Friday, August 19, 2016

Under the table again

Last May 9 I wrote about a slightly sticky situation Trooper and I ran into at the North Country Cafe (a k a Lynn's Cafe) in Ontonagon, Mich, where Debby and I summer.

There was a small kerfuffle not over his suitability as a service dog to enter the restaurant, but involving where he should lie down. Beside me, I asked, so that I could keep an eye on him. Under the table, the waitstaff said, where I couldn't watch him. (The law doesn't say who decides—just that a service dog must be either under the table or beside the handler.)

I went along with the server, intending to try again at some future time, because Lynn's serves good small-town cafe cuisine.

Today I went back, this time putting Trooper beside me and halfway under the table where I could spot him if he decided to creep away after a fallen tidbit. (He still does that sometimes.)

No problem for me—or for the server (who, however, was a different one). I enjoyed my meal while easily keeping a weather eye on Trooper. Everybody seemed happy.

Except for a sharp-faced little old lady who peeled off from her group of little old ladies as they prepared to leave and swept up to my table like a hen after a beetle.

"I'm from Missouri," she said with a severe expression, but I missed the rest of her sentence.

"I'm deaf," I said, "but read lips. What was that again?"

"I'm visiting from St. Louis," she said, "and down there dogs are not allowed in restaurants." She enunciated very slowly and clearly (and probably loudly, although I couldn't really tell).

"He's a service dog," I said, as pleasantly as I could. "A service dog for the deaf."

"Oh!" she said, brightening. "That's fine, then!"

She turned to her party. "That's a service dog," she said. "It's all right if he's here."

Nods all around, and the ladies swept out of Lynn's in a chorus of smiles.

I had to chuckle.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Victory!

Trooper peed in the box this morning! Finally!

Feels like winning Olympic gold.

In an obscure sport, to be sure.

See the June 22 entry below for the context.

(August 14: He repeated the feat last night . . . and again this morning. That's three medals. Phelps, you're a has-been.)


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fending off the well-meaning

Sometimes my ideas aren't so brilliant.

Often, when someone comes up and asks to interact with Trooper, my service dog for the deaf, I'll say "No, please don't pet, he's a service dog and he's working."

This doesn't always do the job. Sometimes people don't understand my deaf speech. Sometimes (especially the elderly) they're rather deaf themselves and just don't hear what I say.

And so for such events I came up with the business card at right. I didn't want to use the words "No" or "Don't" because some folks take offense at blunt and negative statements. "Should avoid distractions" ought to do the trick, don't you think?

Then the other day a sweet old lady stopped at my table in a local coffee shop and bent down over Trooper. Before she could touch him I plucked the card from a pocket on his service-dog vest and handed it to her. She took it, examined it carefully, beamed and said, "How sweet!"—then stooped and petted him.

Either she was illiterate or a couple of Milk-Bones short of a feeding, I thought. Then I realized that the gentle language might not have triggered proper understanding in her elderly mind.

And so I am going to revise and simplify the message:

WORKING SERVICE DOG
PLEASE DO NOT PET

Maybe that will do the job, in-your-face as it is.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the business card is the scheme at right. I figure it'll please curious folks who either can't hear me or understand my speech. It might even persuade hostile business owners that Trooper is a legitimate service dog.

Of course it may suggest to people that I'm just not capable of conversation. That's a phenomenon every deaf person must deal with.

Goes with the territory.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

A small step forward

Until now I had read of no actual cases in which someone was arrested and charged under a criminal complaint with violating federal law by refusing access to a service dog team.

Most such unhappy encounters are handled quietly by the U.S. Justice Department and state civil rights offices, and are usually settled with the offending party agreeing to be educated on the law as well as to sin no more.

Now a criminal penny has at last dropped.

According to the Associated Press, a Uber driver in Orlando, Florida, was arrested and charged the other day for two misdemeanor infractions. He allegedly refused service to a blind man and his guide dog, and in driving away jostled the blind man with his car. (No injuries reported.)

The two charges: Violating Florida civil rights laws about service animals—and battery.

I doubt that the cops would have charged the driver with refusing service (both a federal and state offense) if he hadn't bumped the blind person. Usually they inform offending parties of ADA responsibilities and if they agree to change their ways, the matter is dropped and nobody's nose is out of joint.

Whether this case will actually go to court remains to be seen. If that happens, I'll wager the magistrate will drop the service-dog case if the Uberman shows contrition. I don't know about the battery charge. If the driver persuades the judge that he didn't intend to strike the blind man, he may get off with probation and a small fine.

That won't be a bad thing at all. The best outcome of these newsmaking cases, in my opinion, is widespread publicity that educates businesses and everyone else about ADA protections for people with disabilities. Including stories like this one out of Orlando.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork!

Taking a short week's cruise in the Caribbean is a lot more complicated when traveling with a service dog. For Trooper, I must obtain not only routine paperwork but also items specific to almost every port of call—even if we'll be ashore there only six to eight hours.

We start with an international animal health certificate issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fortunately, my vet in Evanston is USDA-certified and knows how to fill it out and get it stamped by the USDA. There are boxes for immunizations and the like. The vet knows about my trip and will give Trooper a checkup and provide the certificate a week or so before we go.

Before then, I must contact the animal services departments of each island on my own.

The first port of call will be Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands. They're very tough on furry visitors, for the islands are rabies-free and want to keep it that way. As well as the international health certificate, they require that the animal be microchipped (Trooper already is) and that it undergo expensive blood titer tests for possible rabies. If the animal's paperwork is not in order, it must quickly depart—or be euthanized.

I've decided we'll  stay aboard ship instead of jumping through those hoops and maybe having to deal with difficult Turks and Caicos officials, as attested to by several comments on pet travel Web sites.

Next comes San Juan in Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth. The international health certificate is sufficient for us to go ashore. No titer test necessary.

Entering Sint Maarten is a little more complex. It requires that the health certificate and evidence of vaccination be sent to its agriculture department well before arrival and an import permit issued for the animal. No charge, though.

Half Moon Cay is wholly owned by Holland-America, the cruise line we're taking, but we still need a Bahamas import permit, which costs $15 and expires ten days after it is issued.

The voyage itself is only a week long, but Trooper and I have to leave Chicago on the train exactly 11 days before the permit expires. I'm not sure we'll land at Half Moon Cay unless I'm able to persuade the Bahamians to issue a one-day extension.

All this gives me new respect for human members of service dog teams who take long international cruises to dozens of countries and have to deal with all that paperwork and officialdom.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

For a service dog, the smallest room on a ship . . .

A 2013 photo of a service dog relief station aboard Holland-America's Westerdam.
. . . is the little wooden enclosure, filled with turf or mulch of some kind, provided on an outside deck for his plumbing comfort.

After Googling the subject, I see that most dogs will not take to such a facility right away and will need to be trained in its use.

And so this weekend, after we return to our summer cabin, I will go to the lumber yard for a couple of 1x8s and the garden store for a bag of mulch or wood chips, and construct a 4 foot by 4 foot (the size used on Holland-America cruise ships and most others) comfort station.

Trooper's training in its use will begin forthwith.

Only four months remain before we stand out to sea from Fort Lauderdale for the Caribbean aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam. I booked the trip today.

Going, we'll take the train (the Capitol Limited to Washington, then the Silver Meteor to Fort Lauderdale. Returning to Chicago, we'll fly. I'm seriously thinking about springing for a first-class seat on American so that Trooper will have room to lie down rather than ride all the way in my lap.

Sixteen pounds of restless terrier on one's legs for two and a half hours? No thanks.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Trooper's vacation

Last night Debby and I returned from two weeks touring Iceland and picked up Trooper at son Conan's house.

We couldn't take him along on the trip because Iceland, a country very careful about the critters it allows over its borders, said Trooper would have to spend 30 days in quarantine at Keflavik airport. His status as a service dog in the United States made no difference.

We'd arranged—and paid for—the trip well before Trooper came to live with us last December. Similarly, we'd also booked a week's trip last January on VIA Rail's Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto, but we canceled that one on the suggestion of his trainer. She said it was too soon in our budding partnership to subject the dog to the stresses of travel while at the same time he and I were learning how to work with each other.

So: Did Trooper forget his training? Did he bond with Conan's family and turn his furry back on Debby and me?

No and no.

When we picked him up he greeted me with the same exuberant Facebook-video joy a returning soldier gets from his beloved pooch.

This morning we tested him on his service-dog tasks, alerting me to various sounds and leading me to their sources, and he aced every one.

After six months, Trooper and I are at last a team.

This dog seems to be extraordinarily adaptable, taking new experiences in stride. We've taken him on train trips to the Southwest and East Coast. He now divides his time between suburban Evanston and wilderness Upper Michigan, switching easily between city dog and country dog.

Our next mutual adventure very likely will be a November flight to Florida, then a week's Caribbean cruise to see how he adapts to shipboard life. As Debby and I get deeper into our seventies, cruising may take up more of our travels.

Cruise lines accommodate service dogs with four-by-four, wood-chip-filled "comfort stations" built on an outside deck. It may take a little effort to get Trooper accustomed to transacting his business in such a strange contraption, but if his recent history is a guide, things will go well.