Awhâ€¦..breathe in, breathe out and then repeat. Itâ€™s so relaxing to sit on comfortable seat cushions on a beautiful sunny day at the Mariott Hotel in Dulles, VA. This is my work location for the weekend.
Radar, a Diabetic Alert Dog (DAD) in training at Michigan Dog Training in Plymouth, Michigan and I are attending a Debby Kay DAD seminar. We arrived a day early so that we could work on our public access skills, DAD detection skills and so I could be refreshed before attending the seminar. It will focus on training DADs to perform night alerts (DADs can be trained to indicate on a Type 1 Diabetic whose blood sugar level has gone low while they are sleeping).
This was Radarâ€™s first flight on a commercial airline and he did outstanding. He flew with flying colors. The MDT team of dog trainers and I have been training Radar since he was a puppy. The results of his dog training has enabled him to perform exceedingly well even in new environments. As we were waiting in the long security line at Metro Detroit airport, I tried to imagine what Radar must have been thinking. I bet it sounded something like this, â€œCome on, I know how to sit and down and stay already, we donâ€™t need to practice it every 3-4 feet. Iâ€™ve got this!â€ But I was so thankful for his training as that line was a very slow moving line. It was like being on a dead stop freeway, bumper to bumper behind other peopleâ€™s luggage only able to move a few feet at a time. Due to his training and temperament, he was a real trooper taking the crowds in stride.
If youâ€™ve flown since 2001, you know how stressful it can be taking off your belt, shoes and emptying all of your pockets to
prepare them for inspection by the X-ray machine. Additionally, one must place their laptop computer in a bin as well. What makes this stressful is because everyone is in a hurry to get through the process to catch their flight. Now add to this stressful environment, a dog, one which you must be observant of, in control of and handle along with all your other items. This is one example why a service dog must have a solid temperament and trustworthy obedience skills.
In most cases, I find people are understanding and considerate of service dogs. However, that consideration runs low when people are stressed. Ironic as it seems, people are in a hurry when boarding the plane despite everyone having assigned seats and the plane not taking off until everyone is seated. They are in a rush to get to their seats to ensure they will have the most desired storage space of their carry on bags. Their haste resulted in people pushing past and almost stepping over Radar as I attempted to move him out of their way. It surprised me that as careful as I was to ensure Radar was out of their way, people were not considerate to wait just a few seconds so that I could makesure their path was clear – for their convenience. Although, once people made their way to their seats and notably the stress levels had lowered; one person offered to trade seats with us as he thought his seat offered more floor room for Radar. It didnâ€™t really but just the same, I was appreciative of his concern after having experienced what seemed like the running of the bulls. LOL
Training Radar to lay down in small places payed off as he made himself comfortable on the floor at my feet keeping his paws out of the isle way. The Delta Flight Stewards were very considerate and welcoming of Radar and me as were the Dulles International Airport staff where we stayed for our first night.
Traveling to the seminar location we would stay at Americaâ€™s Best Value hotel in Charles Town, W. Virginia. There our reception (at first) was much less appreciated. Upon checking into the hotel, the desk employee asked if a pet or service animal would be staying with me. I advised him that I had a service dog in training. He requested to see verification that the dog was in training to be a service dog such as â€œservice dog registration papers.â€ Politely but assertively, I advised him that there was not such a thing as service dog registration papers and according to federal law service dogs had full access rights. I told him that I understood their â€œno pet policyâ€ was an attempt to look out for the concerns of all guests but service dogs are not pets and therefore could not be banned. By emphasizing with his concern for his guests, he didnâ€™t view me as an opponent but instead someone who understood his position even though I disagreed with it. This kept the dialogue open and allowed for education to occur.
I gave him a card which explains the Federal Law and the American Disability Act that defines a service animal, lists the two questions businesses may ask (1. Is that a service animal? and 2. What tasks has the animal been trained to perform?), where service animals are allowed, and what businesses may not do: 1. Require special identification cards for the animal, 2. Ask about the personâ€™s disability, 3. Charge extra fees for the disabled handler or for the service animal, and 4. Isolate a disabled person or their service animal, or treat them less favorably than other customers. He told me of dogs that have been brought into his business that were probably fake service dogs and I agreed with him that that is a real problem and his protection is to be able to refuse service to someone with a dog that is not under their control. However, he would have to show that the purported service animal was not under control. Otherwise, he could not legally refuse service. He was very accepting of this information and said he appreciated the education about service dogs.
I often times see videos and stories posted on the internet regarding service dogs who have been denied access. This is very unfortunate and usually occurs because the business owner or staff were not properly informed about Federal law and the ADA. I applaud disabled persons for standing up for their rights. However, in some cases an opportunity is missed to educate those persons because of high emotions on both sides. I encourage disabled handlers to seek opportunities to educate while standing up for their rights. Here are some tips to accomplish this:
- Remain calm by being conscious of your breath. Breathe in, breathe out and then repeat (this will aid in remaining proactive in thought instead of reactive)
- Acknowledge that you understand their concern for all of their guests (seek to understand their position rather than just to be right)
- Give them an ADA Service Dog card
- Be polite and respectful as you state your rights
- If no understanding can be reached, then respectfully advise you will call a police officer as your rights under federal law are being violated
Americaâ€™s Best Value hotel staff were not against service dogs. They were simply misinformed about their requirements under the ADA. Once properly advised, they were very accommodating and friendly toward us. This occurred because of respectful dialogue on both sides which will serve to aid future disabled guests and their service dogs.