Friday, May 26, 2017

Sugar gliders? Reptiles?

I'm at work on the section about airline travel for Places We Have Peed: Traveling with Service Dogs in North America, and have spent the last few hours checking individual airlines' service dog policies. They're all basically similar, although a few have some odd rules.

JetBlue, for instance, won’t allow service animals in training in airliner cabins, nor will it permit as service or emotional /psychiatric support animals “hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, rodents, snakes, spiders, sugar gliders, reptiles, non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game bird & birds of prey), animals improperly cleaned and/or with a foul odor, animals with tusks.”

Sounds as if I'll have to leave my assistance cockroach at home. Sorry, Archy.

Saturday, May 20, 2017


Be patient. Grit your teeth and hope for a supervisor.

That’s the lesson I’ve taken from making restaurant, hotel and train bookings for my service dog Trooper and me, both in the United States and Canada, over the last few weeks.

“What does the dog do for you on the train?” asked an Amtrak ticket agent when we called to ask that he be added to the manifest for a recent overnight train trip. “Does he weigh less than 20 pounds and do you have a traveling crate for him?” (Those are the rules for transporting pets.)

“Show me his license,” said the waiter at a little restaurant on Chicago’s North Shore.

“Please sign this ADA service dog agreement,” said a New Orleans hotel clerk.

All of which, of course, were either irrelevant or illegal. Trooper and I stood our ground, and the Jacks-in-office caved after we pointed out the law, usually to their superiors. Justice Department rules are clear: all a venue can ask are two questions: 1. Is that a service dog? And 2. What task does the dog perform for you? No identification of any kind is required. Not even a colorful vest on the dog.

U.S. disability law is clear, and when its details are explained to clerks and agents, things tend to go all right. 

Canadian law, however, is murky, but getting better. For the last three years the powers that be in Ottawa have been fashioning a nationwide law about service dogs, but it’s a slow and plodding process. Each of the ten provinces has its own law about service dogs, and while the details are mostly the same, they are not identical—and important items differ considerably from U.S. law.

The biggest difference: In the U.S., credentials are never required of service dogs or their handlers, not even colorful vests identifying them as service animals. In Canada, they are.

Most provinces mandate that a service dog carry documentation that it was trained at a government-approved facility. They also mandate that the human member of a service dog team hold an ID membership card in a government-approved disability organization. Such rules are illegal in the United States.

I suspect, however, that they result in far fewer fake service dog incidents in Canada.

There is just one rule regarding bringing an ordinary pet over the U.S. border into Canada: The dog must have a current rabies certificate. Same with a service dog.

But getting a service dog onto an airplane or a train in Canada is much more involved than that. Both Canadian airlines and trains allow service dogs to fly for free, as they do in the U.S. But “the animal must be harnessed [with an identifying vest] and certified as having been trained to assist a person with a disability by a professional service animal institution,” as Air Canada's rules say.

Fair enough. So I emailed VIA Rail to establish Trooper’s bona fides for a planned transcontinental train journey this fall in the service of Places We Have Peed, the book-in-progress about traveling with service dogs in North America. I said Trooper and I normally travel with a rabies certificate and a copy of Form 7001, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s International Animal Health Certificate, signed by my veterinarian. Would that be sufficient?

Someone in Customer Service replied: “When travelling with a service animal, you will need to travel with the dog's vaccination records. The documents you mention (rabies certificate and a USDA Form 7001 would be required. Prior to travel, you must also provide us with a doctor's letter stating that you must travel with the service animal. If you are a member of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), you can also send us a copy of this documentation. The service animal must wear a vest (displaying that it is a service animal).”

Huh? The ADA is not something one can be a member of; it is a law, not an organization. I decided to let that pass, and wrote back:

“You requested that I provide you with a doctor’s letter stating that I must travel with the service animal. I cannot do this.

“It is not true that I cannot survive without a service dog, and I doubt that any other service dog partner would make such a claim. A service dog is trained to make life easier for a person with a disability, not to keep that person alive. My service dog Trooper, a professionally trained “hearing dog,” alerts me to sounds such as a fire alarm, a doorbell, a telephone (I have a captioned phone), an alarm clock, an oven timer, people approaching behind me, the call of my name, and the like.
Trooper and I are a working unit. I am never without him, and he is never away from me.

“I am totally deaf. Although I cannot provide you with the doctor’s letter you wish, I can provide you with a recent audiogram that proves I have absolutely no hearing.

“If I do this, as well as provide you with ID cards from Dogs for the Deaf (Trooper’s trainer) and the State of Michigan service dog registration, as well as an USDA Form 7001 signed by my veterinarian that includes a complete immunization record, will you accept me as a bona fide traveler with a disability who uses a service dog?”

I suspect the original Customer Service respondent was a low-level, inexperienced agent—and that the agent who responded to my second message was a veteran who had dealt many times with service dog handlers. She wrote:

“The ID cards from Dogs for the Deaf and the USDA Form 7001 are acceptable. This information should be provided to us in advance [of booking]. The service animal must wear a vest (displaying that it is a service animal).”

The agent also suggested that I enroll in the “VIA Préférence program” similar to schemes everywhere that contain all a passenger’s personal information to speed issuance of tickets. They’ll add Trooper’s data to mine so that I don’t have to jump through hoops in the future.

All this huggermugger has a further happy result: When I travel on VIA’s Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver in November, Trooper and I will luxuriate in a spacious double bedroom for the price of a one-person roomette, a prize VIA offers to service dog teams. That’ll save me a thousand dollars Canadian (about $750 US at this writing).