Graham is the best travel companion.
I don’t travel often. Work keeps me tied down and I lack confidence to go out on my own. Day trips are fine; I can jump in my car, explore a new place, and I’m back in my own warm bed by early evening. Where’s the fun in that?
In early March, my mom surprised me with the chance to fly to D.C. with her and Graham. We have family down in Alexandria, Virginia, and visiting them would be a fantastic opportunity. I had been planning a trip back in November but due to a rotator cuff injury, I had to cancel. This was the perfect chance to get back out there… and I wouldn’t be totally alone.
I requested the time off about three weeks before the flight and approval came immediately. My mom purchased the tickets, we planned for my dad to drive us from my apartment, and we would be staying with family instead of looking for a hotel.
I was on pins and needles.
Thursday morning | 03/30/2017
Everything was smooth from start to finish. Security is as it always is: I got pulled aside to get a pat down, and Graham went with me. He just stood by and watched as my hands, feet, and body were checked, and when it was time for him to be checked, it was a simple bit of attention that anyone, in any situation, would give him.
Getting to the terminal, things continued to go well. I had brought with me a doctor’s note as well as Graham’s “certification certificate, ” but the airline assistants at the booth did not need to look at any of it. They told me it’d be okay to board first and when it was time, they motioned for my mom and myself to go ahead and board.
When my mom and I originally purchased the tickets, I made sure to pay extra for the larger seats. I am so glad that I did.
Flying is so stressful with my dog. I’m always worried that I won’t be able to get him to fit or that he’s going to be extremely squished and uncomfortable.
JetBlue has exceeded my expectations in seat sizes. The flight attendants knew where I was to be sitting even as I passed the entrance. I made my way between the seats, down the narrow isle, towards the middle of the aircraft. My mom followed, dragging her bags as my own smacked along each handle and seat.
Our seats, side by side, were perfect. The distance between my seat and the seat in front of me was great enough that Graham could stand comfortably. When he laid down, the space beneath the seat in front of me gave him the perfect stretching room on the floor. My mom and I had no issues with feeling crowded either. It almost felt like first class!
The days between arriving and leaving were jam-packed with adventure. We stayed with family, a family that has a little dog that would be a good playmate for Graham during our downtime. We would spend the day exploring D.C., going to the Newseum, the National Museum of Art, and exploring wineries out in the country. We had our fair share of crowded tours, screaming children, and young adults enjoying a couple of glasses of wine.
When we first arrived, it was chilly out and drizzly, but bearable. We went over to the Torpedo Factory to explore the local artists and enjoy the waterfront of Alexandria, Virginia. It was delightful… and a lot of walking. One studio had an adorable canine who spent their day chilling in their crate. Graham was curious at first, but he behaved like the perfect gentleman. As we spoke with the artist at work, he lay by my feet and quietly watched the proceedings. Both dogs made for a great conversation starter, which quickly diverged to the artwork being created, before ending with compliments on both sides.
Alexandria, Virginia is a very dog-friendly city.
We went on to explore more studios before making our way out to find a coffee shop. I was tired and needed a cup of caffeine before we could do anything else! I think Graham agreed.
Entering a small Italian eatery, we sat down for some drinks. Graham was given a bowl of water and offered a cup full of biscuits. It was quiet, relaxing, and delightful, but it was clear that it was a location that welcomed dogs in general. The waiter did, continuously, pass treats over, and he would do it whenever I was in deep conversation with my family.
We all know the general rules:
- Don’t talk to a service dog
- Don’t pet a service dog without permission
- … feeding a service dog is absolutely a no.
The best way to handle this is to just say yes if they ask if your dog is allowed to have treats but try to make it clear that only you can offer the goodies to your companion. I tend to use a line along the likes of "absolutely, but I must be the one to give it to him so he doesn't get distracted. Thank you!"
Besides the little hiccup with the food, and a puppy with a slightly upset stomach later, we used the rest of the day to relax and catch up with family. We watched TV, played with dog toys (more like silly little squeakers, Graham says), and then we went out to dinner.
We wanted to to play the tourist game. This was when we went to the Newseum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and then enjoyed a quick Georgetown Cupcake treat.
One problem with visiting high tourist areas is the amount of children. Children are great! Children, do, however, get loud and tend to overcrowd dogs. Graham and I experienced this when we went to watch a 4D screening at the Newseum. I ended up using my crutches and body to protect him because telling a throng of screaming small humans to be mindful doesn’t usually work very well.
If you have gone through situations like this, let me know! I’d love to hear how you handled it or perhaps we can figure out how to make it better!
The rest of the day was fantastic. It was raining on and off but there was plenty to do inside and, because my mother and I were staying with family, we didn’t have to worry about waiting for taxis.
I think Graham and I were beginning to get tired. The first few days in the heart of the city had been incredible but the constant walking was beginning to take its toll.
Good thing we were looking for a change of scenery!
My cousin picked us up in the morning and we were off to the Virginia countryside. We were off to the wineries… something I had never done, and I was thrilled. We’d be away from the harsh pavement, the constant traffic, and the bustle of tourists.
The drive was long but gorgeous. I sat up front while Graham snuggled between my mom and her cousin. We laughed, we sang along to crazy tunes, and we enjoyed the view. Actually visiting the wineries was great as well. Graham was able to stretch his legs and I was able to try about 9 different wines.
My favorite was The Goldie. I think my companion agreed!
We finished the day with some delicious pizza from a small pizza place that is an apparent favorite of Barack Obama. It was some of the best I’ve ever had.. and I live pretty close to places like Frank Pepes!
Our final day was the quietest. I packed my things, and Graham’s, when I first woke up and my mom went out with a longtime friend while I went out to see the various monuments. It was, of course, the first super nice day out. Alas!
We went out to the large MGM Casino, tried the machines, and then got ready to head to the airport.
Once my mom and I were dropped off, the tension began rising again. Security always makes me nervous, and I never know how the airline is going to react, even though we had notified them ahead of time.
Graham was, as always, perfect. As I was searched (because I can’t go through a metal detector), he stood by my side, watching other people come and go. My mom took him for me once they took my crutches and then he was searched.
I definitely think the TSA members enjoy searching him… they get the ability to pet him without needing to ask for permission!
From there we made our way to our gate and, just like the first time, JetBlue did not require anything from me. I’ll definitely keep the documentation for any time I fly but it was a nice way to get ready to go home. We had about 30 minutes to relax and then we were headed back to Boston.
This trip was simply an amazing experience and I am so proud of my dog. He was a superstar and I am continuously amazed by him every day.
I cannot wait for our next trip!
Do you travel with your service dog? Do you want to learn more about traveling with one of these world class animals? Let’s chat!