Travel abroad with service dogs

My husband has been traveling to England the past two summers for research and plans two trips there in 2016.  Because he works a six-day week there, and because I’m blind and need sighted assistance to tour any country, I haven’t accompanied him.  However, this summer he’s involved in a festival in Durham, will be speaking and I’d like to join him.  I spoke to my vet about taking my new guide dog with me, and my jaw dropped with the challenges.

First the vet must fill out endless paper work. These documents are so confusing and time-consuming, she says, that none of the four other vets in the practice will do it.  But I’ve been a client for over 30 years, and she would like to accommodate me.  Her charge is $250, and that is reduced because of my loyalty over the years.  Then the paper work must go to Harrisburg for approval and another fee.  Finally, Dave, my dog, must have an EU microchip implanted (even though he has a chip implant already) or I’ll need to buy a scanner to take along for customs—all to the tune of $300.  My vet said I would have to buy a ticket for Dave as well, although guide dogs travel throughout the US for free.  On double-checking this last issue, I think my vet is wrong.  According to a customer service rep from American airlines, my guide dog can still travel for free.  So I probably face $550 in costs to take Dave, and that doesn’t count the money the state of Pa will charge.   And no matter how carefully my vet and Harrisburg complete the paper work, my vet said there are often problems.  In England officials often do not find the documents acceptable and put the dog in quarantine.  (For which I would also pay and during which Dave would freak!)

Years ago when our kids were 3 and 6, my husband went to Bath, England for 4 months of research. Back then, dogs weren’t allowed to enter the United Kingdom.  The country had no rabies, and they planned to keep it that way.  Seeing Eye said that I could leave my guide dog for only a month if I wanted her to continue to guide reliably.  So I hired dog sitters to stay in our home and traveled with the children for that month.

Then the Chunnel was built, and preventing French, Dutch, and other Europeans from bringing their dogs in cars to the country seemed impossible, so England relaxed her restrictions. But it is still so unwelcoming that even if I were willing to pay the money, I would hesitate for fear that the papers wouldn’t be acceptable.

My vet ended the conversation with another piece of advice. “As soon as you arrive, make an appointment with an English vet.  Get him/her to give you a passport for Dave, and you won’t need all the documents the next time.”

She also said that I would have to go through this all over again for a trip to Israel and non-EU countries. “Australia is the worst for admitting dogs.”

So I’m perplexed. At the most I’d like to spend 10 days this summer with my husband, then leave while he does a month of research.  Boarding my dog would cost less than the fees, and I wouldn’t run the risk of his being placed in some unknown English kennel.  But I’ve only had Dave now for six months.  I’m reluctant to leave him anywhere with anyone, even Mother Theresa, were she still alive.  Morris Frank, the first American guide dog user, spent most of his adult life trying to break down the “no dogs allowed” restrictions.  But barriers still exist, and I’m pretty irked about itf.

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About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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