Sunday, 2 March 2014

Road Trip #3, Part III: The Road Gets Bumpy

Since this post is eventually going to wind up talking about a service-dog-related episode on BC Ferries, I thought I'd start with a bit of background on service animals in general and our/Freddie's situation in particular ... all of it interspersed with some lighter photographic fare from our Tofino getaway.

Onward ...!

In British Columbia, a person's right to be accompanied by a medically-indicated service animal is protected under both Canada's and BC's Human Rights laws. In theory, a person with a visual impairment or PTSD or autism or Type 1 diabetes etc. etc. may be accompanied by a service animal at all times (assuming the animal is not a nuisance or danger to others), regardless of whether or not that animal has been trained by an accredited organization* or certified by the BC Ministry of Justice (issuers of service dog certificates). In practice, connection to a familiar organization, such as Pacific Assistance Dogs (PADS) or BC Guide Dogs, is extremely useful, as is Ministry certification.

*The accreditation process is managed by Assistance Dogs International.

When Paul and I decided to acquire a diabetes alert dog (DAD) for me, we discovered there wasn't a single accredited training facility for this kind of dog in Canada (the Lions in Ontario have since started a program — very limited and, understandably, focused on children — and rumour has it that PADS intends to start training alert dogs ... sometime). We checked out every accredited DAD program in the States, and the only one that claimed to accept Canadian applicants failed to answer my queries. So ... what to do?

[Yeah, my diabetes knows right well who's boss. Sigh ...]

At that point, we committed to a dog from Shari O'Quinn, a Labradoodle breeder and certified dog trainer in Washington State, who uses a service dog herself and who has a special interest in public access training for future service dogs. Our dog would spend his first nine months working with Shari, after which we would continue his public access training at home, under the guidance of local trainers. For the alerting/scent work, we signed on for long-distance training and consultation with Scott Smith, an experienced DAD trainer in Virginia.

Despite some glitches in the local training (material for another post), the process has gone well, and we're pretty confident Freddie will grow up to be a steady, reliable service dog (he's already a perfect companion dog :-)). Although my right to have him with me is protected by law, however, I do — for practical purposes — want him to be certified by the Ministry of Justice. Not surprisingly, these folks are loath to issue certificates to animals that haven't been trained and tested by one of the big, accredited organizations.

Last year, after some tedious email exchanges with provincial government peons, Paul and I hired a lawyer to help us come to an agreement with the Ministry. The agreement goes something like this: once Freddie passes a souped-up (ie. service dog-oriented) version of the Canadian Kennel Club's "Canine Good Neighbour" test, to be administered by a local certified trainer, he will be eligible for public access certification.

[A+ Sniffer!]

Currently, Freddie wears a "Service Dog in Training" vest, and I carry a letter from my endocrinologist, confirming my Type 1 diabetes and my legitimate use of an alert dog. SDs in training are generally allowed the same access as fully trained ones, but, technically, business owners etc. can refuse access, on reasonable grounds.

OK ... got all that? Keep it in mind as we start the journey home. ;-)

[Smoke break (not ours!) at the service station, where we stopped to fill our mysteriously punctured front tire with air — sigh again — in hopes of making it to the Canadian Tire in Port Alberni]

[We made it! No exact match to be found, so we had to replace both front tires ... and no all-seasons in stock, so the Mom-and-Dad-Mobile is now only half kitted out for foul weather. One more sigh for the road. At least the Port Alberni Canadian Tire boasted a dog-friendly sign on their door.]

And now ... cut to Heather and Freddie in the cafeteria of BC Ferries' Queen of Alberni, with Freddie lying calmly under a table, Paul off buying some chow, and a very official-looking woman approaching our table, most emphatically on a mission ...

She was Chief Steward McBain — polite and friendly, but wanting to know about Freddie's status and to see his official papers "from the organization that trained him." With all of the above background info bumbling around in my head and my doctor's letter buried in a suitcase (head slap to self), you can be sure I gave the clumsiest, most guilty-seeming response possible. C.S. McBain took a certain amount of pity on me but left me with instructions to have my papers in order next time I sailed with BC Ferries. It felt like the time in Grade 11 when I got reprimanded by the vice principal on my way from locker to library because I'd told him I was "on my spare" (the correct term, apparently, was "study block").

After giving Paul the lowdown and stewing awhile in my (mostly unearned) sense of guilt, I decided to hunt down the Chief Steward and have her listen to as much of the info you've just read/skimmed/skipped over as she was willing to indulge. I found her in her office — surprised, I think, to see me, but also happy to talk — and we spent the next 15 minutes or so chatting about service dogs ... my own story, her experiences with obvious fakers, BC Ferries' attempts to come up with a policy (which, interestingly, states that asking for paperwork is not OK), and more. C.S. McBain made it pretty clear that Freddie was welcome aboard and that I was welcome to refer to our conversation on future journeys. Yay, diplomacy!

Freddie slept soundly for the remainder of the journey.  

Have a rosy week, everyone! 

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