I am not sure when my Guide Dog Gunner gained his epiphet of “The International Dog of Mystery” but I think it was when we first travelled abroad, 5 years on we have made a dozen or so trips and I was asked to share some of our experiences. This will not be a definitive “how to travel as a VI Person, or how to travel with your dog but hope it gives some insight
- Do your research, no one seems certain
This was my first surprise, you would think with an organisation the size of Guide dogs the “how do we travel abroad” question would have merited a clear fact sheet, in the accessable form of your choosing, would have been forthcoming. Alas no, getting the lads passport was pretty straightforward but the rules around what the vet needs to do before you leave and what you have to do to get back in the country is like negotiating the crystal maze, you could try your vets, but they will need to be a special vet and even then we have had 3 and all have given different advice. The Defra website will give you a definitive answer but I suggest brewing a pot of strong coffee and flexing the brain before you start
- Not all assistance is that special, but some is great
This applies even if you don’t have your dog with you, some airports are absolutely splendid. Southampton one of the best. Staff are friendly, ask sensible questions and are generally brilliant. This also goes for the on board staff of Fly Be and Fly BLN out of Southampton.
If attempting Heathrow Terminal 5 I advise –
Take a packed lunch
Don’t have anything Alcoholic to drink before the experience
Be prepared to have a “falling down” moment
Repeat the words “calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean” over and over….
So last experience.
Tripped over a lovely lady from BA, took us over and booked us in, couldn’t have been more helpful, then handed us over to “special assistance”
The lady arrived, I only knew this as helpful BA lady pointed it out, I asked the SA lady to identify herself but she remained mute. Eventually I advised our relationship would only work if she made some noise and I got a couple of squeaks.
I was then transferred to the first holding pen, full of the elderly and infirm but this was ok. They then appeared with a wheelchair, yes a wheelchair. I explained that the denim clad appendages I had were legs and they worked just fine, I even did a little dance but they still were keen I took to the chair. I explained politely this wouldn’t be happening.
So I was handed back to silent Sue, who after the exertion of a couple of squeaks earlier was done for the day. I then had a “moment” It went along the lines of “For Christ sake this isn’t difficult, you tell me we are going I tell the dog to follow you and occasionally we exchange a few words and all will be well, this is bloody ridiculous” So Sue was substituted for Kevin, who got it an was most loquacious. We got quite a rapport going, any chance you could deliver me to a café or something, could do with a drink. Was told not to worry as the special assistance lounge would be able to sort me out with a drink, excellent.
So taken to holding pen 2, same as before and comfier chairs, a lovely lady approached, “drink Sir” excellent I replied and before placing my order was handed a small plastic cup of water, it turns out this is the “speciality of the house” or more correctly water from the machine is the extent of the menu.
So rehydrated I was ferried to the plane with no further incident. So they will get you to your plane, which I guessis there primary purpose, but shelve any thoughts of shopping, eating or drinking anything other than a cup of water.
If I compare this to my Southampton experience where they have helped me to buy things in the shop and left me to wait in the starbucks or the eaterie is really the experience I am looking for.
3Customes abroad are never sure.
I have had an Irish passport officer look over the top of his booth “ah tis a fine looking dog you have there” I have been sent to talk to the ministry of agriculture, they were not too sure what to do but when I said he wasn’t a cow they let us through. A Belgian customes officer asked me what the pet passport was, he seemed very confused, a dog? Yes I replied like Snowy in the adventures of tintin, this display of cultural knowledge of Belgian literature was enough for him to let us into the country. In Germany they were very thorough, in that I heard them turn every page of his passport and then handed it back.
In terms of your welcome, I have found most places very accommodating and welcoming, Ireland and Germany probably my highlights, and the USA is always great. In terms of challenges I found Japan very interesting, lovely lovely people but they didn’t seem to know what a white stick was and thus I ploughed rather a furrow, I am 6ft 5 and big with it, on the way to Tokyo grand central station I clattered into many folks. Strangest place ever was Catania in Sicily, they seem either terrified or abnormally interested in the stick…..Canteen went silent as I walked in, in the town people through themselves out of the way in terror but in the hotel when I asked the chap to guide me to my room he bent over, grasped the ball and began walking…..
Everywhere loves the International Dog of Mystery, except Belgium, where they tried to hide us..not very well
Occasionally there is a little hitler
Terminal 5 again, last trip in they wouldn’t let us off the plane. I was advised that the special DEFRA person had to come and check us before we could leave the plane, puzzled as this had never happened before I was left to wait for an hour before Ms Snotty appeared and lectured us that this was THE PROCED~URE (in caps for those using screen readers) and despite my assertion that this was our 12th trip and this had never happened before she insisted she was right and took an extra 10 minutes to fill in some form, she helpfully advised she had written there eMail on the top, I helpfully pointed out that as I had a guide dog this wasn’t as helpful as she thought, I also asked for the form in braille, to which she apologised and said it wasn’t available in braille. I had the last laugh, I cant read braille, but she didn’t know that.
So VIP travellers, would I recommend it?
Yes, yes I would, of the dozen trips I have made with the dog I have only had the 1 bad experience, bloody terminal 5, but have had some great times and service. Before myself and Gunner paired up I made over 50 trips all over the world as a cane user, white cane that is, nothing untoward, and apart from an unsightly wheelchair incident in Chicago and lost luggage in Taiwan the world has been a wonderful place, get out there and enjoy it and don’t forget to take your dog.
Tiny and Gunner, International dog of mystery.