A Second Journey: Why I’m Missing my Little One with Wings, Part II

Totaled, it was a solid cumulative three hours on the phone over about six hours in all, and I was beyond frustrated by the end.  Wednesday morning, we had received a response from the Scottish department of agriculture, and we exchanged further emails over the next few hours.  Our correspondence soon revealed two things:

1. Guide dogs are allowed to fly into Glasgow through other airlines, only US Airways lacked some approval or did not themselves approve it.  I haven’t quite figured out what the issue specifically is with that. Either way, there is no Scottish or EU regulation saying guide dogs cannot travel through Glasgow airport, and he did say that one could fly through Edinburgh on US Air, so clearly most of the US Airways people I spoke to were wrong about that.

2. I sent him Oleta’s paperwork electronically to make sure that everything was in order for her to enter the country the next morning.  To my horror, he emailed back saying Oleta’s tape worm treatment was no longer valid, because of the visa delay, and getting a new treatment that day with a doctor’s note would not be sufficient.  Not only did the tape worm treatment have to be within 72 hours of arrival in the UK, it also could not be within 24 hours of it.  We would have to get another treatment, schedule an appointment with the vet to complete a fresh set of paperwork, drive 8 hours to Richmond and back to have it restamped by the department of agriculture, oh, and reschedule my flights… again.  That was impossible… all of it, for so many reasons, and I knew it.  As soon as my Dad read the email to me, I burst into tears and tried to keep myself together long enough to make some phone calls to my guide dog school.  I needed somewhere for Oleta to stay for 4 weeks, and I hated it, but it had to be done.  I wasn’t together at all.  I sobbed my way through the various necessary conversations, then majorly broke down on my floor for a while.  I basically didn’t stop crying until I fell asleep on the plane that night, alone, without Oleta by my feet for the first time in four years.  I have never had such a distressed slumber, and I haven’t slept well since.

So there you have it.  My best friend/soul mate/partner in completely legal activities has been forced from my side.  I want to continue with a discussion on the legalities and a better system of international travel for guide dog users, but after another hour of crying (the first since arrival surprisingly), I don’t have the energy.  Make your own judgements, and if it frustrates you as much as it does me, share this (and the previous) post.

Until then, I know that God is providing for us even now, with a loving family and a Guiding Eyes puppy raiser to care for my Little One with Wings in the best way possible while I’m away.  For me, He has provided purpose in our missions work here in Scotland, reunion with precious friends, and a team of some of the most compassionate and generous individuals there are.  Thank you Lord for your comfort in these difficult days.

A Second Journey: Why I’m Missing my Little One with Wings, Part I

If you thought Friday was a fiasco, it was nothing compared to Tuesday.  The day dawned with the thrilling hope that I would be leaving for Scotland the following day.  I spent the morning reading and starting to touch up my previous week’s packing job.  After a long conversation with my big sister in the afternoon, I got an email from US Airways saying there was a problem with my service dog traveling with me to Scotland.  The email didn’t shock me exactly; Oleta and I have experienced plenty situations in which there was misunderstanding or down right ignorance where our partnership is concerned, and certainly the legalities that surround guide and service animals.  If you are not aware, in the United States, guide dogs are legally protected to enter any public area with their handler, including restaurants, stores, schools, museums, hospitals, public transportation, etc etc.  Refusal to allow a guide dog team into any such area is considered a federal offense.  You can read more about that here.

http://nagdu.org/laws/usa/usa.html

Keep that in mind as we move forward.

I realized I had also missed a call from US Airways, and found a voice mail that said basically the same thing as the email.  Resigned, but only a tad worried, I called the US Airways number and talked to a customer service agent.  They clearly were not very educated on the topic, as they began spouting things about vaccines, blood tests, and quarantine.  I pointed out that I knew perfectly well what the regulations were regarding guide dogs entering the UK, that I had done this twice before, and that I had the necessary paperwork.  Was there some other problem?  I thought about hanging up right there, but I was afraid there was some legitimate issue that I would need to sort out before our departure tomorrow.  If I wrote them off now, it’s possible I’d arrive at the airport Wednesday evening and they would not allow us to travel.  As far as I remember, the customer service agent then proceeded to read something about how pets had to enter the UK through London Heathrow.  I made it clear that she is NOT a pet, and those regulations, if they are directed toward pets, should not apply to her.  They then claimed that the policy specifically says that service dogs also have to comply with this directive.

This was strange.  Everything I had read on the UK and Scottish government websites had seemed to say that guide dogs were exempt from traveling on prior approved routes.  What is more, I flew US Airways through Edinburgh last year without an issue.  This left several possibilities:

1. The customer service agent was woefully ignorant and this was a case of discrimination/misunderstanding.

2. The customer service agent was correct and this was a legitimate UK or EU law that we could do nothing about.

3. The customer service agent was correct and this was a discriminatory US Airways policy that probably should be illegal under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

I was fairly sure that number two could not be true, considering three factors:

A. I traveled through Edinburgh May of 2014 with Oleta with no problem whatsoever.

B. I remembered reading headlines several years ago about the UK putting through legislation to allow guide dogs on all airlines and through all airports.  I wasn’t sure that legislation applied to international travel, but if it did, it seemed unlikely that they would have changed those laws so soon after.

C. All of the UK/Scottish websites that I had read seemed to indicate the opposite.

Number 1, on the other hand, seemed highly plausible, so I tackled that one first by asking to speak with a manager.

She was even more unhelpful, if that was possible.  She merely emphasized her underling’s claims, complete with the clear lack of understanding about the UK pet travel scheme and the specifics on legal guide dog protection.  In response to my inquiries about why I could travel through Edinburgh last year, she said that their policy changed in October of 2014.  When I asked whose policy, she claimed that it was a change initiated by the EU.  Back to square one.  If she was right, that meant number 2 could still be a thing.

She became irate when I told her I thought she was mistaken and asked to speak with another manager.

“This is not a matter of my competence in my job, Ma’am.” She insisted angrily, “This is a matter of you refusing to understand what I am telling you because you don’t want to hear it.  If you are not going to listen to what I am saying then we might as well end this call right now.”

Okay, I thought, so you’ve got an attitude.  That’s exactly why I need to speak to someone else.  Finally, she transferred my call and I was able to converse with a slightly more rational human being in Phoenix, AZ.

I didn’t get much further with him, except to discover that it was a US Airways policy, not an EU regulation.  Still, he said I would have to fly through London Heathrow and offered to change my flights.  I told him I would not pay for a flight change, as the information regarding my guide dog had been on my reservations since May 1st, and we had heard nothing of this until the day before my departure.  He said it wouldn’t be fair for me to have to pay “out of pocket”, which sounded unconvincing, so I said I’d call back after I sorted some things out.  A bit of online research on the legalities of all this, a few emails to the department of agriculture in Scotland and England, three or four more phone calls, a stern conversation with one of the customer service agents about the ADA and the possibility of a law suit, and a FREE flight change later, I hung up under the impression that I would be able to travel to Scotland (via London) with Oleta the next evening.  How wrong I was.

Scotland Trip: Scottish Food, Floors, and Violence (By Oleta Renee)

Mom asked me to write this post tonight, as she says she’s exhausted, and needs her beauty rest for tomorrow… and I don’t? That’s alright though, as she’s not let me write in quite a while.  I’ll pick up the story where Shea left off.

So, Saturday… we finally got off the flying machine at around 9:30 that morning.  I was glad to finally get up, as I’d been curled in the same position for about 6 and a half hours on a barely carpeted floor.  Honestly, the least they could do is provide a cushion or something, or maybe just include built in beds for we canine passengers.  Why not?  They provide humans with seats after all.

Anyway, when we got out, the friendly immigration staff (Mom says that’s an oxymoron) gave me some water, and a lot of attention.  I don’t know what Shea’s talking about.  They were beyond civil toward me.  We waited around for a bit, then went to a room where a man scanned my micro chip and check my papers, to make sure I’m not a criminal, and we finally headed outdoors.  The air was cool and crisp, nothin like the hot, sticky air we had left behind in Maryland.  We got in a little car, and Shea tried to convince me not to sit next to her on the seat; she was not successful, as usual.  Car floors are dirty, cramped, loud, and uncomfortable; the only possible benefit lies in the possibility of food left by previous passengers.  I caught a nap while Shea chatted with the two people in the front of the cvar, Beth, our hostess, and Patrick, our team leader.  When we finally arrived at Beth’s flat, as they call it (which I don’t understand because it’s definitely not flat, you even have to go up stairs to get there!), and put down our things in our room.  I immediately got to work (this is a mission trip after all) cleaning her kitchen and living room floors.  

After a shower and a baked potato for Shea, we settled down for another nap, which for Shea turned out to be five hours long.  Can that be considered a nap?  That evening, we walked to the church for a prayer meeting for the unsaved.  There, we met two more people with funny accents, (there seem to be a lot of those around here), the church pack leader, as it were, and one of the elders.  Thankfully, the room we were in was carpeted, and I fell asleep again.  Traveling is an exhausting business.

Sunday we woke up at a relatively reasonable hour, though Shea woke up before me, which will not be happening again.  We went to the church for a morning bible study, prayer meeting, and worship service.  There were lots of new people, and a few asked if they could give me a “clap”, which apparently translates to “pet” in English.  Either way, I got lots of them from people in the congregation, especially the kids, or, as someone called them, the weans (pronounced wanes).  Human language is fascinating.

After church, we headed over to a friend’s flat, which was also not flat, and I cleaned her floors too while Shea, Beth, Patrick, and several people from the church had a home-cooked meal.  Apparently it was delicious,, steak pie.  Shea didn’t give me a taste, although I would imagine that anything with the word steak in it would be delicious… mm.

Sunday night was another church service (which meant more attention, Win!) and then the younger people gathered at Beth’s not flat for some hang out time.  For me, that meant floor cleaning duty again! and boy was I successful!  She didn’t have to sweep up one popcorn kernel after that shindig.  Oh, and Shea got pegged in the head with a mobile phone.  I wasn’t worried, since she was laughing, and since I know she has a really hard head, but I do understand now why Shea has to have international insurance.  I guess I’ll have to keep an eye on people in case of violence from now on.

Right then.  Shea can put this up later.  I’m off to get some rest.  

 

Scotland Trip: GOd Can Speak Through Bagpipes… Who Knew!

I am currently sitting in the window of my hostess, Beth’s house, as the sun is out and feels so lovely after the damp chill of the outdoors earlier.  Today has mostly been cold and rainy, as many days are here I suppose.  Still, I enjoy the crisp air.  It reminds me of fall.

So yes, after a lot of hassle and stress, we arrived yesterday at around 9:30 Am, Scotland time.  There were many moments Friday night when I thought I might not be here today after all, what with terrible traffic, ratchet rest stops, packed parking lots, clueless airport check in agents, and of course the constant fear that they might reject Oleta’s paperwork for some obscure reason, I was a little worried, but we did get there in the end, and I knew we would.  On the way to the airport, and as I went through the checking in, security routine, I was sick with nervousness, for several reasons, but through all of it I had the underlying sense that no matter what went wrong, this was God’s plan, and he would redeem every situation for his purposes.  With that knowledge, I tried to calm down, though I still couldn’t bring myself to b excited exactly.

That is, until we reached the gate, where we were greeted with this:

[audio http://vocaroo.com/i/s0l5ciLqLb8x]

And it finally hit me.  The music was in celebration of the fact that this was the first direct flight from Philladelphia to Edinburgh, offering the passengers and flight crew an early welcome to Scotland, but to me, it felt like a welcome from GOd.  I heard his voice in it, rejoicing in this new experience in my life, and the way it has and will continue to draw me closer to him, assuring me of his blessed sovereignty through everything.  I needed assurance, and encouragement, and He knew there was no better way to provide those things to me than through music.  He is so awesome!

With that boost of confidence, my anxiety melted away, and I felt much more secure hugging my Dad goodbye and taking my seat on the plane.  As we taxied onto the runway, I marveled at God’s providence, the way He had brought me here despite all of my stumblings and lack of trust, and how incredible it was that our All-powerful, All-loving God would choose to work through me, through any human, to achieve his purposes.  God is, as I said, all powerful.  He doesn’t really need us to do anything, but He loves us, and wants us to participate in His perfect plan, even if we do mess up and make things more complicated sometimes.  That is also awesome! 

In that moment too, I realized that this trip will change my life.  In what ways, I don’t know, but I know that I will return to the States different, with new purpose and fresh direction.  I hope others will be changed by it also.

So, after a 40 minute delay due to air traffic, we took off, and were in the air, headed to the Scottish city of Edinburgh.  They served dinner, and I ate half of my hard tack roll, and a bit of my oatmeal raisin cookie, but left the chicken and very sad salad alone.  I couldn’t eat much, partly because I was still full from dinner, which probably hasn’t ever happened before in my life, and mostly because I was too occupied to be hungry.

After dinner, I curled up with my airline pillow and blanket and tried to sleep.  About 2 and a half hours later, I awoke to the sound of the speaker, as a flight attendant announced breakfast.  Groggily, I accepted orange juice and a cynamin muffin from the stewardess, and checked my clock to see that it was about 3:30 in the morning Maryland time.  I guess it was Maryland time… who knows.

An hour on, and we were touching down onto the runway of the Turnhouse airport in Edinburgh.  I could not believe it!  We were in Scotland!

Oleta and I disemBARKED (haha, get it?), and found our way to the immigration people.  They asked only a few questions, stamped my passport, and I settled down with a friendly airport employee, Fiona, I seem to remember, to wait for the department of agriculture person to come check Oleta’s paperwork.  After an hour of friendly conversation and confused phone calls, someone called to inform us that we had to go to another room to have her checked, so, huffing and puffing on my behalf, an entire entourage of employees escorted me to the room in question, and got Oleta processed and verified.  Finally, Fiona, Oleta, and I headed out to the luggage area, and found my team leader and our host church’s secretary waiting for us there.

I am cursed with being a very detailed writer. It is late, again, and I shall have to complete this account tomorrow.  I will try to make my posts a bit briefer in the future.

Right then.  Good night.

Scotland Trip: T-6 hours, I am SOOOO Nervous

Oh my, I didn’t realize I was going to be this nervous.  Now that my arrival in Scotland, and beginning of my mission trip is only 12 hours away, I am shaking in my boots… or, socks, at the moment.  I am praying that everything goes well with travel, and that I can somehow be useful to someone during this trip.  I’m afraid people might be disappointed in me, or my abilities.  What if, instead of lifting people’s burdens, I become a burden?  What on Earth can I teach the people of the Airdrie church, or anyone else anyway?  I’m just a college student, a music major of all things, with no job, and little experience, and I can’t even keep track of paperwork!

But I know that’s not true.  If God sent me on this mission, which he did, he has a purpose, and will work through me, and others, as he has planned.  And it all goes back to trust.

God, this, is, terrifying, but I trust you.

Packing is nearly finished, and we are about to get on the road for the airport.  Here’s a bit of Scottish music to send us on the way!  It is a pipe and drums corps I recorded at a celtic festival.  Enjoy!  See you in Scotland!

[audio

http://vocaroo.com/i/s07hUOHYWSkV%5D

 

Scotland Trip: T-3 Days: Preparation, Panic Attacks, and Traveling with Puppies

Greetings!  It has been nearly a week since I last wrote.  I apologize, especially since I did wish to post each day, but (excuse alert) life got busy, and I’m still working on making blogging a habit.  So, this is going to be a long post.  Buckle your seat belts.

The weekend was full of activities, kicked off by my brother’s arrival home from army technical training, and my frantic cleaning and organizing of the house as I prepared for his home coming and my friend’s visit on Friday.  Among all of the scrubbing, vacuuming, and putting away, I somehow found time to call the vet and USDA to schedule appointments and ask questions about Oleta’s paperwork, ensure I had all of the paperwork, print and label the paperwork in braille, and have periodic anxiety attacks about whether everything would go smoothly with Oleta’s information.  Okay, not actual panic attacks, just, “Oh dear, is this actually going to work out?  Do I need to call someone to take care of Oleta for four weeks?” sort of attacks.

Our vet appointment Friday afternoon went fairly well.  Oleta currently ways about 54 pounds.  The kind, USDA accredited doctor at our home vet gave Oleta the once over, declared her healthy, and filled out most of the information regarding Oleta’s background and current state.  It asks questions about her breed and birth information, place of origin, current residence (with me of course), recent vaccine history (especially rabies), and micro chip details, among other things.  We could not fill out the rabies information, as I had forgotten her original rabies certificate, given to me by our vet in Nashville, but she assured me that as long as I brought the certificate to the USDA appointment Monday morning, things should run smoothly.  The appointment didn’t last too long, and soon we headed out with signed papers and a bone-shaped tapeworm treatment tablet for Oleta to take the following week (one of the EU’s many precautions).  That evening was relaxing, spent with my dear friend from high school summer camp, and with my family.  Saturday morning was our neighborhood garage sail (I made 7 dollars… yes!), and my friend and I entertained a few of our potential buyers with improvised renditions of “Amazing Grace” and “Christ be Our Light”, with she playing beautifully on violin, and I on guitar and vocals.  It was a lovely time.

After her departure, I resumed my search for the rabies certificate, which, no matter how many dorm room boxes and bags I sifted through, did not show itself.  I became progressively more concerned and agitated, which culminated in a brief crying session in my room, due to my pure frustration that I hadn’t put the rabies certificate somewhere safe enough that I could actually find it when I needed it.  It wasn’t a good few hours.  Let’s just say that.

I eventually forgot my troubles in a nice lunch, and a spontaneous evening rafting trip with my brothers, Dad, and Uncle, and decided that I would contact the Nashville vet on Monday to see if they could fax the certificate directly to the USDA that morning.

Sunday however, the negative thoughts returned, and I began berating myself all over again.  How could I possibly be responsible enough to go on a mission trip of all things if I couldn’t even keep track of a piece of paper?  What if they don’t accept a faxed certificate from the vet’s office?  Will I have to call Guiding Eyes and find a place for Oleta to go for four weeks?  Why couldn’t I have just put that certificate in my binder right away?  I’m such a failure!

The thoughts were paralyzing, sickening, and they were stopping me from concentrating on the more important things—putting my faith in Christ and preparing for the trip through study and prayer.  It eventually came to me that perhaps these thoughts weren’t all coming directly from me.  I’m being attacked, I realized suddenly.  Since my salvation, I have always experienced serious spiritual warfare, but they have always been very frontal attacks.  This was something more subtle, and it had caught me off guard.  Still, I know well that the only weapon against spiritual warfare is the Word.  I gritted my teeth, googled bible gateway, and read until I could read no more.  By the time I shut my laptop and let it slide gently to the floor, my faith was restored,; I could forgive my mistakes, and place the situation in God’s hands.  I’m ever so glad God led me to do that, because it made the events of the following morning all the sweeter.

We left for our appointment at the USDA bright and early, and got there a good amount of time before the scheduled 9:00 Am.  I used the extra time to call the Nashville vet, and request that they fax the rabies form.  Upon signing into the USDA office, it became fairly apparent that the appointment would, in fact, be successful.  The doctor there was perfectly accommodating with regards to the missing rabies sheet, and amiably waited the thirty minutes or so that it took for the fax to arrive.  Finally, I gave Oleta the forward command, and headed out of the federal building with a bundle of stapled, signed, officially stamped papers in my binder.  Praise God!  And I mean that with all the sincerity I can muster!  There’s the scoop!  Oleta’s paperwork is complete, and we are headed to dear old Caledonia on Friday… together!