London calling

Earlier this year I was invited to go to London in September to speak at the World Health Organization’s 2010 Safety Conference regarding violence against children with disabilities. I was SO excited because Whistle and I have never been to London and it was definitely on our list of places we wanted to visit.

My retired service dog, Morgan, my husband, Franz, and I had traveled to Hawaii in 2001 and I was familiar with some of the rabies test requirements that we had conducted in order for him to be admitted into Hawaii. I had heard that the United Kingdom had relieved some of their tight quarantine restrictions for service dogs and that the new procedures were very similar to Hawaii’s requirements.

I immediately contacted my veterinarian and made an appointment to get the paperwork started. Whistle’s vet, Murt and his vet manager, Lisa, immediately went to work obtaining a serum blood sample to test for antibodies to the rabies virus. It is called the Titer Test and can only be conducted at Kansas State University. I paid the hefty fee and Whistle’s test was conducted on May 16, 2010.

Simultaneously, I was working with my amazing travel agent, Joan Diamond of Nautilus Tours & Cruises. Joan specializes in disability travel and she immediately contacted the UK’s Animal Reception Department for information regarding Whistle’s entry into the UK. The Animal Reception Department informed Joan that I needed about two months lead time in order to provide them with (1) an EU certificate (a form that Murt and Lisa would have); (2) a letter from my doctor saying that I have and I need a service dog; and (3) a copy of a certification indicating that Whistle has been trained as a service animal.

These items should be a piece of cake. I gathered all of these required documents, scanned them into my computer, and emailed them on August 5 to the contact person at the Animal Reception Department. On August 9, I received an email from the Animal Reception Department stating:

“I am sorry to tell you that Whistle is not eligible to enter the UK until 15th November 2010 under the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) as six months must pass after the blood draw date before an animal can enter the UK. Whistle’s blood draw was on the 16th May 2010 so therefore he is not eligible for entry until 15th November 2010.”

I couldn’t believe it! I was in shock and disbelief. Here I am in the midst of celebrating National Assistance Dog Week only to be told that I have been denied access and am not allowed to travel to London with Whistle. Honestly, I am still in shock.

I contacted Joan and Lisa right away and they began trying everything they could think of but everyone they contacted said it’s the law in the UK and I have no recourse. Why didn’t they tell us that before I put Whistle through the blood test and paid the expensive costs to have the Titer Test conducted?

I responded to the individual that delivered this devastating email and am awaiting a response. I am also trying to contact the USDA Veterinarian in Albuquerque. However, I’ve been trying for days now and the telephone in their office just rings and rings but no one has answered as of yet.

I am at a loss as to what my recourse might be at this point. I was so excited to get the chance to go to London. As you know, it is so difficult to travel with a disability. Going to London was a dream come true for me and Franz but now it is bitter sweet because it looks Whistle and I won’t be able to travel together. We will be denied access.

How can this be happening in 2010 in a modern urban country like the United Kingdom? It is baffling and distressing to me. Unfortunately, I am constantly reminded that we still have a lot of work to do to advocate for individuals with disabilities AND the assistance dogs that contribute so much to their lives.

I thought London was calling (flashback to the old song by the Clash) but now, I’m not so sure.