Category: Travel

A dog took a shit on a plane, and I’m back to writing.

After my March stint in hospital jail, I tumbled into weeks of new-meds-feel-like-shit-more-new-meds-more-shit-repeat. We’ll call it a rough patch and stop crying about it now. Mmkay? Mmkay. I wrote quite a lot in that time, but didn’t publish a lick of it. There’s some good stuff in there, and I’m going to start publishing again, but after a review of the full body of writing, much of it is just a bunch of crap.

Speaking of crap, several days ago, a US Airways flight traveling from Los Angeles to Philadelphia made an emergency stop in Kansas because an alleged service dog took a crap in the aisle, not just a regular crap either, full on diarrhea … several times. Unable to keep up with the clean up, running out of supplies, and with passengers dry heaving in each other’s laps, the captain made an emergency landing to have the cabin properly scrubbed.

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Owner and dog. Via Chris Law’s Twitter feed.

My immediate thought should have been, “Oh no, what happened? What went so wrong that the dog was uncontrollably sick? What a nightmare for the handler!” (Insert other sympathetic, nice person type thoughts here.)

But that’s not at all what I thought. My first thoughts, rapid fire style:

  • Did anyone find out if it’s a legit service dog?
  • Why isn’t the dog wearing a vest for identification?
  • Given that it appears the dog was actually sick, having uncontrollable diarrhea, what kind of handler would take a sick service dog on a plane? (Hint: We wouldn’t.)
  • How could a handler NOT know that her service dog was sick? (As a handler myself, I can tell you that the health of the service dog is my top priority. None of the (3) dogs I’ve handled ever had so much as a broken nail without me knowing about it. We are a symbiotic team, I can sense a mood change in my service dog at a glance, and given we are together 24 hours a day, we read each other’s needs countless times a day. Missing an illness as severe as to produce explosive diarrhea would be a VERY rare occurrence.)
  • If the dog was frightened of the flight, and was having “nervous diarrhea”, then that dog was not ready for public access, and more work should have been put into putting that dog in a variety of stressful environments so it would be used to it. If someone were to have a seizure on the plane, the dog can’t be helpful if it’s shitting up and down the aisle.

A service dog handler follows protocol for limiting food intake at the beginning of the day of the flight, and to ensure that the service dog has ample time to eliminate before boarding the flight. In addition to that, we pay VERY special attention to the service dog’s general health in the days leading up to lengthy travel, so as not to be stuck midair with a sick dog (would be one of our worst nightmares, to be sure). We have to add on extra time to our arrival at the airport, if we book multi leg flights, we need to book flights with adequate layover time for the service dog to eliminate, if needed. When we arrive at our destination, we allow for another potty stop before we get ground transportation, too. A service dog is performing a life saving job for its handler and, at the very least, the dog deserves a handler that will do her best to ensure that traveling is as comfortable for the dog as possible. A well trained service dog can easily (and they very often do) ‘hold it’ for a cross country flight, and longer. In fact, service dogs are trained to eliminate on command. If I don’t tell Gen she can go, she will hold it until her body physically fails to do so any longer. Therefore, if my service dog has an accident, it is MY FAULT, 100%.

Owner and her dog.

Via Chris Law’s Twitter feed.

At least one of the passengers on the plane felt that the owner was lying about her dog being a service dog. My knee jerk reaction is to suspect that, too. I’ve flown 6 flights with service dogs. On several of those flights, I witnessed people trying to scam their way to a free flight for their pet by claiming it’s a service animal. It is infuriating. On my last flight, a woman who was clearly lying about her pet being a service dog, was ultimately denied her seat on the flight, but only for the technicality of the crate she wished to bring with her not meeting proper specifications for pets in the cabin. (Service animals don’t fly in crates. How can they do their jobs from a crate?) The airlines are at such a loss to control the “fakers” because of the laws that protect the actual disabled people that have a properly trained, legitimate service dog. It keeps them from asking too many questions, even when they suspect someone is lying. A disabled handler does not need to present any formal documentation other than (possibly) a health certificate, and some flights require nothing. The laws that were made to protect me and other disabled people from being harassed unnecessarily make it easy for the fakers to avoid any line of questioning by the airline. The airline faces fines and penalties if they do not adhere to federal laws, their hands are usually tied, and the rest of the passengers just have to hope that the dog is really a service dog. In the case of the woman who was kicked off my flight, every single employee dealing with her continually shot glances at me and Gen throughout the time she stood at the bulkhead arguing with them. Gen and I were in the front row, right in the middle of the action. (As a courtesy to other passengers, and for the service dog’s comfort, I always purchase bulkhead seating. I don’t have to, but I consider it a small price to pay for a seamless travel day.) The crew had a real-time example of a true service dog’s behavior. Always at my thigh, she obeys each verbal or non-verbal command I give her, and when we are seated, and she curls up into a ball at my feet and doesn’t move from her spot until I tell her she may get up when we reach our destination. The most common thing we hear? “There was a dog on our plane the whole time?!” (We get that at restaurants all the time, too. No one even knows she’s at my feet under the table.) Our presence definitely did NOT help this woman’s (faker) case to try to smuggle this frightened, tiny lap dog in a make-shift crate when there was a certified Seizure Alert and Response Service Dog performing her duties two feet away. When I fly, I overhear people sharing their plans to buy vests for their dogs so they can fly for free. Most common type of OH: “I’m going to have my therapist write me a note for an emotional support animal and then I’ll get a vest and Fifi can fly with me!” Even though “Emotional Suppport” Animals are not considered service animals under the Americans With Disabilities Act, (Edited with info from Jeff’s comments below, Thanks Jeff! ) —> Air carriers are governed under the ACAA, and airlines can and do accept ESA’s (even other than dogs) if the handler has a qualifying disability (key word: disability), but NOT for all mental illnesses. I recently had a twenty something girl share with ME that she had her psychologist friend write a note saying that her PET RABBIT is her emotional support animal so she can take it to Hawaii. I immediately shared with her that emotional support animals are not considered service animals, that a rabbit is a RODENT (nope, not even covered under ACAA) and then I guilt tripped the shit out of her with the old, “Would you fake the need for a wheelchair because you didn’t want to have to walk on your two healthy legs like everyone else?” I basically enlightened her on what it feels like to be disabled and have to watch people fake a disability to bring pets on planes, keep pets in apartment buildings that usually don’t allow them, or just take their fucking pomeranian everywhere. These people aren’t just faking having a service dog. They are faking having a disability. Fucking gross.

DO YOU THINK FOR ONE SECOND THAT I WOULDN’T TRADE MY SERVICE DOG FOR A HEALTHY BODY THAT DIDN’T SEIZE UNEXPECTEDLY ON REGULAR BASIS, ASSHOLE?

Having a service dog isn’t a game, it isn’t cool, and it is a fuckload of work every single day, but having her is the only way I can be safe, especially when I’m alone. In 2012 I had a seizure that could have killed me, and I had no warning, could not call for help, and am damn lucky to be alive today. In the past few years, I have had seizures that caused dangerous falls and serious injuries. I’m lucky to have recovered from those injuries. Without Gen, I would need round the clock supervision and lose more freedoms than I have already lost. A service dog is a true lifeline for me.

Could this service dog have been a genuine service dog? I guess, but my spidey senses feel otherwise, and it pisses me off. I would never bring a sick dog on a plane, and I would never bring a service dog that could not handle air travel on a plane. The training that service dogs go through is thorough and rigorous. While accidents do happen (service dogs aren’t robots after all), it seems like this situation was preventable. The other thing that got my spidey senses up was her (totally weird) request for the other passengers addresses so that she could buy them all Starbucks gift cards. Smells like guilt to me, bigger than just the fact that the dog forced an unexpected landing, but more like the dog shouldn’t have been there in the first place. If I’m wrong, and the dog was a service dog, then I recommend that the handler get more training and pay more attention to her dog.

Perhaps it’s time to require more service dog identification and certification for public service. I have always feared that doing so would make access unnecessarily and unfairly difficult for people with disabilities, but because some people are fucking assholes we are already facing unnecessary discrimination if we don’t outwardly appear disabled. Thanks, dicks.

omg Colorado.

Last weekend we did the short tour of the Denver area. In four days we managed to hike, drink, hike, drink and then do a little hiking and drinking.

Within an hour off the plane I was cursing the steps leading up to the Red Rocks amphitheater…jesus I’m out of shape. Then spent the rest of the morning hiking the beautiful Red Rocks trails. I stepped on a rattlesnake hole. Sweet. Our long weekend was non-stop action. From touch down to take off, there was nary a dull moment. Throughout the weekend we did a fair amount of hiking and exploring, Golden, Littleton, Denver, Ft. Collins, Idaho Springs, Golden Gate State Park, Lookout Mountain, hell I even went to Buffalo Bill’s grave. (Don’t ask, the nieces wanted to see it.) But that’s not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about one of the most glorious things I saw in Colorado. One of my favorite things in life. Something very dear to me, one of my greatest loves. I want to talk about beer.

The various craft beers produced in Colorado are nearly enough to get me to plant roots and send for the children. Because beautiful high desert Colorado isn’t amazing enough, right? Add to the abundance of sunshine, mountain views, skiing, hiking, biking, rafting etc — lovingly crafted, fresh, delicious beer. It’s fair to say that we spent an equal amount of time on beer tasting, beer touring and beer discussion as we did hiking and exploring. If you enjoy beer, please add Colorado to your Foursquare to-do list. You won’t be disappointed.

In particular, I had the opportunity to visit the brewery of some of my most favorite beers, New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, CO. Holy crap I love this place! It is a wind and solar powered paradise. The brewery itself is beautiful, a balance of form and function topped off with the happiest “co-workers” (it’s employee owned) you have ever met. Augie had to tear me away from the tasting room at the end of the two hour tour.

Tom. We love Tom. La Folie

So, a gigantic THANK YOU to Tom (our tour guide) and all of the folks at New Belgium that lovingly produce some of my favorite beverages. Thanks for a great day, lots of delicious beer, and letting me Tweet my way through the brewery. :)

Repost: Holy Balls, The Grand Canyon.

Yep. That’s really what he said. My beautiful, thoughtful, romantic husband’s honest-to-goodness first words upon first view of the Grand Canyon. Holy balls. I tried to think of what I would’ve said, had I not been laughing so hard. I guess maybe there isn’t anything to say. To quote Nicole Krauss, “Maybe there just aren’t words for everything.” On that thought, after Augie’s first verbal reaction, our immediate reactions were identical:

The Santiagos just shut up for a minute.

(For those of you that know us, you realize that both of us not talking is nothing less than a miracle.) It is awesome in the truest sense of the word. It’s a word so terribly overused today. “My playstation is awesome dude.” “That chocolate cake was awesome.” “You’re so awesome man.” You get the idea. We forget the real potential of that adjective until we witness something that is honestly something in which to stand in awe. The vistas and points and trails and history of this place are awesome, inspiring, sacred, and even when you are standing right there on the South rim, somewhat unbelievable. I could try to go on and on here and make you understand the beauty and serenity of this place, but it wouldn’t do it justice anyway. I will say this: go there, you’ll see.

The trip was great. Here we were, heading to the Grand Canyon to see some dear friends exchange vows atop the beautiful Shoshone Point. We flew into Phoenix, hopped into our rented convertible and headed North through the desert in search of adventure, lots of laughter, much anticipated romance, and this big crazy hole in the ground where we would meet up with some of our favorite people on Earth. Our road trip was just the beginning of our adventure, but it was good old-fashioned road trippin’ fun. We had beautiful scenery, lots of sun block, excellent tunes and each other.

We arrived at the canyon around four and after checking in decided to stroll a few blocks from our hotel room door to see this big “holy balls” looking hole. Wow. (But we’ve already covered that.) Next, we decided to stroll along the rim to see if we might bump into anyone. Lo and behold, sitting outside the steak house that Augie had his heart set on was the bride to be! We were so lucky to run into them and we had a lovely dinner before checking out their way cool Prius Hybrid rental car. This thing actually turns on with a power button (like a computer for real), loved it. Very cool. They had much to do so we decided to hike down (a short way) into the canyon to see it in the moonlight. Beautiful. Scary at times, but beautiful.

The next day Augie and I rose early to begin our hike down to the 3 mile rest house along Bright Angel trail. We thought seeing the canyon from the top was amazing, hiking the trail that the Indians built to get down to the water was equally indescribable. What I will describe though, is the feeling in your legs when you reach the top. Holy shit is that a work out. It felt good in that “I hope I packed the ibuprofen” kind of way. We were so excited when we reached the top we gave Gracie a shout out with a big “We dill it!”


That night was filled with more fun as we all gathered for the welcome dinner at the Maswik Lodge. The food was great; the friends (old and new) were even better. Augie and I truly feel that we made several new friends at this wedding, which is fitting, because Shan, Charlotte and Jess tend to bring good things into my life, whether they know it or not, it just seems to happen that way.

The Big Day!

Let me begin by saying that although all of my girlfriends were beautiful brides, to see Shannon in a gown that was “made for her” against the purple, pink, and orange shadows of the canyon really took my breath away. She was glowing, really. The fantastic four was a sight to see on top of that canyon, three beautiful ladies and their very handsome man. I love them all very much and could not have been happier for them at that moment. Their harpist played their song. People cried through their huge smiles. Mom cried, Dad cried, Shannon cried and I think that Tom even got Jeremy to well up a little! (Excellent work Tom! – Tee Hee.) A champagne toast and a few hours to play atop Shoshone Point. Fantastic. Just Fantastic.

After a major photo shoot, we caravanned back to Thunderbird Lodge to party the night away in a banquet hall that overlooked the canyon. Brian taught me how to don a hiking pack during the ride back from the point. Brian is one of those guys that just knows a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff. Anyway, even the ride back was fun. A delicious dinner followed by a huge piece of wedding cake, good vibes, good friends, a great couple of newlyweds…what a night. Augie and I will not soon forget the day that Shannon and Jeremy stood at such great heights and said “We’ll Stay”. I’m totally bawling again just thinking of it.

The next morning we awoke to a light knock on the door. There stood the beautiful Mrs. McCumber, who, with all she had going on this busy weekend, came to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day and hand deliver a sweet card. Dammit I love that gal. Then it was off to breakfast with the Strands to start the day. From there we hit the road to get back on Route 66 through Flagstaff and eventually into the Sedona red rock country. We drove the Oak Creek Canyon route and stopped at the tiny little deli stuck right in the rock for lunch. We drove up the winding roads into Jerome, but I was so freaked out that I couldn’t let go of the armrest to take any pictures up there. We headed into Phoenix around 3:30 and opted for soaking our feet and ordering room service (my pick for my Mother’s Day dinner). It was great. We sat in front of a wall of windows in our room on the 21st floor and watched the sun set into the mountains as we sipped Shiraz and devoured chocolate cake.

As we set off for the airport the next morning, I was now desperately missing the girls. I did very well all weekend, but now my willpower was shaky and the tears were welling. I started counting down the hours, minutes, miles, and beverage carts until I could wrap my arms around Gracie and smell Nora’s head. When we pulled up at the house I dropped the bags on the sidewalk and sprinted into the house. The look on Gracie’s face was precious and the feeling I got when she jumped into my arms was, well, “sometimes there just aren’t words for everything.”

Congratulations McCumbers.

© Sara

P.S.

Every time I type “McCumber”, my spell check wants to change it to “Cucumber”. I am finding this rather amusing right now, so…

Congratulations Cucumbers.