US Air and Service Dogs
November 17, 2013
Snow Day
January 4, 2014

State Your Intention

More Travels with Tommy


Sir Thomas on the deck overlooking Saint Thomas

After I noted all the must-see’s in the travel guide, I made an inventory of might-be trip challenges ahead. I admit I was concerned about flying (always interesting, particularly with a giant dog) to the Caribbean (my first time!) to spend Christmas (BIG holiday with potentially big stresses) with family.

My intention was to keep the challenges of travel – particularly with a service dog – to a minimum.


A real working dog vest for a really good working dog

With this in mind, I set out to be organized and prepared. I kept a folder of island highlights as well as do-not-forget scribbles (sunscreen! dog food for the plane!). I also adorned Tommy’s vest with another Do Not Pet badge and tucked and a copy of his rabies certificate in the side pocket. With a focus on minimizing distractions, I planned and predicted. I was ready with my Here’s-how-you-can-tell-when-he’s-working talk for the dog-loving relatives we were staying with (so they knew when it was – and wasn’t – a good time to pet him). I even gathered my husband and son together to decide in advance how to answer the common airport and restaurant question, “What’s his name?” (We settled on “Hercane,” which caused a secret smile among us each time the pun was missed and the person repeated, “Hurricane. Hi, Hurricane.”)

Armed with my folder of organization and preparedness, we headed for the airport. Hands reached out, strangers made kissy sounds, many asked his name, others his breed. No  problem. In my calm voice, I explained to Tommy where we were and what I expected of him. Tommy stepped along beside me. On the plane, compliments and cameras surrounded him. No problem. He lay on the floor by my feet, my husband gently petting his head. I told him in a soothing voice that all was well.

The van ride

The van ride

The week’s adventures took Tommy on dizzying drives up and down winding island terrain crammed into a van with seven people and their luggage. He faced 35 open steps up to our rental house, fierce tropical storms, the bustle of seven people unpacking and cooking and gathering together, 35 open steps down from our rental house to a pee spot, and drives up and down winding terrain crammed into a van with seven people and their hiking and snorkeling gear.

The van ride produced some serious drool and panting, but Tommy didn’t hesitate to load back up for the next outing. The only patch of grassy area at the house that wasn’t at a rakish angle allowed for a two strides from end to end. No problem. Tommy conducted his business on command. He remained in his down-stay at one restaurant despite the floor of brick and puddles. He’s the first dog I’ve seen on the beach stretched out on a towel in a shady section of sand while shell-seekers, snorkelers and small children stepped and splashed past him.

Such a good boy, I murmured each time he proved himself, again and again, to be such a good boy. When I considered how few problems arose throughout the trip, I realized that Tommy knew nothing about my organization and preparedness.  He knew my voice.

Tired boy

Tired boy

I think I knew that. I talk to him throughout the day. He talks to me, too, through his body, the tilt of his head, those soulful eyes. Our connection has grown well past the handle on his vest. We talk. Oh, and I mentioned the folder to him. I told him I’d thrown it into the bottom of the suitcase.


  1. Nancy Nyberg-Pennel says:

    I enjoyed reading your post and what you have to go through with a service dog but what got me the most was how you talk to him and he responds to you. There is nothing more loving than the bond between a human and their dog. Thank you for sharing

  2. Dan says:

    I am so glad that you, your family and Sir Thomas had what seems to be a perfect holiday get away. I also want you to know that I hold you and Tommy as an example of what Casper and I can be some day. There are two words that come to mind for me, those are confidence and ease. This is what I see in you as a handler and it is the relationship I strive to have with Casper. Thank you for being such a great example for us all. I also like that I get to post on someone else’s blog.

    Hugs – Dan & Casper

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