Monday, September 24, 2018

At my advanced age, I'm still doin' writeups for the news papers

This article appeared in the September 18 issue of the Ontonagon Herald, an Upper Michigan weekly with a circulation of about 2,000. The photo shows Trooper jumping up on me as Debby (behind the camera) calls my name.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Genuine service dog or not?

This morning I had the following message from a friend who runs a major musical venue:

"I have done much research and followed your postings about service dogs and feel that I have a good understanding of the laws and the need and importance that the dogs have in people's lives.  On the other hand, we have many people wanting to bring their dogs [into the venue], and in the back of my mind I am often skeptical when I see people with dogs, wondering if they are just sneaking them in.  

"There was a man at the venue with a large dog in a harness, and he was walking with him all over the grounds.  At times the man was drinking.  I had convinced myself he had probably snuck the dog in, but accepted that there was nothing I could do about it except to obey the law. It nagged at me every time he walked by.  On Friday I saw the dog lie down by a child, and I could see the man talking to the child and a parent and I thought they were petting the dog.   

" 'Service dog, my ass,' I was thinking again. Then, on Saturday evening when our headliner was on,  I saw the man walk by with the dog and a beer in hand. I leaned over to the security volunteer next to me and said to him sarcastically what I had been thinking all weekend: 'Yeah, that's a service dog. Sure it is.'  

"This I will never forget. The security volunteer looks at me and says, 'Diabetes. The dog is trained to detect low blood sugar. Did you hear what happened?'

"To which I said, no I had not. He went on: 'The guy was walking by a child and it performed its service dog task. [Presumably the dog smelled a chemical change in the child's breath and nudged with his nose.] The man asked the parents, "Does your child have diabetes?" To which they replied, "Yes.'" He told the parents, "Give him something. His sugar is low." Sure enough, it was.'

"Shame on me for my thoughts and snarky comment. This was a real eye-opener and one I will share with my staff when we have our next meeting. 

"That is exactly the reason we are only able to ask the permitted questions ["Is that a service dog?" and "What task does he do for you?"] and not make our own judgments.  I was ashamed of my negative thinking and will never do it again. Big lesson learned.”

Yup. It's nearly impossible to tell a genuine service dog from a fake, especially on first sight. Some disabilities are invisible. Best thing to do is just go along and assume the dog is kosher.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Pub date set

We have a publication date for Traveling with Service Animals!

It will be August 15, 2019, exactly one year from now, says our acquiring editor at the University of Illinois Press. Just in time for the holiday travel season.

At a university press, the production schedule is more leisurely than it is at commercial publishers, who bring books out in eight or nine months—or even less, for hot topical books such as Omarosa's. University presses are exceptionally painstaking, and they want to make sure they get things right.

But the gestation period for a university press book is not quite as long as it is for an elephant. That's 22 months.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Final title, we think

It started as Places We Have Peed: Navigating Service Dogs Across North America.

Too clever by half, said the folks at the University of Illinois Press. The keywords in a book title needs to be searchable, and "Peed" would attract mostly people with urinary problems. Be literal, not ironic. This is not a literary novel but a travel guide.

So we tried Journeys with Service Dogs: Navigating Assistance Animals Across North America.

"Journeys" sounds like an episodic narrative, not a travel guide, said the committee with the final OK for a proposed manuscript. What about "Traveling"? That would work.

And how about "Support Animals"? said the sales department. That would broaden the audience.

Absolutely not, Chris (my co-author) and I said. Our book carefully separates genuine trained service dogs (and miniature horses) from emotional support and therapy animals. The presence of emotional support dogs, often fraudulently represented as real service animals, has been a thorn in the side of the service dog industry. We do not want to encourage the fakes to travel, we said.

Okay, said the press. How about Traveling with Service Animals: By Air, Road, Rail and Ship Across North America?  That subtitle, they said, works better and is snappier than "Navigating . . ."

All right, we said. Let's go with it.

Now that the book has gone into production at the press, we think that'll be the final title.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Moving target

A few weeks ago Chris Goodier and I submitted what we hoped would be the final manuscript of JOURNEYS WITH WORKING DOGS to the University of Illinois Press. We had hoped there wouldn't be any more work to do on it before the copy editors had their way with it.

Sadly, we'll have to alter a small passage in the book because this week Delta Airlines "upgraded" its service dog policy—and the other airlines tend to follow in lockstep. No "pit bull like" dogs allowed, Delta has declared, even as trained service dogs.

Of course the service dog industry is up in arms about this edict, because pit bulls—and dogs that look like them—have made excellent service dogs, and banning an entire breed and type is, the industry says, unfair and unrealistic.

Many service dogs are rescue animals—and pit bulls are the most common dogs to be found in shelters. There are a great many pitties and pittie-types working already for people with disabilities, especially those who must deal with PTSD.

What's more, the U.S. Department of Transportation is presently working on revamping the Air Carrier Access Act with considerable input from the service dog industry and may issue new rules at the end of the summer. One strong possibility is making the ACAA service dog rules identical with those of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which forbids breed discrimination.

Chris and I do not take sides in the book about the breed issue (although I personally love pitties, having had Hogan, a half-Lab, half-pit bull, who was a fine pet and companion).

But we have to wait until the entire drama plays out before we can fix that passage in the book. Our "final final final" deadline isn't until October 1, so we have time.

Writing a travel book is a sweaty exercise of keeping one's eye on a moving target.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

I've been busy

It has been a while—a long while—since I posted to this blog. For good reasons:

1. Putting the finishing touches on JOURNEYS WITH WORKING DOGS; NEGOTIATING SERVICE ANIMALS ACROSS NORTH AMERICA. There was a lot to do once the basic manuscript was done—gathering interview and photo releases from all the service dog partners Chris Goodier and I interviewed for our book, making sure copyrights were clear, and the like. We’re on track for the University of Illinois Press to publish the book next spring.

2. Getting the macular degeneration in my right eye stabilized. I found a wizard retina specialist who knew exactly what to do, and his treatments seem to have not only slowed the spread of the condition but also might just possibly have halted it. Too early to tell, but I have high hopes. My vision in that eye, corrected with glasses, is still 20/20.

What’s more, his eyeball injection technique is the least painful of all the retina specialists I’ve been to. Postinjection irritation is the least, too.

Nobody, however, seems to like the joke I concocted out of the experience. Those shots in the eyeball are of Avastin, a drug originally formulated to treat rectal cancer. Every time I have a shot, I say, everybody looks like an asshole. Nobody laughs. I don’t know why. I think it’s brilliant.

3. Having some major reconstruction of my lower spine. On May 3 a veteran spinal surgeon agreed with me that even though I was not yet in agonizing pain, I was getting there, and at 77 was still healthy enough to recover well from surgery. If I waited until the pain was unbearable at age 84 or 85, I might be too old to have the surgery. And so in a nine-hour operation on May 3 the surgeon fused together vertebrae L2, L3, L4, L5 and S1 (the sacrum). I’m now recovering well with outpatient physical therapy and although I’ll never be able to touch my toes again, I can look forward to a decade (maybe more) without a great deal of lower back pain. The trick will be to keep my trunk and upper back strong and limber so that the disk at L1-L2 stays healthy.

Soon I hope the surgeon will release me to drive again so we can head north to Ontonagon for the rest of the summer. (June 22: He did! And now I have to practice for the written and road DMV tests.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

That damn paperwork

Trooper and partner at Cabo San Lucas, where they knew his name.

Preparing to cruise with a service dog in the Caribbean and off Central America can be a right pain in the ass.

You have to obtain, and carry, a thick pile of documentation attesting to the state of your dog’s health. Different countries require different certificates, different tests and different immunizations, and that makes the paperwork infinitely more complex. Some require import permits. Mexico requires not only that everything be computer-printed, not filled in by hand, and that everything be spelled out on the documentation—no abbreviations—and will reject those that say the animal is “3 yrs. 4 mos. old.” 

This is partly because in the Western Hemisphere, only the United States and Canada recognize special legal privileges for service dogs. All other countries treat them as ordinary pets and therefore prime targets for bureaucratic minutiae.

And so for our recent cruise with Trooper through the Panama Canal, we had to go to our veterinarian to get various health certificates filled out for the Bahamas (which also required a pet import permit), Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico, where we were going ashore. (We decided not to go ashore at the Nicaraguan and Guatemalan ports, because we’d been there before and wanted to lighten the documentation load a little, so we didn’t get papers for those countries.) Then we had to drive  to the local U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service office to get some—not all—of the documents countersigned by a government veterinarian.

The rub: On previous cruises with Trooper, nobody wanted to see his papers—except the cruise line, of course. But you never know what’s going to happen.

Came embarkation day at Fort Lauderdale. When we stepped through the metal detector at the cruise terminal, a uniformed guard called us over and asked to see Trooper’s papers. At his desk he riffled through them until he came to the import permit for the Bahamas—and put his finger on the official Bahamas animal and plant department stamp.

“That’s what I was looking for,” he said.

Even if you don’t plan to take the dog off the ship while it’s docked or anchored in the Bahamas, you must have an import permit if the dog enters Bahamian waters. The ship won’t allow you aboard without one. If you haven't done your due diligence, your vacation could be ruined.

On this voyage we had to present Trooper for examination three times. The first, which we hadn’t expected, was at Cartagena, Colombia, where two officials—one from the government and one from an import-export company—came aboard when the ship docked. They examined Trooper’s papers and politely ruffled through his ears and fur to make sure no parasites jumped out. 

The exam was decidedly perfunctory and the fee was US$25. Colombian laws say an incoming animal has to be officially received by a government-approved import-export company. The $25 went to the representative of the latter, who simply glanced at Trooper and gravely handed us a receipt for the fee.

The ship’s port paper officer assured us that the procedure was standard at Cartagena and the fee was not a shakedown.

The night before we arrived in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, the port officials there said they wanted to examine Trooper. A few hours later they said they didn’t. We went ashore without incident.

The next episode was at Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala. The night before our ship called there, the port paper officer told us that the Guatemalans had asked for Trooper to be present for inspection even though we had no health documentation for that country for him and planned to stay on the ship instead of going ashore. That made us a little nervous. Should we have obtained paperwork for Trooper specifically for that country? What would happen?

A pleasant surprise, that’s what. Two amiable officials from the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture sat down with us in a ship’s lounge, cooed at Trooper, warmly ruffled his ears, remarked approvingly about his calm demeanor, and examined all the documentation we had brought for other countries. Satisfied that he had had all his required immunizations, the officials invited us to bring him ashore and issued us a permit to do so. And so we did. 

Next was Puerto Chiapas, our first port call (of two) in Mexico. “We never know what’s going to happen there,” said the port paper officer. “Sometimes they want to see the dog, sometimes not.”

This time they wanted to. A dour agricultural officer came aboard, took a quick peek into one of Trooper’s ears, and OKd his presence ashore. No baksheesh involved, however.

Two sailing days up the coast, we arrived at Cabo San Lucas on the tip of Baja California. We were not told that an official wanted to meet us ashore. We figured the approval at Puerto Chiapas would be good for the rest of Mexico.

When Debby and I tendered ashore with Trooper at Cabo, a customs agent stopped us at the pier and said, “Papers for the dog, por favor.”  I started to fish them out of a shirt pocket.

“Is that Trooper?” called another agent, from a nearby desk.

“Yes,” Debby said, astonished. How could they . . . ?

“Let him in,” the second agent quickly told the first. “He’s OK.”

Later we speculated that the Cabo authorities had studied the documents—which carried not only Trooper’s breed mix but also his name—that had been faxed to them by the port paper officer the day before. Presumably the Puerto Chiapas people had added their OK to the pile. At any rate, somebody on shore decided that Trooper was good to go. 

Whew. Cruising to Alaska and Canada with a service dog is easier. All you need is a rabies  certificate and (just for the ship) a veterinarian-issued international health certificate that doesn’t have to be endorsed by a government vet.  A lot easier.