Dogs Gone Cruising

Have you ever had a fellow cruise passenger with 4 legs, a tail, floppy ears, fur coat and an adorable face? I am not only a cruise lover, but a dog lover, with two of my own whom I must board when when I cruise. However, a few lucky dogs may accompany their care takers on cruise ships. Most of these dogs are service animals that are by law accommodated by the cruise line. However, fellow passengers sometimes “raise an eyebrow” when their purpose may not be apparent to the casual observer.

Legal History
Following a 2005 ruling (Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd.), cruise lines must follow the American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA) in determining if they will allow an animal on board the ship. In a 2005 ruling, U.S. Supreme Court determined that with a few minor exceptions the ADA applies to foreign flagged ships calling on U. S. Ports. Under the ADA, privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, sports facilities, and cruise ships calling on US Ports, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.

What is a Service Animal?
The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government. Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Guide dogs are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. But there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include: Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds, Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments, assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance. A service animal is not a pet.

Seeing Eye Dog

As mentioned above, the guide dogs for the visually impaired are some of the most easily identifiable types of services dogs. The first guide dog training schools were established in Germany during World War I, to enhance the mobility of returning veterans who were blinded in combat. The United States followed suit in 1929 with The Seeing Eye in Nashville, Tennessee (relocated in 1931 to Morristown, New Jersey).

We had a visually impaired passenger on our cruise in 2005 to Hawaii who had a guide dog with her. This was my first time to see a dog on a ship. It was quite impressive to see how well trained and behaved he was. Most of the time he was on his harness and helping her around the ship. Occasionally he was on the leash with her traveling companions which mean he wasn’t working at the time and could do a little socializing. He even entered the “Mr. Infinity” pool side contest, though, obviously, they didn’t let him enter to the pool to participate in the belly flop portion of the contest.

One of the aspects of his travel about which I was most curious was how the strict quarantine laws dealing with Rabies affected his ability to enter Hawaii. His human companion told me that with the ADA laws and the advancement of the Micro Chip implantation, Hawaii will allow assistance dogs into the state with-out a quarantine periods, provided that they have proper documentation of vaccination and a micro chip to show that the dog presented is indeed the dog that was vaccinated. They were met a the dock at several Hawaiian ports by a veterinarian and had to present his documentation and have his chip read. I was glad to learn that his human companion could travel and still have the security of her trained dog to assist her along the way.

Other Types Of Assistance Dogs
While the reason for the guide dog is usually quite apparent to the outside observer, other types of assistance dogs often accompany their humans while traveling. Here are a few of the other ways that dogs assist people with disabilities.

Hearing Assistance Dogs

A hearing dog is a type of assistance dog specifically selected and trained to assist people who are deaf or hearing impaired by alerting their handler to important sounds, such as doorbells, smoke alarms, ringing telephones, or alarm clocks. They may also work outside the home, alerting to such sounds such as sirens, forklifts and a person calling the handler’s name. Hearing dogs often wear a bright orange leash and collar to identify them. Some also wear a cape or jacket, which may or may not be orange.

Mobility Assistance Dog

A mobility assistance dog is a service dog trained to assist a physically disabled person. Among other tasks, they are commonly trained to pick up objects, open and close doors, and operate light switches. Some larger-statured dogs are trained to pull individuals in wheelchairs, and wear a type of harness specifically designed for pulling. Another type of mobility assistance dog is a “walker dog.” They are commonly used for Parkinson’s patients, along with post-injury recovering and other disorders and conditions. These “living canes” can greatly assist a person with their gait and balance while walking. Also, if their handler falls, the dog may be trained to act as a brace to help regain position.

Seizure Detection Dogs
Seizure response dogs are a special type of service dog, specifically trained to help someone who has seizures. Due to the differing needs between each case, every potential seizure dog receives specialized training. Tasks for seizure dogs may include, summoning help, either by finding another person or activating a medical alert or pre-programmed phone, pulling potentially dangerous objects away from the person’s body, and bringing a person to a seated or prone state to avoid injury during a seizure. Additionally, some dogs may develop the ability to sense an impending seizure. This behavior is usually reported to have arisen spontaneously, and developed over a period of time. There have been some studies where dogs were trained to alert impending seizures by using reward-based conditioning – with partial success.

I have another friend who has this type of dog who assists her after a brain tumor and surgery left her susceptible to seizures.

Dogs for the Diabetic
Hypo alert dogs are trained to alert diabetic owners in advance of low (hypoglycemia) or high (hyperglycemia) blood sugar events before they become dangerous, so their owners can take steps to return their blood sugar to normal, such as using glucose sweets. The dogs are trained to accompany their owners wherever they travel in the manner as guide dogs.

Psychiatric Service Dog
A psychiatric service dog is a specific type of service dog trained to assist their handler with a psychiatric disability, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or schizophrenia. There are a wide range of psychiatric issues with which an assistance dog may be able to help. I have a friend who volunteers with me at the veterans hospital who was wounded twice in Vietnam and he has a dog that helps him with his PTSD. This dog is trained to recognize when he might be having anxiety or a panic attack. If this starts to happen, the dog will lead him to a quiet less crowded place and helps to calm him down. In other cases dogs have been prescribe to help people with depression after the death of a loved one or a social anxiety disorder like agoraphobia.

Often it is these social anxiety assistance dogs cause the most controversy. I have heard voyages when people have brought such dogs on board cruise ship and fellow passengers were shocked that someone was allowed to bring a “pet” on board. Some cruisers who have dogs as pets and feel guilty about leaving them at home, would like to be able to bring them along for “emotional support.” However, for those people who really do need these emotional support dogs, they may not be able to leave the house, much less enjoy a cruise with-out these dogs. Passengers who have such difficulties may not want to share the true reason for their dog with casual acquaintances. However, if you see a dog on board accompanying a passenger on on board, most of the time, the dog is a some sort of service dog permitted on board because of the ADA.

Non-Service Dogs
Most cruise lines do not take pets, however it is possible to see a few dogs on board that are not service dogs.

In The Act
This summer I talked with some cruisers who had traveled on a Holland America ship to Alaska. They were surprised to see a gentleman walking around the ship with is little terrier mix dog. As it turned out he was the cruise ship’s magician and the dog was incorporated into his magic act.

In The Kennel
Cunard is the only cruise line with an active kennel program.

“Queen Mary 2’s kennel program is available on all crossings between New York and Southampton in either direction, and is overseen by a full-time Kennel Master who takes care of responsibilities such as feeding, walking and cleaning the ship’s 12 spacious kennels. Traveling dogs and cats also receive a complimentary gift pack and other animal amenities.The kennels and adjacent indoor and outdoor walking areas are open throughout the day, enabling passengers to spend significant time with their pet. Reservations for the kennels may be made at time of booking, and are based on space availability. Contact Cunard for fees and additional requirements.”

Where’s the Poop Deck?
Perhaps this is the most often asked question when a dog visits a cruise ship. There are several answers. Sometimes the cruise line will provide a 3X3 ft tray of sod that can go out on the balcony. In other cases I’ve heard of a special deck outdoor deck area, accessible only to crew and passengers with dogs, that has been set up just for the purpose of a doggy “potty” area. In general, assistance dogs have special training when it comes to when and where to relieve themselves, so other passengers need not worry about stepping in an undesirable mess.

Next time you cruise, don’t be surprised to see one or two of these four legged cuties on board. While occasionally they may be the stars of the show, or taking in a “crossing” with their owner, most of the time they are fulfilling their role as “Man’s Best Friend” by providing much needed assistance to passengers with disabilities