Know the rules: service animals and traveling
Dogs are a man’s best friend, not only because of our age-old companionship, but also because of the roles they help us fill: guardian, sheepherder, search-and-rescue, police K-9 and, of course, guide dog. Dogs are a valuable aid to those with hearing loss, alerting them to noises they often miss, like the doorbell, the phone, an oven timer or someone calling their name.
We’ve come to rely on canines so much that it can be hard to live without them, especially if you have a hearing impairment. Luckily, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) widely protects the use and admittance of guide dogs to businesses and on transportation. That doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t run into issues with your guide dog in public, so if you’re taking a vacation, be sure to know your facts and plan ahead before you pack your pooch’s suitcase.
Make sure to check all rules and regulations, not only for the airline you will be taking or the restaurant you will be dining at, but also for the ADA itself. It’s important to know your rights as well as the business policies so you can anticipate any potential problems that might arise and how best to avoid them. Try to acclimate your guide dog to the type of environment he will be exposed to as much as possible prior to your trip. While your guide dog may be well-trained, new places could make it difficult for him to focus on his work and make him disruptive to other people.
Just like you, your dog requires a few traveling items as well. Aside from the obvious items like food and toys, be sure to pack paperwork like any ownership papers, guide certification papers and a recent vet bill.
Guide dogs are allowed on buses, trains and planes per ADA requirements, but policies vary by company. Many airlines require the dog to fit in front of the person’s seat in order to travel in the cabin, which obviously limits quite a few customers. Larger dogs are usually required to ride in the stowage area, and require proof of a clean bill of health due to fluctuating temperatures.
Chances are your dog will also be handled by people he doesn’t know, especially if you’re flying. TSA agents and airline employees will both likely be handling your dog, so make sure he is comfortable with strangers.
Hotels, restaurants and movie theaters
While guide dogs are allowed in hotels, keep in mind you are still responsible for any damage or disturbance your dog could cause. ADA regulations say businesses are allowed to disallow or bill you for anything they would a customer without a guide dog.
The same goes for restaurants and movie theaters. While health codes allow an exception for service animals, business owners are allowed to ask you to leave if your guide dog is causing a disturbance or creating a sanitation problem.
If you’re traveling to another country, or to an island like Puerto Rico or Hawaii, review the animal guidelines before you book your ticket. Some places, like Hawaii, require a quarantine before any animal will be admitted into the territory. Other places, like the United Kingdom, require proof of service certification for visiting animals.
Know your resources
In the off chance you run into an issue with your guide dog, whether that be at a U.S. establishment or overseas, have the necessary contacts on hand. Websites such as Pet Partners offer a comprehensive breakdown of ADA guidelines and service animal policy inside the United States. If you are denied entry into a business, speak with the manager first and explain federal rules before offering to call the police to resolve the matter.
Having a hearing loss or hearing device shouldn’t hold you back from traveling, and as long as you are aware of the policies, it shouldn’t hold your guide dog back either.