A unique interview with Clive, an Irish working dog working for his beloved autistic globetrotter, Murray.
Q1: Except for incredible good looks and wisdom, what qualities would you recommend an assistance dog should have, and how does one obtain the necessary qualifications in order to pursue such a career?
Assistance Dogs need patience, a sense of fun, a willingness to play and a big sense of responsibility. Assistance Dogs really need to love children and accept and understand that they are working with children with special needs. Just like our cat understands Murray is special and the horses he rides instinctively know and understand Murray and his needs—I understand Murray and we work really well together.
I was trained by Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind who train dogs for the blind and visually impaired and for children with autism. I was puppy walked by a volunteer puppy walking family for the first 10 months of my life and then I went back to the Guide Dog Training Centre where I had my intensive training to qualify as an Assistance Dog. I was fully trained and working at 18 months and was the first Goldendoodle Assistance Dog in Ireland. My three brothers Clint, Chad, and Cash all went on to become Guide Dogs.
Q2: What does an assistance dog pack in his suitcase?
My coat needs a lot of maintenance, so I always travel with a selection of brushes and combs to keep my coat in tip top condition. I also pack my favourite blanket that I sleep on when we travel to new places.
Q3: What transportation methods have you experienced, and which one is your favorite?
Planes, trains, and automobiles–I’ve been in them all. I’m in the car everyday and love travelling with Murray. I lie beside him, usually on the back seat of the car, with my head on his lap so he can pet me. I’ve travelled to Belgium, France and Spain on planes and, as a service dog, I am allowed to sit under Murray’s feet on the plane. Every time we have travelled the airlines have been particularly helpful and have allocated an extra seat to us— so I have plenty of room. Planes are my favourite because it usually means a really interesting holiday!
Q4: How do you pass airport checkpoints?
On check-in at Dublin Airport I just produce my pet passport, plus a letter from Murray’s doctor confirming that he is on the autistic spectrum and needs to have me travelling with him. I never have any difficultly flying out of Dublin airport or returning home to Ireland. Sometimes we have to answer a few extra questions, but usually we get only help and assistance. At the security gate I walk through ahead of Murray and the security officer usually opens the pockets on my working jacket just to check what I carry inside (poop bags only!)
On arrival back in Dublin airport I have to check in with the vet at the Department of Agriculture office in the baggage reclaim section; the vet checks my pet passport, gives my micro-chip a quick read, and makes sure I have been tick and flea-treated within the previous 48 hours before I flew home.
Q5: Do you get any perks in hotels or restaurants?
Usually not, I am a working dog and just expect to be allowed in to accompany Murray. I am not allowed to eat or drink in a restaurant—I have had my meals beforehand—and I always decline the offer of food or water from the waiting staff. Some will insist I need something to eat but Murray’s mom always explains ‘not while working!’. Some restaurants can be a little hesitant about having a dog (even a service dog) and Murray’s mom has an ID card from Irish Guide Dogs which she shows the staff, explaining that I am fully entitled to be there with Murray.
When we travel abroad Murray’s Mom has made up an ID card in Spanish, French, and Flemish to show in the relevant countries. France is extremely welcoming towards services dogs, Belgium also, however Spain is another matter altogether. This year, we persisted though, and even got a Spanish hotel to accept me and allow me in the dining room every evening. This was a huge step for the hotel and staff, but I was so well-behaved that at the end of the week’s stay with them they were totally converted to the idea of ‘working’ dogs in their hotels. We also appreciated the fact that they upgraded us to a larger suite when we arrived.
We have also stayed in a lot of hotels around Ireland and our access laws in this country are regarded as some of the best in Europe. Assistance Dogs for Autism have only been in Ireland for the past six years and we were the first European country to Assistance Dogs. One of the things we always appreciate here in Ireland is how friendly and welcoming hotel/restaurant staff are to me, and indeed several times we have been allocated a larger room or suite (again usually on check-in when they see how big I am!) But we don’t expect or need it—however it is very nice to get upgraded!
I have not travelled to the US before, so our holiday this July to South Carolina and New York will be a very interesting experience for us. Murray stayed in the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston last summer (because of Catie—their canine ambassador) as the family were worried about him missing me so much. This summer, however, we will all be together on holidays in Hilton Head—both Murray and me are very excited!
*Special thanks to Fiona, who acted as the perfect translator from http://specialhorizons.blogspot.com/