Carmel and I set off at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday for our AER conference in Littlerock. We arrived at the airport and got a drop-off at Delta curb side check-in, which is always where I check in. Well, I should say it was where, because I was told that with a service animal you must go to the check-in counter-at least that is the Delta rule at Tampa International Airport. I told them I should not have to go there-as I had an electronic ticket. They insisted, so not to prolong things I just went. Now, this happens to persons with disabilities all of the time-we just end up having to do things like this even though the rest of the world doesn’t because otherwise we’d have to stand our ground and fight (advocate) and possibly miss our flight or something else, so we just give in. We all wish the world would just realize we do sometimes know what we are talking about-and if it involves issues around access or adaptations, believe me-we know more. Anyway, I caved in and went to the ticket counter and waited in the long line-and thought the whole time-this is a waste of my time-and I guess I won’t be getting a coffee after all-and I really need one. Of course when I finally got to the ticket counter, the agent says, “you don’t have anything on your record about traveling with a service animal.” Well, I told her I don’t have to have it on there and whipped out my Seeing Eye I.D. card. She proceeded to ask me for papers-what. Inside I was sort of panicking. I didn’t have any papers on me-I thought the I.D. card would be more than sufficient. That is at least what I told her and it seemed to have worked. Yes, then she tried to re-seat me in the bulkhead, which I declined nicely and told her I wouldn’t have as much space. Now, after 30 minutes or more-I was on my way to my gate, with a skycap, who never left my side, well, Carmel and I followed him while he lugged along my roller bag. Carmel did a relatively good job in the airport-she did get distracted a few times. I took the gentle leader out of my bag and started to put it on her, and immediately she got that dejected look-so I took it off, and she was indeed better after that.
We got on the plane, with our seat way in the back. Got there without any issues.
Then I realized we had an aisle seat. I recommend to everyone out there to never get an aisle seat with a guide dog-you will spend your entire flight pulling and pushing them. Pulling them out of the aisle, using your feet to push them back in, etc. By the time we got to Atlanta, my back was killing me from all of the work. And, we still had to get to Littlerock. Now, I need to get someone to walk me to the next gate-always seems to be an issue. It was a major issue in the Atlanta airport. It seems no one likes dogs-all are afraid. I had to listen to arguing about who was going to walk me. Finally a nice man did and he seemed fine. But then he only took me to the edge of the concourse and said he couldn’t go to the concourse I needed to get to. So, I got sat in a waiting area to wait for a shuttle. See note above about getting stuck doing things no one else has to do. Ugh. ARG! Finally the shuttle arrived, and the shuttle driver freaked out. She informed I had to sit in the back because she is afraid of dogs. I did ask her to stop off at the dog relief area (a grassy area on the road side). She got out of the van on her side and then told me to get out-so she would be away from the dog. Amazing. Of course I took this opportunity to educate her about the training Seeing Eye dogs receive and assured her I understand about being fearful of dogs (I myself am), but that guide dogs receive exceptional training and are at no risk to people. We finally arrived at our gate. Got on the plane and realized we were in the bulkhead. I will have to say here it was a small plane, but wow, there was no room for Carmel. I spent that entire flight keeping her under my feet. I did reward her with some ice cubes, which she loved. Finally we arrived in Littlerock, got the shuttle to our hotel (DoubleTree) and got to our room. And, I was ready to totally collapse, but Carmel wasn’t. She was ready to stretch her legs.
So, we set off for a walk and some lunch with a business colleague I had run into at the airport. We ended up exploring the market place area and finding a great restaurant, I think Whiskey River, and eating a great meal. I am thinking of lunching there again today. Carmel did a great traveling in town. I felt so confident walking with her. She is funny about those grates on the rod though-she always has to go around them, which confuses me because I am never sure what she is doing. I am still learning to just trust her, and know she has quirks too, just like people.
We got back around 3 p.m. local time and took a short rest-I returned work emails. Then at 4 p.m. we had orientation. The conference provides individuals to help orient the attendees who are blind to the hotels ( I am staying at a different hotel than the conference is), and the area. Now, by this time my feet were absolutely killing me and I mean killing me. By the time we finished this orientation I was ready for bed-and it was only 6 p.m. local time and 7 my time. I spent the next hour or so trying to get Carmel to park-but she wouldn’t. So, I told her we were going to bed and she would just have to wait til the morning.
So, in the middle of the night-3 a.m. local time-Carmel woke me up to tell me (she has a specific noise she makes-sort of a whine) that she needs to go. Now, I felt so bad but told her there was no way we could go-the area was locked up for relief-the Double Tree has set up a nice and convenient area for dog relief, but it is locked from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. I felt so bad for her. I needed to go myself and tried to not go-since I felt bad I wasn’t taking her, but eventually I just went myself. Anyway, I justified, I wasn’t the one who refused to go last night. Now, I also must say here, I contemplated all the things I could do. I thought, I could take her out the front door (no-too obvious to front desk/security, put newspaper in the bathroom-no, I don’t have any newspaper and that would create a bad habit, let her go in the bathroom-no way. I just hoped she would hold it til I could take her out. So, at 5:30 a.m. local time-our normal time to be up by-usually a bit earlier-she had had it and let me know we needed to go now. I called the front desk and asked if they could unlock the back door-and they did. Carmel went immediately. So, now we are back in the room and I am writing this up and then going to get ready for the day.
Oh, I forgot a big thing. Carmel barked at another guide dog yesterday. I was so embarrassed. Before when I’ve heard dogs bark at conferences/meetings I have honestly thought the handlers were not good handlers. Now, it has happened to me-oh my goodness. The person giving me the orientation said Carmel was wagging her tail when it happened, so I am thinking she just wanted to play, but there is no way I can let her get into barking. I corrected her immediately. I am so so hoping she doesn’t do that again. I am hoping to talk to someone from Seeing Eye to get feedback on what I can do to ensure this doesn’t happen again. How embarrassing.
All in all the past 24 hours have been exhausting, but Carmel is performing well. She is doing her job, and I am feeling more confident and independent traveling than I ever have.
So, now we are off to a full day of conference activities, and meeting new people and other guide dogs. Everyone pray we do well.