Monday, May 13, 2013

Our Trip to France: Traveling Overseas with Autism, EE and a Service Dog. Part 1.

Yes, we did it. We took the kids to France and made it back again. It wasn't easy, but it was totally worth it. Worth all of preparation and planning. All of the worry and stress about what could possibly go wrong. The kids, and all of us, had such a great time. Tallulah's face in this photo of her on the beach by the ocean says it all. She loves the ocean and she loves France. We all did. Heck I even started looking at real estate while I was there, imagining a world in which we could move to France, or have a second home there and spend two or three months of the year. Yes, it really was that great to be there.

However, if anyone else ever wants to follow in our footsteps and take their special needs kids and a service dog overseas, I do have a few tips to pass on. First, do all of the paperwork for the dogs travel papers several months ahead of time even if they tell you that you have to have them done 5 days before travel. You will have to do it again 5 days before travel, but at least you will find out if there are any unforeseen glitches. We had a very big unforeseen glitch. When we looked over the list of all of the requirements, we met them all, rabies, check, microchip, check, certification paperwork, check, etc.

The odd little issue that became a game changer for us was that because Dahanna was microchipped after her 2nd rabies vaccination, the USDA refused to certify the vaccination. As if it could have been some other dog who was vaccinated because she did not have a microchip at that time. We didn't find this out until we went in for the 5 days before travel paperwork. In a panic I told the vet to just vaccinate her again, thinking that would make everything ok, but after they gave her the shot I found out that now she was not allowed to travel for 21 days. WHAT!?!?! I did a lot of crying and shouting over the phone, trying to explain that we'd been planning this for months and no one ever warned us that this was even a vague possibility, but it was a done deal. There was no way we could take her.

Brian from Arizona Goldens came up with our solution which was to take Carebear with us instead. We had a few days to work on getting the kids used to this idea, and in the meantime we sent in all of the paperwork for her. Luckily her shots and microchip had been done in the right order. I did get an incredulous comment from the USDA agent, "What do you mean, you have a spare service dog?" Yes, we are one of the few families in the country to have not one, but two service dogs. Because Lu's needs are greatest we decided to spend the last few days before travel focused on Lu and Carebear working together. I was worried about how the kids would react, Lu to being attached to the higher energy Carebear who she often shies aways from when we are at home, and Myffy to having Lu hold the leash for her dog. I was amazed. Both the kids and Carebear totally surpassed my expectations and took it all in their stride.




One of the issues with traveling with a dog on such a long haul flight is the fact that there is no where in the plane for a dog to discretely and hygienically relieve itself. Because the flight to London was nearly 10 hours, plus getting to the airport two hours early for an international flight, plus the two hour lay over and the hour and a half flight to Paris, in all Carebear would have roughly 16 hours inside of terminals and airplanes. Because we weren't doing customs in the UK we were told that there was no way that we could leave the international terminal to take her outside. The solution: doggie diapers. It was a good plan but the truth is that it was such an odd situation for her that she just held it instead. Boy was she glad to see some grass when we got to Paris!

As far as the kids in the airports and the planes, I was actually pretty shocked by how calm and collected Tallulah was through the whole ordeal. Because we were carrying all of the feeding tube equipment, powdered food in cans and medications in bottles, as well as laptops, ipads, iphones and sundry electronics, our luggage got searched, scanned, swabbed, opened and pretty much everything short of making us drink Lu's migraine meds. All of this took a very long time, which wouldn't have been too bad if Myffy had not been really really upset from the moment we hit the lines for security. Usually if Myffy screams Lu throws her hands up over her ears and wails in torment. For some reason in the airport it didn't seem to bother her much at all. Maybe it was all of the other things going on to distract her from the sound. I really can't say. But she was calm and collected and kept hold of her leash and only got upset at security in London when for some reason they picked her out for a full body pat down and she didn't want anyone to touch her belly near the site of the G-tube. I was really upset at this because Karalyn, who went with us on the trip, went through the metal detectors with Lu first and as she was putting Carebear's collar and leash back on while body blocking Lu from running forward a lady came up and started patty Lu down without asking or explaining or anything. I was on the other side of the metal detector holding a screaming and thrashing Myffy, trying to shout at them to stop and let me through. Luckily Karalyn handled the situation well, explaining Lu's autism and the feeding tube and after touching her ankles again they let her go and finally let me get through to them.

On the plane itself once again Lu did great. She settled in with her ipad and was perfectly happy to do her feed. British Airways was great to us in every way. The staff were fascinated by Carebear and truly impressed with her stellar behavior.  Especially when they saw us putting the diaper on her! Myffy had a bit of a harder time than anyone else and I was so glad that I went to that industrial supply store to buy a large box of individually wrapped ear plugs so we had them on hand to pass out to the nearby passengers, along with a card explaining what autism is. It saved a bit of time trying to explain what was going on while Myffy was screaming, and everyone around us was really awesome and supportive about it all. Myffy cried herself to sleep before we were out of Arizona, and slept through nearly all of the entire night flight to London. Lu did her feed and had her meds and slept as well.

All along we were warned that the customs people in Paris would be all over us the moment we got out of the plane, before we even entered the airport and would want to go over every detail of the paperwork for Carebear. And someone did meet us as we exited the plane, a woman in a red jacket who said to follow her. As we approached four police men she said something in French and one of the officers made a gesture with his hand and a pfwt sound with his mouth which I interpreted to mean he didn't really care. At the end of the hall the woman went through a door to the left and waved us on down the hall to the right. It lead to passport control and then on to the baggage claim. I kept waiting for someone to ask for all of this paperwork, but the customs counter was empty and closed. We walked through the door marked Sortie with everyone else from our flight and no one ever asked to see anything. Isn't that just always the way? You do everything you possibly can to be totally prepared, and then you realize you could have not prepared at all. Of course if we hadn't been prepared, I'm sure customs would have been all over us.

The next day we drove to Plougasnou. It was a long drive through the french coutryside, which was lovely and luscious, but as we neared the coast of Brittany, I started to fall in love. Being California born and Arizona raised, I've never spent much time on the Atlantic Coast. It is definitely somewhere I want to get to know better. Lu loved the French countryside too. Just driving around seemed to make her so happy. This is Karalyn the graduate student pictured here in the van with Lu. She came along with us on the trip and was an enormous help with everything. Thanks Karalyn!

I'll write more about our time in France in a few days so stay tuned for Part 2 or Our Trip to France!

4 comments:

Marianthi said...

You are all amazing. Stunningly amazing.

babyracer said...

Thank you

Leah Kelley said...

Wow!! Just Wow!!!

Travel said...

Wow! Amazing!!

Travel