Dancer Can Fly!
Today, Dancer earned her wings.
We spent the morning at the San Diego International Airport practicing ticketing, going through airport security, getting on the plane and napping on the plane with the Blue Horizons program, a practice flight for autism families organized by the Autism Tree Foundation, JetBlue Airlines and the Transportation Service Administration (TSA).
I was so proud of Dancer and so happy to be with the other 149 members of the San Diego autism community for the amazingly well-organized, three-hour event. This was Dancer’s first trip to the airport with me. I’d flown with our old service dog, Bree, so I knew what to expect.
I knew going through airport security could be a challenge. When I first took off Dancer’s cape, harness and collar, she had that gleam that says, “Whee, I’m free!” But she paid attention and settled down when I showed her the big treat she had in store for her at the end of the screening.
We and the rest of the families got the V.I.P. treatment, with our own lines for ticketing and screening. We even got our own plane to board. (It didn’t take off.) Even though some kids were really scared at first, it felt like a party on that plane. No one stared when someone needed to scream or flap or down-stay.
Three things really stand out for me as I reflect on the experience:
– Watching the pinched mouths of fearful kids burst into wide grins when they saw Dancer in the waiting area before we boarded. She attracted a throng of kids on the autism spectrum and their siblings who asked to pet her and then stroked her soft fur. She and the kids learned a lot from the experience. One boy pet a dog for the first time.
– Feeling relief and pride as she fell asleep at my feet on the plane, just as she’s supposed to do. She slept like a puppy despite the sounds of pilot announcements, excited kids and music therapist Angela Neve singing a social story about flying on the plane called “I Can Fly.”
– Hearing the stories of other autism families with service dogs and family pets, especially the mom who told me her daughter did not speak until they got a dog.
Dancer was fabulous, but not perfect. I know now what we need to work on before a real flight. I’ll write about that list next week and give some practical tips about flying with a service dog from the San Diego International Airport. (It will involve the photographed spot in Terminal 2, hint hint.)
But for now, I’ll just savor the feeling of knowing we can fly.
Here’s a link to the Autism Tree Foundation, a cool local group:
Here’s a blog about Jet Blue’s first Blue Horizons program at JFK:
And last, a link to TSA Cares, a program for people with disabilities: