Disney with Special Needs: Traveling with a Service Dog

13724886_1034856326603169_6416232377147941537_oWe’ve already established that being an Aspie makes you one of the most awesome superheroes in the world. And what does every superhero need? A sidekick, of course. The truth is many Aspie superheroes have a couple of sidekicks. It can be your parent, your partner, or even your sibling. If you are like me, you are one who chose to take it to another level and have a furry sidekick — a service dog to the non-heroic.

My original service dog’s name is Filburt – Mr. Fil if he is feeling fancy that day – and he is truly amazing. The Chow portion of his mix makes him look like he is half marshmallow, and the Samoyed portion makes it so that he is one of the few breeds in the world that actually smiles. The result? That’s right. A smiling marshmallow. Adorable. At nearly 16 years old, Filburt is nearly completely blind and losing his hearing, so he has had to retire from his official services. In past years, however, he has been a devoted sidekick with me on all of my grand adventures – and, of course, that means going to Disney with me. His work involves all of those little details that you know about me that makes me unique, from my Asperger’s to my heart. He made my early trips possible and now that I’m in transition between him and a future dog I realize just how much of a difference he made.

Traveling to Walt Disney World requires extensive planning and preparation even if you aren’t bringing a service dog along with you. When you add your favorite furry sidekick, it requires just that much more planning. We’re going to talk about the different considerations of traveling with a dog for a few posts, but this one we’ll focus on…

Plan ahead.

Call ahead. You are not legally obligated to let anyone know that you are bringing a service dog with you on your vacation. You do not have to tell the hotel or the parks. Take my advice, however, and let the hotel know when you make your reservation. Disney is exceptionally service dog friendly and it is always better to let them know ahead of time that you will have your dog with you. That will help them when selecting your room, will give them a chance to let housekeeping know, and can let them give you some valuable information when you check in

Know your hotel rights. You will not have a problem when it comes to Disney, but if you are planning on stopping at another hotel when you are on your way to Disney, know your rights. Remember that a trained service dog is not a “pet” and therefore a hotel is not legally allowed to charge you a pet fee of any kind for your dog to be with you. You do not have to stay in a “pet friendly” hotel or stay in “pet friendly” rooms. Your dog is a piece of medical equipment and should be treated as such

Know your documentation rights. The only documentation that you need to have with you when you travel with your dog is shot records. I repeat…the only types of papers that you need to have for your dog is shot records. It seems to be a little-known fact that there is no such thing as a single organization or group that “registers” service dogs. You can have a service dog registered, but it is by no means a requirement. In order for a dog to be a service dog, he must be trained to perform specific tasks related to your special needs. It cannot be simply for comfort or a “therapy dog” that is only there for their presence. Because of this, many service dogs do not have any kind of papers or documentation. If you are ever asked for your dog’s “papers”, the best response is to smile and hand that person a print out of the Americans with Disabilities Act, also known as the ADA. This specifically dictates that it is unlawful to demand any form of documentation for a service dog, or for a person to ask what special need you have in order to have the dog. Know your rights and do not let anyone push you around.

Next time we are going to talk about the actual prospect of traveling with your dog. Until then, start thinking about the cute ears that your sidekick can wear and all those adorable pictures with Pluto and Marie.

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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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