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Disney through the eyes of teens
|Adrienne Krock, editor|
|Guide Dogs at Disneyland|
Have you ever closed your eyes and tried to walk around your house? It's pretty hard to get around Now imagine trying to do that at Disneyland!
I recently spoke with Hector DeLeon, volunteer coordinator for the Community Alliance for the Blind (CAB) in Whittier, California. At his side is his guide dog, Clia, who joins the group on their regular trips to places like Disneyland, Hollywood, and Knott's Berry Farm.
How do parks like Disneyland handle guide dogs? According to Mr. DeLeon, having a guide dog at Disneyland has its limitations because service animals are not allowed on all the rides because of safety issues.
"I really enjoy going on every ride," Mr. DeLeon said. "My favorite ones were the ones where I was able to go with my guide dog, mostly walking around, like seeing Mickey Mouse, and the Monorail. Most of the other ones I was unable to really get into, because they were having their doubts about it; she needed someone to stay with."
Although some ride operators offered to watch Clia, most of them did not. Mr. DeLeon does not like to to leave her with someone else. "It's like leaving your little kid!" he said. Clia was, however, allowed in the restaurants. "I am supposed to be able to get into any public place (because of the Americans with Disabilities Act). Restaurants were even giving her water, and they were pretty nice people," he said.
Disneyland maintains a list of some rides where taking the service animal is up to the discretion of the owner. For some other rides, however, such animals are not permitted at all. For these rides, cast members are supposed to watch service animals. Guide dogs are not allowed on the thrill rides, such as Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Railroad Mountain, and can't go on Dumbo, Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin, the Mad Tea Party, and Peter Pan's Flight, among others. Owners are encouraged to leave their dogs behind on rides such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice in Wonderland, and King Arthur's Carrousel. On rides like these, although you are allowed to take your dog if you feel your dog will be OK, Disneyland does not encourage it. A complete list is available in a handbook for disabled guests in Disneyland at City Hall, and in the sidebar here. If it is not obvious why dogs shouldn't go on these rides, picture a puppy on that final drop off Splash Mountain! If you are visiting the park with a blind individual, and would like to go on a ride like Indiana Jones, ask the cast members at the attraction entrance for a "Rider Switch Pass." This allows one of you to stay with the dog while the other goes on, and then switch places, without waiting in line again. Rider Switch is usually used for couples with young children. There are rides that your dog might enjoy though, such as "it's a small world."
Walking around all day in the park can pose problems for the animal. "The inconvenience I had was that the ground was very hot," Mr. DeLeon said. "[Clia] was walking [on the tips of her toes] like a ballerina, and I felt bad about that. The first time I went it was almost 100 degrees, and the second time I went I tried to stay in the shade most of the time. She did better, and it was a little cooler that time." The heat was the only inconvenience there, and Clia was able to guide her master everywhere on their trip. "She's not afraid of Disneyland as much as she is of the sounds," he said.
Mr. DeLeon says that Disneyland is not the best when it comes to accommodating employees. He said, "It's hard to say, but they do need to do it better. For example, Universal Studios, where everybody's willing to take your dog, and everybody's asking if they can help. And you don't have to stand in line and wait to get in. They go and get you and say 'this way, please.'"
At the main gate at Disneyland, Mr. DeLeon was told to stand in line even after he asked to use the special entrance. Mark, another CAB staff member, says Universal goes "way out" for them. Mr. DeLeon agrees. "They're really good. They save themselves trouble because if we get hurt, and the dog gets hurt, they're going to have to pay for it." One of the things that Mark believes makes Universal so blind-friendly is the fact that the Braille Institute's Los Angeles Youth Center is across the street from the park.
Both Mr. DeLeon and Mark agree that Magic Mountain was one of the worst parks for access by those with disabilities. DeLeon and his group had to wait in lines with everybody else, employees were hesitant about the dogs, and did not make those with their dogs feel very welcome. Conversely, Raging Waters provides a place where they "babysit your dog" for you. "It's a very difficult place to be with your dog, because it's very wet, and then very dry. I myself had a difficult time."
You may have seen a guide dog before in the grocery store, or at a park, and wondered what guide dogs do. "We work 50/50," Mr. DeLeon said. "I command her to go forward. If I want to exit the place, I go 'door, exit' and she will take me to the exit, and once I'm in the exit, if I came in a car and she's already been in the car, I command her 'get the car,' and she will take me to the car." He says Clia also takes him to the restroom, and when necessarily, even takes him to public payphones. "When I don't command her anything, she walks me a little faster to the restaurants because of the food smell," he added.
I was especially amazed that Clia can find a phone in a place she had never been before. How does she do that? Well, she recognizes it from her training! "When these dogs are like 16 months old, they go for training. Their training is to learn where every obstacle is, to let us know, for example, the limits of the sidewalk," Mr. DeLeon said. "She will stop at any obstacle that she thinks I will fall down, like the stairs. And you have to congratulate her when she does something perfect."
When Clia goes on day trips, Mr. DeLeon takes a backpack for her necessities. One thing he does not bring is food, to prevent any "accidents" from happening in a public place, like Main Street. However, he still has to be careful she doesn't get any human food. Clia is used to dog food, so when someone throws a french fry to her, it could make her very sick. Keep this in mind next time you see someone with a guide dog. If you see a dog in the park that is wearing a vest and harness, it means it is working, so you should not try to pat the dog. Also, calling to the dog might distract her, so be careful about this, too. If you just cannot resist those big puppy-dog eyes, ask the dog's owner for a proper introduction.
Clia has done a great job as a guide dog. "Wow, I cannot ask for more from her. She's a very noble creature." Clia is a veteran guide dog, and is nearing her retirement, which occurs after a guide dog is in service for several years. When that happens, Clia, like other guide dogs, may become a pet for Mr. DeLeon, and a friend of his new guide dog.
Until her retirement, though, Clia is far from a household pet. How do service animals differ from pets? For one, you really have to respect their schedule, such as setting a time to go out in the morning, eating breakfast, or going for a walk. If you don't keep to that schedule, you may find a nasty surprise on the kitchen floor. Plus, when traveling, a guide dog gets to stay with you. One place Clia has been is Philadelphia, and she's even flown First Class. "It's like a miracle to be able to travel with her. It is faster for everything," Mr. DeLeon said. "With my white cane I'm a little bit dumb. But with a dog, I now walk faster."
Although pet owners should keep their pets healthy, guide dog owners can have their animals taken away if they don't take care of them. They must take the dogs to the vet every six months. "You have to keep them in good shape," he said. "If they're getting a little bit overweight, they'll think you're just a lazy blind man that doesn't even go for a walk! Why should you have a dog, right?"
Tony Phoenix’s Theme-Park Access Guide provides information about disabled access at Disney Parks. The Disneyland Accessibility page lists the rides service animals may not ride:
When a blind person applies for a guide dog through the Guide Dogs of America, the organization tries to pair the person up with a dog that has a personality matching the applicant. In fact, Mr. DeLeon is waiting to hear about his new canine partner from a nonprofit foundation that provides guide dogs free of charge to qualifying individuals.
How can you help our community and contribute to the guide dog cause? Talk to your parents about becoming a puppy raiser, or help train really young puppies with "puppy kindergarten" so they can be ready to go to a puppy raiser for full training.
Here's how puppy raiser programs works: Find an organization in your area (Guide Dogs of America can help you), and qualify to get a puppy. He or she will be seven to eight weeks old, and you and your family raise the puppy for about 14 months. A puppy raiser's job is to get the future guide dog used to family, city, church, school, and other social surroundings. The dog can go anywhere with you when he's wearing his special vest. When you're done raising him or her, the puppy will move onto training. Raising a guide dog puppy would be a great experience. Look into it, and consider taking part in the future of one amazing animal.
If you want to provide basic training to get puppies ready for puppy raisers, many 4-H clubs offer opportunities to raise guide dog puppies. If you are in California, you can contact the California 4-H Youth Development Program to find a club near you. Outside of California, search the Internet for your state’s Cooperative Extension Office for more information about 4-H.
If you cannot raise puppies in your house, the Guide Dogs of America is always looking for help. You can donate money, shop from their collection of guide dog merchandise, sponsor the cost of raising a puppy, or even convince your parents to donate their airline frequent flier miles!
I am 13 years old, and a typical junior high student. I live with my mom, dad, and little brother. My family and I have annual passes to Disneyland so we go quite often. I love school, and science has always been a favorite subject of mine. I am in band and hope to be involved in music for the rest of my life.
Right now, my career goal is to become a deejay. In my mind, that is the coolest job in the world! My hobbies include: listening to and playing music, reading, writing, messing around on the computer and hanging out at Disneyland. We have seven cats (four of them found us), a black Labrador, and I have a goldfish.
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