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  To my horror, he emailed back saying Oleta’s tape worm treatment was no longer valid, because of the visa delay, and getting a new treatment that day with a doctor’s note would not be sufficient.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.

The Sleeping Situation

Sleeping is not something I do especially often, or especially well. I think it’s mostly music school that has convinced me that sleep is actually a luxury rather than a necessity, but several people I know and trust tell me it’s actually an essential function that allows the body and mind to rest and regenerate before another busy day.
Our leaders here at the Airdrie church take this idea to heart, which is why they have provided the team with safe rooms full of beds, pillows, and blankets to help facilitate this essential function of life. Yes, it’s all very novel to me.
There are two rooms, to be precise, one for boys and one for us girls. They are both fitted with several bunk beds. With five girls in one room, it’s a bit cramped, but also quite cosy. It reminds me a lot of the nights we spent as kids at outdoor school and space camp.
It does, unfortunately, make posting blogs a bit difficult late at night, as after the light goes out, I can’t keep four girls up with my typing… And the lights are off, and our curfew is long passed… Whoops. I will get into the grouped of writing more during the daytime in the next few days. Fear not. I will get all of tall up to speed tomorrow.

A Second Journey: Arrival

I am happy to say that I have successfully made the leap across the pond, and am now preparing for bed.  I slept about two or three hours on the plane, which is better than nothing certainly, but I’m ready to get some rest for sure… especially after the trauma of yesterday.

I still feel very empty without Oleta… I guess I probably will the whole trip.  I keep brushing my fingers against something soft on the floor, and thinking it’s Oleta, or searching for her leash, or getting ready to feed or take her out.  It was seriously one of the strangest things not going outside five or so times today to take Oleta to the bathroom.  My cane needs much less care, but it is also distinctly uncuddly and does not give kisses or play hide and seek… well, actually, that may be the one thing Oleta and my cane have in common.  Hide and seek is one of their favorite games.

After today, I have realized that I am definitely less confident without her, in travel and just in general.  It’s frustrating, because I literally feel like I am missing half of myself, and am not quite sure how to compensate for the loss.

Anyway, all that said, I still can’t quite believe I’m here.  My team members are wonderful.  Everyone seems really down to Earth and I’m thrilled to be working with this group!

I’ll write more tomorrow as we’ve turned the lights off and it’s time to sleep.  Night then.

A Second Journey: H is for Heartache

It hurts, more than I can say. I want to explain it, or at least explain why I’m so upset, but I don’t have words to make sense of it, unless you’ve experienced it before. Oleta will not accompany me to Scotland. I hate it, I hate it so much. I have cried and searched for a way all morning, but there is no way around it. I will describe the situation more in detail when I have more time, but for now, suffice it to say that Oleta and I will be parting ways at the airport this evening, she on her way to a 4 week vacation with my family and Guiding Eyes, and I on the way to Scotland… Without her. It might sound crazy to anyone that has never had a guide dog before, but our bond is deeper than I can describe. Apart from the occasional movie theater night, loud concert, or the one day that she didn’t come with us to an amusement park, Oleta and I have not left each other’s sides 24/7 for four straight years. I am still crying, and I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, and I need your prayers more than ever.

A Second Journey: Congressmen, Consulates, and Changing Plans

Alert: This is quite a long post.  Also, Please forgive my rather scattered writing style… especially near the end.  I can’t seem to properly communicate exactly what I would like to, but hopefully my feeble words will do some justice to the concept of what I’m trying to say, if not every detail.

No, unfortunately I am not writing to tell you that I have arrived safely in the land of the Scots.  Despite the email I received Tuesday morning informing me that my visa would be sent out within 24 hours (which would mean that I should have received it Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday at the very latest), it never showed up, and I spent all of Friday afternoon trying to figure out where on Earth it was and how I could get it.  Thanks to the advice of my clever aunt, I was able to get in contact with the consulate through my congressman, or rather through my congressman’s case manager that deals with this sort of situation.  (I know, isn’t my aunt awesome?  How did she even know that was a thing?)

So, we chatted, I explained the circumstances, he sent me a form to sign, I replied with the signed document and further explanation, and he passed it along to the consulate.  Their first response, which he forwarded to me, was extremely disheartening.  My visa had not yet even been dispatched, and they could not be certain when it might be—probably sometime in the next week.  Alarmed, I sent two more emails of a rather more urgent nature.  By this time, it was getting quite late and we had been forced to call US Airways and reschedule my flight.  Unsure when my visa would come, we chose the latest departure date possible within the confines of Oleta’s valid paperwork, Wednesday the 27th.  With two day priority shipping, my visa would need to be sent out THAT FRIDAY to arrive on time, since Monday was memorial day.  I couldn’t help imagining a repeat of the last three days, checking the mail over and over only to discover Wednesday that it hadn’t arrived, and be forced to cancel the trip all together.

To my great relief though, shortly before 7 Pm that night, my congressman’s case manager replied saying my visa had now been placed in the mail, and Saturday, I got a text from my Dad saying we’d received it already!  Praise God!

Needless to say, Friday was a bit emotionally taxing.  I spent most of it worrying, and the rest of it praying.  I was frustrated with myself—if only I had done something different, surely I could have avoided this situation.  For much of the day, I was utterly uncertain what to do, and it made absolutely no sense to me that not getting my visa and missing my flight could possibly be part of God’s plan.  I knew that I should have faith, but suddenly I wasn’t so sure I knew what that meant.  I don’t mean faith in Christ’s salvation, or in the person of God, but small scale faith, the every day sort of faith.

Was having faith being positive of a certain desirable outcome based on belief in God, or was it trusting that any outcome was under God’s control, whether seemingly desirable or not?  I searched for an answer in God’s word, and found these verses.

Romans 10:17 – So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Okay, I thought, so I’m doing the right thing by reading the Bible at least.

Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

If it was impossible to please God without faith, that must mean He desires his  servants to have faith in Him in all situations, no matter what the outcome.

Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

And the outcome isn’t always what I might expect.  If I am not to “lean on my own understanding”, then my idea of an ideal situation won’t always match with God’s.  If I am to acknowledge Him in all my ways, trust, not resignation, is what is required for every happenstance, whether apparently positive or negative.  No matter what the outcome, He will make straight my path, which means that I must have faith that He has a plan, and that His plan is good.

It sounds trivial and ridiculous now.  Of course I knew these things, and yet, in that moment, I didn’t, and that’s all that seemed to matter.  I realize now that however many times I have come into contact with the meaning of everyday faith, however many times God has revealed to me His faithfulness, it has often been after the fact.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t been a Christian a very long time, but I was so used to looking at situations in retrospect.  Of course, God had a plan for my blindness, for every family drama, for every one of my sins and mess ups.  With years or months or weeks to separate me from any such event, it’s easy to see his hand at work.  It’s harder to recognize in the midst of it all.  I’ve always known that, but now I think I’m starting to truly understand.

so of course, He has a plan  now, and maybe part of it is teaching me to rely more on Him.  Whatever it is, I’m thankful.  I will be leaving for Scotland tomorrow, and can’t wait to discover what other things He has in store for me to learn there.

A Second Journey: Packing Makes Possible

Thursday May 21, 2015

It’s a year after my last packing post, and I’m positively pumped to be writing another one!

Packing is always difficult for me… I love clothes, and it’s always a challenge to figure out which ones should go, and which ones should stay.  I feel like this process could make a really good reality TV show.

*Next up, The Suitcase.  Watch as Shea struggles to decide whether to bring her pink scarf to Scotland, and then, the shoes.  Is five pairs too excessive for a six week mission trip?  And should she bring two of the same blouse in different colors?  Find out, on the next episode of Suitcase, only on SMT.*

SMT meaning Shea’s Mission Trip, because I’m not feeling creative enough to invent some other network, and because a TV channel with reality TV shows covering only this mission trip could probably be pretty entertaining.  Haha.

Anyway, I’m also procrastinating packing because my visa has not yet arrived in the mail, and if it doesn’t by tomorrow morning, I will have packed for nothing.  I do not want to have to face that reality and unpack things.  Still, if it does come tomorrow, then I need to be ready to leave, and if I have any faith in God’s plan for this venture, I need to be ready for either outcome, not fear one so much that I can’t prepare for the other.  So, packing my things will at least make my departure possible.  Here’s to hope in tomorrow, and the plenty possibilities that packing can produce!