Caring for those in Need

Travel and Summer Fun with a Service Dog

It is amazing how traveling with a service dog can provide so much assistance for you. Before the passing of my service dog, Maggie, I learned she was able to relieve me of the burdens that traveling adds to a medically compromised person. So, let me share what I mean by this!

BY Ellen Lenox Smith | June 2023 | Category: Summer Fun, Travel

Travel and Summer Fun with a Service Dog

Useful Vest
A service dog usually wears a vest with zippered pockets on both sides. I liked using this, not only to identify that she was a working, skilled girl, but also for my convenience, with limited ability to hold any weight with my arms. I was able to put my medications, earplugs for flying, credentials needed to identify me, money, and even my tickets in those pockets, to have easy access to them. For fear of possibly losing access to her food if put into a carry-on or checked-in suitcase, I filled her measured food meals into those pockets, too. I was also able to include a traveling bowl that folds up, into the pockets, so that I could always, easily take a moment to give her a drink.

Using Her Mouth
I had times of having to travel in a wheelchair, which can truly limit flexibility and movement. So, my service dog was able to carry my tickets in her mouth and even hand them to the correct person, all on command. She was able to carry a plastic bottle of water, also. In hotels (like at home), she was able to assist in opening the refrigerator or cupboard that had a rope on them. She was commanded to tug the rope to open the door, and able to then close it with her paws, or by nudging her nose against the door. While in a refrigerator, my service dog was trained to find my medicine bag or container of water, and then hand it to me. After, she was commanded to close the door.
Using Paws and Nose
A service dog has the capacity, upon command, to provide assistance by using their nose or paw to open a door by pushing the handicap button. I even was able to have her trained to nudge the nightly air mattress that I used, which had to be inflated each evening. In the AM, she was able to turn it back off, preventing me from having to bend or get out of bed, especially since my leg braces were off, as I take them off when I sleep.
Comfort and Calming
Living life as a handicapped person certainly creates stress, and at times while traveling. An example is, when you are expected to climb up the stairs to get into a plane when you aren’t able to. So, the whole group of passengers has to wait while they bring the portable ramp to the airplane, so you can be pushed up. This feels embarrassing to me, so having had her to reach out to comfort me, was magical. I always found that just rubbing my fingers between the tip of her ears calmed me down. And then, having her at my feet on a plane or train continues to provide a calming effect. Service dogs are allowed with you which is a true gift of comfort, whether on a train, plane, boat, or in a car, etc.
Peace Of Mind
A caregiver will also report, as my husband constantly expressed, that a service dog allows some peace of mind for them. Leaving a medically needy person you care for with the service dog, gives an opportunity for a caregiver to step away. The dogs can be trained to even search for the phone, when needed. They provide company and the much-needed help they are trained for.
Her Presence
When people observe a truly well-behaved service dog, I have found that they tend to have a heart and show more compassion. Also, I experienced with people drawn to her, that my husband and I were connected to more social contacts. In fact, since she passed, I can’t tell you how many people still continue to ask where she is, for she made an impression on others in such a positive way. She also symbolized that I had medical challenges.
Examples of Summer Activities
The Beach: A service dog is allowed on the beach to assist you. I always included her, but made sure we had an umbrella to keep her cool, along with water and her bowl. She was able to help me off the chair or get up from the sand, by being my stability. I was able to put my hands on the center of her back to safely transition.

The Pool: Service dogs can provide tremendous assistance to allow you to visit and enjoy a pool. In her backpack, Maggie was able to carry my pool cards, earplugs, goggles, and phone, for possible emergencies. On top of that, a well-trained service dog is able to stay on command at the side of the pool, as another lifeguard for you. Maggie got to know me so well, that she could sense when I needed to get out of the pool due to overextending myself. She would be in a commanded down sleeping position, but when she sensed my oxygen levels were going down, she first would stare at me. When that didn't work, she sat up and almost jumped into the water. I learned quickly that when she looked at me, it was time to get out - and she was right.  I was pushing myself.  This was done by her, as she was never trained to do that! I learned to watch her and pay attention to her, for she knew I pushed myself, but she protected me.

Outside Walks: Whether you must use a wheelchair, walker, or crutches, a service dog helps to make the adventure safer for you. For starters, you are not alone and have a guide that will pay attention to your safety and health. They are able to carry items to ease the walk and assist you in situations that require more stabilization. They are able to help you, by you placing your hands on the center of their back to get up and down, along with carrying your phone or other medical or safety needs.

Travel Excursions: Planning a trip to a cottage or cabin, hotel, or even to another state can certainly create anxiety, as to how you will be able to manage with your disability. Understand that your service dog is legally allowed to be by your side, to assist and comfort you no matter what you choose. I prefer including her ID card and working vest as we travel, to make sure others realize that she is truly a trained and approved dog. There are unfortunately many out there buying fake jackets to pass their pets as service animals. Maggie barked on command for alerting my husband that I needed help, which is important. But, a service dog barking in a store, unless helping her owner, should not be expected behavior. Fortunately, her credentials and behavior quickly provided proof of her true skills.
They are allowed at your feet with you on a plane, train, or bus. They are allowed to stay with you in your hotel room. They are allowed to lie under the table while you eat.  But, I always call in advance when making plans, to make sure everyone is notified that I will be arriving with a service animal. Entering a store, I shared her presence and if they question allowing her to enter, I asked to speak to the manager. I make it clear, politely, that they would be breaking the law if they did not allow my entrance with her.
Hitting the Road:  Tips for Traveling with Your Service Dog
Pack your dog’s food and include extra, just in case the trip has unexpected delays. I like to pack them into the side vest pockets
Remember as you travel to provide the dog with timely opportunities to relieve him/herself. There are relief locations provided now at airports.
Remember to include the poop bags, since we are responsible to clean up after our dogs
Pack a drinking bowl – and remember you can get ones that fold up and are light to travel with.
You need to protect your dog from heat, so if on the beach, be sure to bring an umbrella
Service dogs are rewarded for their efforts with small pieces of their food, so be sure to pack enough extra for the length of the trip.
Think about what you do to exercise your dog at home, and bring anything that would be part of that process - ball, frisbee, etc
Animals may have a need for medication. Be sure to pack whatever is needed for your dog.
I would encourage you to include their identification in their vest
Traveling with your service dog will provide you with the continued help and comfort you have at home. They love to assist you and want to be with you, to be sure you are well taken care of. Have fun and see what adventures you can enjoy together, and enjoy your summer •
Ellen Lenox Smith has emerged as a leading voice for patients living with pain in Rhode Island and the country. She suffers from two rare conditions, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and sarcoidosis. She enjoyed a career, predominantly in the field of education, before having to resign due to health. She devotes much of her time to advocacy. Presently, she is a co-director for Cannabis Advocacy for the US Pain Foundation, along with being on their board, runs Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, and was appointed by the governor to both the Adaptive Telephone Equipment Loan Program and the RI Medical Cannabis Oversight Committee representing patients, and helps run the RI EDS Support group. A proud mother of four sons and five grandchildren, Ellen is also an organic gardener, and prior to her disability, was a master swimmer and high school swim coach. She was a staff writer for National Pain Report and 1000 WATTS Magazine before they shut down, was a former staff writer for Pain News Network, and with her husband speaks out to educate others about her condition and pain management. She has spoken to: the FDA, Brown Medical students, Blue Cross nurses, and physical therapy students in RI and CT, along with speaking at the EDS national conferences. She is also the author of two books: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain -- And Have A Good Life Anyway and My Life as a Service Dog! 

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