Disney with Special Needs: Having Your Service Dog in the Parks with You

13724886_1034856326603169_6416232377147941537_oYou’ve gotten your canine super sidekick his shots, packed his backpack with all of his essentials, and boosted yourself up to stand up for your rights as a service dog team. Now it’s time to actually head out into the parks with your furry companion and enjoy some of the Disney magic for yourself. I’d like to tell you that it will all be completely smooth sailings and that nothing will be out of the ordinary or challenging while you are browsing Main Street U.S.A. or hopping on for a ride on it’s a small world. That, however, would just be a big old lie and us superheroes have to stick together. That’s why I am here to give you a rundown of what it’s really like to bring your dog into the park with you so that you are prepared to make the most of it.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good: There are a lot of really fun things about having your service dog in the parks with you, not the least of which is simply being able to function while you are enjoying all of the Disney magic. Here are some of the best:

  • Four legs, four ears. Dressing up does not have to just be for the human revelers in your group. There are tiny pairs of Mickey ears available that fit little canine heads perfectly. If your dog tolerates things like that, throw on a pair and let him look as adorable as everyone else
  • Lonely Cast Members. Many Cast Members are far from home when they are working at Disney, so a lot of them miss their own furry friends. They love to see service dogs so that they can think of their pets back home. If your dog does not have a “no touch” policy like my Filburt, make the day of some of these Cast Members by letting them spend a little time with your pup. They spend their days making other people happy, and this is a chance for you to brighten up theirs a little
  • Keep him hydrated. Just like you, your dog is going to need plenty of water throughout the day. If you find yourself without a bottle handy, don’t hesitate to visit a counter service location and ask for a cup of water. They will give it to you free of charge. If you are not near such a restaurant, ask any Cast Member where you would be able to find water for him and they will happily find some
  • Hop on a ride. Yes, dogs can ride rides, too! Of course, you aren’t going to strap your sidekick in for a spin on Space Mountain or an adventure on Expedition Everest, but he can absolutely visit the ghostly inhabitants of the Haunted Mansion, sail around the world on it’s a small world, or even venture into a book on The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh. Essentially, as long as you do not require a harness, your pup can come along. Filburt particularly loved the Kilimanjaro Safari

The Bad: Not everything is perfect when you step into Disney with a service dog. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy yourself, though. Just being prepared can help you manage these situations smoothly:

  • Um, that’s why he has a bandana. It is extremely rare, but you might encounter a security person who does not know about service dogs or who has a very particular concept of what a service dog is. Some people even think that there are only a couple of breeds that are “allowed” to be service dogs. You might get questioned. You might even encounter a situation like I did when a guard actually called his supervisor over and said “This is not a working dog” without even acknowledging my existence. If this happens, stay calm. State clearly and firmly, but politely, that your dog is a trained service dog and that according to the ADA you are permitted to have him with you. Emphasize that it is illegal for them to ask why or to ask for any form of papers, then go directly to Guest Services. Let them know what happened and point out exactly which guard caused the problem. This is not to get them in trouble, but to ensure that they get the re-education that they need in order to not treat others that way.
  • Not a Disney character. It’s important to keep in mind that many other countries do not have service dogs and even in those countries that do, seeing them is not terribly frequent. This can cause you to get a considerable amount of attention if you happen to run into a family from one of these countries. The language barrier can make it even more confusing and you may find yourself trying to communicate that the children should not play with the dog. Be prepared to have a few people take pictures of your dog and some even bring their children up to pet him. Do not feel obligated to let this happen. Even if your dog can be touched while working, you do not have to allow him to become an attraction. Tell the family “no” and guide your dog away from them, then keep moving. You might feel a little bit rude, but this is your vacation and you deserve to be treated properly.
  • Good thing there is a vet. No matter how careful you are, accidents can happen. Just like you or your child might get hurt while at Disney, you might encounter an incident with your dog. They might step on something, trip, or even get closed in the door of a ride, as happened with Fil. If something does happen, know that the Cast Members are going to do everything that they can to help. Fil got closed in the door of Winnie-the-Pooh and the attendant started the ride with him still partially hanging out. It was terrifying and it took a few seconds to pull him up into the honey pot with us. He was fine, but it was scary and upsetting. By the time we got through the ride, there were two representatives of the park and a vet waiting for us to make sure that he was doing OK. Always keep your eye out to make sure that your sidekick is safe, but also know that if something does happen, there is help

13737461_1034859093269559_2120232004832672775_oThe Ugly: No one wants to think about the fact that there are somewhat unpleasant people in the world, especially when you are at The World. Being realistic about this, however, is essential to being prepared to visit with your dog. Sadly there are some really unpleasant and unknowledgeable people and you might encounter some. Know that there are going to be people who assume that because you have a dog you are either blind or incapacitated and will try to get in front of you in line, push past you while you are walking, or straight-up mock you while you are standing there. Don’t hesitate to say something. One particularly unmagical moment happened for me on the ferry to Magic Kingdom when a man was trying to get to a seat and literally shoved past me and then physically pushed Filburt with his leg. I said “You know, you could say excuse me to me. And to my dog.” He looked up, obviously startled, and looked sheepish and embarrassed throughout the rest of the ride. It was hard for me to speak up like that, but at the same time I knew that I was doing my superhero duty to teach him how he should interact with others.

Alright, superheroes. Now we have our teams, our sidekicks, and we’re ready to take on The World. Next time we’re going to get into some of the other little things that make me just so special – namely, taking on Disney as a vegan. As we would say down in my neck of the woods, deliciousness awaits, ya’ll!

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Taryn was born and raised, and still lives in Richmond, Virginia. Neither she nor her husband ever had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World when they were children, but when their daughter Avalon came along, they decided she was not going to follow in their footsteps. They brought Avalon for the first time when she was 3 and have been hooked ever since. Now along with Taryn’s mother and equally Disney-loving older brother, they go “home” at least once a year, and by the time she is staring longingly at Cinderella Castle from the ferry on their last night, Taryn is well on her way to planning the next trip. As a group consisting of two adults with Asperger’s, including one who is also vegan, a very accommodating husband, an only child, a senior, and a service dog, they are a pretty special family, but Taryn is excited to show that the World really is The Most Magical Place on Earth and that there is a place there for everyone. When she isn’t thinking about her next Disney adventure and trying to come up with a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party costume that will beat her Oozma Kappa nerd look, she is a professional blogger and novelist, but Taryn also likes to indulge her Disney passion on her Etsy shop Baby and Toto, Too.

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