Travel With Our Service Dog

As a designer and creative person, travel is a source of inspiration for me. I have been lucky enough to live and travel around the world. I rely on the beauty and the discovery that I find in travel and the opportunity to make contact with other peoples’ stories and lives.

I am originally from Hannover, Germany. I’ve lived in London and Oxford, England; Cape Town, South Africa; Sydney, Australia and yes, Santa Fe, New Mexico – where I came for the first time, on my own, when I was 17.

My mum was a teacher. The instant school holidays started, we were off to France, to Greece, to Austria, to Scotland. It was just the two of us, her as pilot and me as co-pilot. I learned to read maps and be the navigator at an early age. We’d load up the car and go. She wasn’t worried about giving hitchhikers a ride and sometimes, sure enough, we met the random crazy person on the road. Three months staying put in one place without a trip was my maximum before I grew restless.

But if travel was my life, change my comfort zone and exploration my middle name, becoming a mom changed that in some unforeseen ways.

When our son was just 2 ½ he was diagnosed with the life-threatening condition Type 1 diabetes. As the diagnosis slowly sunk in, I realized that spontaneity would no longer be my friend and companion.  My boy is all set to live a long and healthy life, but his condition requires constant management!

At first we stayed close to home and just learned to cope and get through each day. With time, our ability to make choices grew beyond the initial stage where we were just learning how to adapt.

We talked to the doctors and we made a plan to travel again. That plan was a drawn-out process of planning where we’d go and not choosing places too remote or with dubious medical care. Then came the preparations: counting and re-counting medications; dealing with insurance companies and pharmacies; packing double the supplies for the plane trip in case, heaven forbid, a bag with medications got lost in transit. Not to mention playing out emergency scenarios in our minds until we felt confident we could actually do this!

Three years ago with the help of ADW, we added, Tori, our service dog to our lives to help us manage our son’s condition. Tori is amazing help. I can’t imagine our life without her.

Sure enough, our travels mean that Tori of course comes with us – to San Francisco, to New York, to the UK and to Germany so far! Planning for a service dog on a plane also means figuring out what happens if delays mean getting stuck in an airport. Extra food, extra diapers, extra on all counts!

The paperwork trail needed to get a service dog into another country is long. You must notify every airline you travel with, every airport you will land at because customs officials come to meet the dog on the plane. Entering a supermarket in Germany with a service dog found supermarket managers descending on us who believed the only “service dog” was a seeing-eye dog. How different from what we encounter in Santa Fe, where positive curiosity rules the day!

But for all the preparations, the trips themselves are splendid. We reunite with our families. We had a special day for Luke in London last summer, a boy’s dream. Luke LOVES any kind of public transport (maybe because we get so little of it here in Santa Fe!). Tori, though, really isn’t so sure.

But we decided to take as many modes of transport in one day as we could and Tori did great! With Grandma and Granddad along, we set off in a car, then took a red London bus, two kinds of trains and finally a cable car across the Thames in the Docklands. Afterwards we took the underground back to the train and then caught a black taxi back to our car.

Luke had a blast. It all worked out – we just had to take our time and talk to the station personnel!

Our son is now 10 years old and we have traveled many times with him, supplies and now, Tori – taking care to consider all of our needs, human, dog and the disease of Type 1 Diabetes.

I am still continuing to regain my sense of freedom and trust that I had before my son’s diagnosis.  I am sure there will come a place where my soul can sing knowing Luke and we all are safe! Often when I get home I reflect on these questions while feeling like many travelers do, that I need a vacation from my vacation.

And then I just look into Tori’s calm eyes, and it is all so worth it.

Tori sleeps quietly on London transport

Tori sleeps quietly on London transport

Tori visiting a NYC fire station

Tori visiting a NYC fire station

Tori at the pet relief area of Denver airport. She didn't care for the concrete edge or the choice of soil.

Tori at the pet relief area of Denver airport. She didn’t care for the concrete edge — or the soil.

The British lab swims in a British lake

The British lab swims in a British lake

So much for the please-don't-pet-me-badge, in Chinatown, NYC

So much for the please-don’t-pet-me-badge, in Chinatown, NYC