Raylene was offered a child-size raincoat for a ride on the Maid of the Mist. (Robert Goodier)
Q: What's been your worst experience while traveling with your assistance animal?
Kisor: Refusal by ride-share cars. In Toronto, three consecutive Uber drivers sped past me when they spotted Trooper. I suspect religious scruples against dogs were the problem. Now Uber, at least in Canada, requires drivers who can't or won't carry dogs to arrange, on the spot, for another ride. Just last week, a Lyft driver refused to carry us from Evanston to Chicago, but we were able to find a more willing driver 10 minutes later. We advise handlers to keep their cool in such situations, to avoid getting angry. That just makes a bad situation worse.
Goodier: My worst experience was on a cruise ship when, in order to reach the relief box, I had to walk Raylene out onto a windy, rain-slick deck to a long, narrow crew-only area behind a rope barrier. One stormy night as the ship lurched, I tripped while maneuvering Ray past the barrier and landed hard onto a rusty metal floor. The infirmary staff patched up my wounds and threw in a free tetanus shot. Luckily Raylene wasn't injured, since there are no veterinarians at sea. Some people with mobility disabilities have successfully persuaded a ship's staff to move the relief box to safer locations on their private balconies, but ships are typically reluctant to do this.
Q: What trips do you have planned for 2020?
[Most read] Strong wind gusts, rain to mar commute, Thanksgiving holiday road and air travel »
Kisor: Trooper, my spouse, Debby, and I are hoping for a cruise to Hawaii and a train trip to New Mexico. We'd like to go to Europe soon, perhaps on the Queen Mary 2, to avoid long, bladder-straining flights and possible airport delays. Or maybe we'll write off our bucket list the two-night VIA Rail train trip from Winnipeg through the Canadian outback to Churchill on Hudson Bay to see polar bears.
Goodier: My husband, Bob, Raylene and I will leave before Thanksgiving for a Caribbean cruise to the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. In March, we sail from San Diego to Hawaii for 18 days.
Q: What is the main takeaway from this book, for a reader or a handler?
Kisor: For anyone, travel can be daunting. For people with disabilities who use service animals, it can seem impossible. But it really isn't if you plan ahead and research your destination. Knowing what to expect and how to handle obstacles as they pop up will give confidence to anyone with a service dog. Knowing the same will help those in the travel industry serve a growing clientele.
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com