What It's Really Like to Travel with a Guide Dog
As a world-renowned blind comedian -- okay, maybe in my own mind -- I am on the road a lot with Nash, my guide dog. I am often asked what’s the best part about getting to take my dog everywhere with me. I got to thinking about it, and thought that I would include the worst things, too. I am sorry to report that it isn’t always all roses, even with my best friend by my side.
Nash and I recently headed out to Los Angeles for the 2014 Laugh For Sight benefit that I run. It always makes me laugh when I receive the email from the airline preparing for my upcoming trip. It warns that “Certain types of service animals are not accepted on [name of airline withheld] such as snakes, other reptiles, rodents, and spiders.” Yes, we are living in times when an airline actually has to inform people that they may not bring a seeing-eye snake or rat on board! Seriously, what’s wrong with people?
Let's start with the positive side of traveling with Nash.
1. He packs light
Outside of his collapsible bowl, treats, brush, and the side pack I wear with his treats and poop bags, there’s nothing else. He buys when he arrives. Of course, Nash isn’t paying for any of it, so he can afford it.
Packing to take your guide dog on a trip is probably the easiest and quickest part of getting ready. Amazingly, he isn’t overstuffing the carry-on bag with stuff he will never use on the trip, he just takes the bare essentials. Now if people could only learn to pack like guide dogs, maybe the people sitting on the aisle on the plane would stop getting clobbered by every person with a bag who walks by.
2. Your dog gets to go everywhere with you
Sighted or blind, whenever you go to a new city or a place that isn’t home, there is a little nervousness. Having your trusted guide dog at your side helps alleviate it, and gives you confidence when traveling around a foreign city. I couldn’t imagine being in L.A. without him. Additionally, your dog gets to enjoy the different smells, as I can attest that New York City and Los Angeles smell very differently. I know that Nash particularly enjoyed the smell of the jasmine flowers all over L.A. as he kept sticking his nose in to several of them.
3. Nash makes it easy to start a conversation with anyone
Having a guide dog is an instant conversation starter. For some reason people are always curious about guide dogs, and they want to talk to me about Nash. I can say that no one ever asked me about my cane sitting folded up next to me, but Nash provokes a constant barrage of questions. I assume it helps that he is quite the looker, which in L.A. means he fits in perfectly -- and he looks this good without any plastic surgery!
4. He never hogs the sheets
I allow Nash in my bed, and I can tell you there isn’t a bed that Nash has tried that he hasn’t liked. Every time we walk into a new hotel room, he can’t wait for me to take his leash and harness off so he can jump into the bed and get a feel for it.
Yes, like an old married couple, we both have our sides of the bed, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The best thing about Nash though is he hates the sheets being on him, so he never hogs them. How considerate.
5. He's lets people know I'm blind
No, I’m not talking about running from gate to gate to make a flight. You would be amazed how many people don’t make the connection that when someone is walking with a cane they are blind, but when they see Nash it is instantaneous. This is something I have never understood, as for some reason people treat me differently when I am using my cane to when I am walking around with Nash at my side. Must be that furry fluffy thing that makes people more understanding.
But traveling with Nash isn't all perfect. Here are some ways he falls short.
THE NOT-SO GOOD
1. Nash likes to spread out
I have been on flights where I have gotten stuck next to people who hate dogs. I get it -- some people might not be thrilled with getting on a plane, finding their seat, only to see a 75-pound dog sitting there. Sure, Nash is a cutie, but he likes to spread out and definitely invades the space of the person next to me. Most of the time they are pretty understanding, and I always tell them to tell me if Nash is invading their space, but there have been times when people have not been the nicest.
2. I don't always know where to put his poop
Who knew in a city as big as Los Angeles that a garbage can could be so hard to find? Dogs poop, and yes, blind people do pick up after their dogs. I wonder whether the dogs in L.A. ever poop -- there was no garbage can with in a mile of our hotel. I wasn’t about to walk a mile every time Nash did his business. Fortunately for me, my hotel was very helpful allowing me to drop the baggy off at the front desk every time.
3. People don't know the laws about service dogs
Even though it is the law that a restaurant can’t refuse service to someone with a guide dog, it still happens all the time. Nash and I walked into a restaurant in L.A. and the host immediately said, “You can’t come in here!” to which I instantly responded, “No, it’s okay, they allow white people in here!" Hey, I’m a comedian after all, and yes, we ended up eating there, as dogs are allowed to.
4. Everyone wants to touch Nash
When I could see, I don’t think I ever walked up to a strange dog and just started petting it, especially a dog wearing a harness or a vest. You would be amazed how many people will just start stroking Nash and not say a word to me. Hello, do you not see a harness on him and his leash attached to my leg? While you are petting him and getting him excited? He is pulling on his leash, which is pulling on my ankle, so even though I do not see you, I am now wondering what Nash is doing.
Remember: If a guide dog is sitting quietly in a restaurant or anywhere, for him to be sitting there quietly is work, even if it doesn't look like it, so please do not pet our dogs. And if you can’t help yourself, at least ask the human first.
5. It's not always easy getting a cab
Yes, we’re surrounded by idiots, but for some odd reason when you are blind a lot of these idiots work in the transportation industry. I tried Uber out for the first time on this trip, as many people in L.A. love it. Well, on my first ride with this service I was told by the driver that most Uber drivers would make the dog ride in the trunk. Yeah, that’s not going to happen.
I’m not sure if Uber is under the same regulations that taxi cabs are, but no taxi cab driver can refuse service to someone with a guide dog. Unfortunately, that law is more a written law and not actually enforced.
When Nash and I landed back in New York City after a three-hour delay due to weather, we walked out into an ice storm at two in the morning and had a cab driver bark at us "NO DOGS!" He kept saying, "That dog is going to bite me." First off, Nash is in the back of the cab and, if he can fit his noggin through that little hole that your hand can barely fit through to bite him, I am going to get him on the next audition for That’s Incredible. Needless to say, getting in to an argument about the law in the middle of the night after flying cross country all day is the last thing you want to deal with.
Traveling with a guide dog isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but I wouldn't change Nash for a cane any day. He's not only my eyes, he's my friend.
Read more by Brian:
- We Chat with J.K. Simmons and Jenna Elfman, the Stars of "Growing Up Fisher"
- Meet Crystal Hefner’s Charlie, the Cavalier King Charles Who Rules the Playboy Mansion
- We Talk to Lorri Bernson, Guide Dog Consultant on TV Shows
- Take It From a Blind Man: 10 Reasons Why Guide Dogs Are Amazing
- The 10 Biggest Misconceptions About Guide Dogs for the Blind
Learn more about dogs with Dogster:
- 6 Ways to Thwart an Off-Leash Dog Rushing You and Your Dog
- On Dogs and Body Language: How I Learned to "Speak" Dog
- Aspirin and Ibuprofen: Are Human Pain Meds Safe for Dogs?
About the author: Brian Fischler is a standup comedian and writer. He has been seen on The Today Show, published in Maxim Magazine as the Comedian of the Month, and on Top Gear USA on The History Channel. Along with writing for Dogster, Brian also writes for Cesar Milan’s website and magazine. Brian also runs Laugh For Sight, a bicoastal comedy benefit featuring the biggest names in comedy that come together to raise money and awareness for retinal degenerative eye disease research. You can connect with Brian on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @Blindgator.