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Tony Phoenix and Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, editors

Ruffing it

Service dogs at Disneyland—notes from a puppy raiser

Tuesday, January 13, 2004
by Adam Stone, contributing writer

Dogs at Disneyland? Ruff. Ruff.

Besides Pongo, Pluto and, well, let's just group Goofy in the same category, it's relatively rare to see dogs at Disneyland. But for a substantial number of people with disabilities, working dogs are an integral part of how they live their lives; and that means you often see working dogs at Disneyland. It wasn't so long ago that only guide dogs (those who help the blind) were common, but now, assistance dogs of all kinds help people with many different kinds of disabilities, from deafness to mobility impairments.


Members of the East Bay Guide Dog Raisers take their dogs to Disneyland for the day. From left to right are puppies “C,” Chita, Vinita, Fajita, Pachita, and Elita. Photo courtesy of EBGDR.

The Disney parks are very good about accommodating these working dogs, but the parks themselves can be stressful and dangerous places for even the most well-adjusted working dog.

Encountering a service dog in the park

Do you know how to behave around service dogs as a park visitor? Service dogs are working to keep their partners safe, and while they are trained to avoid distraction, they aren't immune to it. The best thing you can do for working dogs is to not distract them from their work. Usually, that means ignoring them the best you can. Even raising your voice to say, “Oh, look at the good puppy” can be a distraction for both the dog and the handler. And while many of us find it hard not to fawn over dogs (and hug them and squeeze them 'til they're all gone…), it's the best thing you can do for a working dog.

Keeping little ones in line is even more important. The breeds used for guide dogs—German shepherds, labrador retrievers, and golden retrievers—can get particularly excited by small children. Use it as an opportunity to teach your children about proper etiquette around service animals, instead of an opportunity to run up an grab the dog around the neck—which one did to my dog at Disneyland last October, while her parents were saying, “Don't worry she has one at home.” You can learn more about etiquette and access at the Guide Dogs of America Web site (link).

Packing for your Dog

Packing for your dog for Disneyland isn't very different from packing for them for a regular trip, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

Water and food

The kennels will feed your dog (but not relieve them) on any schedule you request and with any food you provide.

Mister bottle

You might wish to pack a mister bottle to fill with water to cool off your dog on hot days.

Clean-up kit

An expanded clean-up kit. Tons of stimulation + 1 designated relieving area for both parks = potential for an accident. You should plan for the ability to pick up not only poop, but also pee. Bring a large diaper or paper towels and a cleaner or cleaner cloths. [In a pinch, you can use the large changing table liners available in Disneyland restrooms.]

Night light

If you are going to have your dog in the park on a crowded night, I would suggest something that lights up so that people can see your dog. This is especially important if you are there during a busy Fantasmic evening or fireworks. The park sells lots of light up toys that could easily be adapted to your dog, or you can buy a specially designed light up collar. Be sure to turn it off during performances, shows, and rides.

At the resort

Parking: If you are not traveling with a Handicapped sticker, note the following:

If Timon is operating, you can usually ask to park there because of the dog. You may be eligible for an A (priority parking) pass as well—ask at the Parking booth. Timon is a better choice if available, not only because of the decreased walk if you choose not to tram, but also because both the walk and the tram let you out on the Kennel side of the Esplanade.

There seems to be some disagreement on this point, but I would encourage you to put the dog in harness or uniform (if applicable) at this point, as tram drivers may ask you to walk otherwise. Parking in Mickey and Friends for most guests involves the use of escalators. These escalators (at least the ones beyond the third floor) are really really big and even dogs trained for escalator usage may be uncomfortable on them. Elevators are a better bet, though they tend to get quite crowded at Park closing time.

Since the parking trams are essentially open-air, you may find it easier to take a normal (thin) row and place the dog in a down facing your legs (which protect the dog from the outside). The larger rows, including the wheelchair accessible rows, provide more room to move, which, depending on the personality of the dog, might not be a good thing.

At the Kennels

The Disneyland kennels, located to the right of the Disneyland Park gates (when facing the park) provide non-overnight accommodations. Service dogs pay like everyone else, $10 per day as of writing. You can take the dog out to walk, or work any number of times. The Disneyland kennels will also hold your dog/harness bag for you while your dog is in the Kennel.

The Kennel run, which is essentially a small well-fenced dog park covered in pea gravel, is available to all service dog users, even if you have not paid for Kennel accommodations. This is the only “approved” relieving spot in the entire Disneyland resort. If you decide to moderate your dog's water intake to prevent accidents at Disneyland, make this very clear to the Kennel staff. They will water your dog by default.

You might consider bringing a blanket and favorite toy for your dog if they are going to spend time in the Kennel. Most of the large dog kennels are crate sized, however, there are also several runs in the back which provide more room. In my opinion, the point of letting the dog spend some time in the Kennel is to give them a break from their work—I chose the smaller crate-sized kennels to make sure our puppy rested.

Most of the service dog users I spoke to let their dogs rest for at least some time at the Kennels. Since the dog cannot accompany you on many attractions, this might work out well for both you and the dog.

Although the “dog park” at the kennels is secure, you probably should keep your dog on leash at all times—the entrance to the “park” is not a double door.

Relieving

The only official relieving spot in the entire resort is the Kennels. For well-trained dogs on moderated water, this won't be a problem. We recently spent five days at the resort and never had an accident anywhere in the parks, however, younger puppies in training and stressed dogs may not be so lucky. Although these are not approved locations, let me suggest the following as alternate relieving areas located within the parks and Downtown Disney, if you found your dog in a situation where it needed to relieve and could not reach the Kennels.

In Disney's California Adventure (DCA) park, there is a smoking section located in the old exit of now-defunct Superstar Limo attraction. This area provides a semi-private, kid-free area with sandy beds or cement as a relieving surface. Also in DCA, you might be able to use the Grand Californian Hotel entrance to reach a grassy area.

Disneyland itself is more difficult; you might need to ask a cast member for assistance. The only obvious place I saw was on Tom Sawyer Island. If your dog is comfortable relieving on cement, entrances to shuttered attractions would be the obvious choice. Easy to find right now.

In Downtown Disney, you'll find a gate between Häagen-Dazs and the Wetzel's Pretzels that leads to an accessway near the trams. This was a designated relieving area during a recent guide dog outing; it would probably be safe to use this at any time. Farther up, you'll find grass at the Disneyland Hotel side of Downtown Disney and at the entrance to the parking lot between ESPN Zone and Rainforest Cafe.

The walkways to and from both parking lots provide additional relieving opportunities. No grass is available on the Timon walkway.

Remember to be prepared. Always carry the ability to fully clean up after your service dog.

Handicapped/Wheelchair Seating/Entrances

In my experience, wheelchair-accessible seating was often the wrong place for us to sit. Our puppy is happier in standard seating—the more restrictive environment is more calming, and frankly, as cute as it is to watch her get introduced to strange stuff, her job is not to enjoy the attractions, but to sit or down quietly until she is needed again.

Many cast members will try to place you in wheelchair accessible seating, meaning that the dog ends up in the open space where the wheelchair would have been. I found these times more stressful for the dog, and more risky as well since these seats often present the possibility of being stepped on or otherwise trampled. Personally, I would ask for standard seating at the aisle, giving you an easy escape if for any reason your dog is not dealing well with the experience (in a theatre-style attraction).

Feet and Pads

The walkways at Disneyland get very hot during the summer and on sunny days. Exercise care when you have your dog working during the middle of the day. Use a spray bottle to provide relief and look for shady areas to walk in. Consider letting your dog break during the hottest times of the day.


It's a good thing Elita isn't a Dalmatian—Cruella meets Adam and Elita. Photo courtesy of EBGDR.

Dog Switch

You can use the “baby switch” system if you are traveling with another person who can watch the dog while you ride and then switch places with you. This allows you to wait in line together. Some cast members may be willing to look after your dog when you ride as well, but I understand that this is not the norm.

Cast members and park visitors

Cast members are almost always well trained about service dogs. However, you may often come across cast members who “treat you normally,” which can sometimes mean that you aren't offered any additional assistance. This is a good thing, but you should always feel free to ask for additional assistance if you need it—whether it's entering a ride, finding a safe place for your dog, or just navigating the park.

Guests, on the whole, are very knowledgeable about service dogs. You'll be amazed how many times you'll hear, “There's a dog in Disneyland!” immediately followed by, “That dog is working; don't distract him.” It's nice to see so many families and individuals who are knowledgeable about service dogs.

You will also, of course, be asked many times for permission to pet your dog, by kids, adults, and cast members. What was interesting to me was that the requests were no more frequent than they are out in the “real world”—I sort of expected to spend entire days dealing with petting requests.

You will, of course, find guests who will not control their children or themselves, and run up and distract, pet, or accost you and your dog. This is inevitable, but I was pleasantly surprised that, given the numbers of concentrated children and adults, it didn't happen very often at all. Perhaps service dog users are less of an attraction when you're surrounded by Disney magic.

Your working dog may already be slightly stressed about the whole experience, and for some dogs, extra petting by unknown people wouldn't be helpful. You should monitor the signs your dog is giving off, and feel comfortable saying no to petting requests, just as you would out in the real world.

Disneyland Resort guidebook

Guest Services at the entrances to both parks provide a guidebook for guests with disabilities. This includes a list of attractions where service dogs are not allowed, and a list of attractions where they are not recommended. Since this book is designed for users with a wide range of needs, I thought there was info that would be useful to service dog users as a supplement. Basically, what follows is a list of things to note of special interest to service dog users.

Disneyland Park attractions

Not Allowed

  • Astro Orbitor
  • Autopia
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  • Gadget's Go Coaster
  • Goofy's Bounce House
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Mad Tea Party
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Peter Pan's Flight
  • Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin
  • Space Mountain
  • Splash Mountain
  • Star Tours

Not Recommended

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Casey Jr. Circus Train
  • Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes
  • Haunted Mansion
  • “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience”
  • King Arthur Carrousel
  • Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
  • Pinocchio's Daring Journey
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Snow White's Scary Adventures
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Since the Kennels are located outside the entrance to the park, you may wish to make use of the train when you need to take a relieving break. It is the least-walking way out of the park from most places.

Parades and shows

Parade of the Stars – Assuming your dog has no issues with plush characters, there is nothing to consider here.

Fantasmic – Many service dog users choose not to visit Fantasmic because of the fireworks. I would note that the fireworks are low level here and nearly silent—not like the big fireworks over the castle. However, there are other things to consider, such as very loud music, the canon blasts from the Sailing Ship Columbia during the Peter Pan sequence, the fire on the river, and the possibly painful crowds.

If you choose to take your service dog to Fantasmic, use the Handicapped seating area if possible so that you have some protection from the crowds. If you don't, have an exit plan that involves getting your dog to a safe waiting place until the crowds have gone down slightly. I would consider a fantasmic exit to be ultra-dangerous for any service dog, even those comfortable in crowds. Exiting here is where you'll also want some kind of light on the dog. This said, ours attended the show twice and never showed any interest except in the canon blast. However, she is unusually nonplussed by fireworks. The two working guides I saw also showed no signs of interest or stress in this show.

On rides not recommended by Disney for service animals

Pirates of the Caribbean – Disney recommends against—but does not forbid—this ride for service animals. Consider the drops and the canon blasts, both of which are at the beginning of the ride. You will be seated in the first row of the boat because it contains an area under the bow for your dog to lie down in. This is a safe place for them to experience the drops, and they should remain in a down at all times. Our puppy, who is not usually particularly stressed by motion, definitely had some nervousness about the drops. Be sure to maintain control over the dog's position at all times.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – Disney recommends against this ride for service animals. I'm not quite sure why this is, other than the relatively small seats. The ride vehicles move in a fluid, bouncing motion. I don't think most dogs would care. However, if you are concerned, you'll want to ask for a handicapped vehicle, which has no motion.

I think an average-size person and medium-size dog are about as much as a row in these vehicles will accommodate. The consideration for the handicapped vehicle is that it has only one seating row, so only you and the dog will be able to ride in this car (unless you are very small or the dog is really good about a compressed space). Although the Pooh ride is “trippy,” I doubt most well-trained service animals would care.

Haunted Mansion – Another one recommended against by Disney but frequented by some service animal users. I would be most concerned about the tipping backwards during the transition out of the attic. Most dogs in a down in the Doombuggy wouldn't see anything strange on this ride. Note the moving walkway on both sides—you can ask them to stop the ride for boarding.

Alice, Snow White, Pinocchio, and Mr. Toad – With the possible exception of Mr. Toad, I doubt any of these experiences would be stressful for the average working dog. The cars are tight though, so this is a consideration.

Canoes and Carrousel – Both seem like a bad idea to me. I would not suggest taking your working dog on either of these.

Mark Twain – I would avoid the top level as the whistle is unbelievably loud up there and is bound to freak out some dogs.


Elita sits on deck of the Mark Twain Riverboat during a trip to Disneyland this fall. Photo by Adam Stone.

Disney's California Adventure attractions

Not Allowed

  • California Screamin'
  • Flik's Flyers
  • Francis' Ladybug Boogie
  • Golden Zephyr
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Jumpin' Jellyfish
  • Maliboomer
  • Mulholland Madness
  • Orange Stinger
  • Soarin' Over California
  • Sun Wheel (sliding gondolas only)
  • Tuck and Roll's Drive 'Em Buggies

 

Not Recommended

  • It's Tough to be a Bug!
  • King Triton's Carousel
  • Superstar Limo

 

Since some of DCA is black asphalt, you'll want to stay on the sidewalks in these places to avoid burning dog feet. See above

Electrical Parade – The small, quick, moving bug-like things that make noises and interact with guests are bound to set some dogs off. Consider not sitting in the front row, and be prepared to maintain control over the dog at all times. One loud noise to consider is the canon blast from the Peter Pan float—not super loud, but very close and plenty of fog. Ours was quite surprised by this.

Aladdin – Since some of this show takes place in the audience, avoid Orchestra-level handicapped seating, or place your dog in the row. Everywhere else is basically safe. As I said earlier, my preference would always be to take a row instead of having the dog in a wheelchair space because she sees less and is more under my control. Careful with the front rows of the two balcony levels, too.

Muppet Vision and It's Tough to Be a Bug – Loud explosions and moving lighting were of interest to our puppy. While not super-stressful, be aware of these. It's Tough to Be a Bug is more intense than MuppetVision, but I still suspect that most calm dogs would have no problem with this attraction.


Adam with Elita when she was a pup. Photo courtesy of East Bay Guide Dog Raisers.


DISCLAIMER FROM ADAM

I am not a service dog user, a service dog expert, or a dog behavior expert. I am a puppy raiser and I have talked with perhaps a dozen service dog users and raisers about their experiences at the park. My thoughts are not those of any service dog organization. Every dog will vary—you know your own working dog best. I hope some of these notes will be helpful to service dog user/raiser in visiting Disneyland.

WHAT ARE PUPPY RAISERS?

Under the auspices of non-profit Guide Dogs of America (link), a volunteer puppy raiser commits to raising and training a puppy so it can become a service dog for a person with disabilities.

Puppies are placed in puppy raising homes at eight weeks old, and stay with puppy raisers for 14 to 18 months. Like foster parents, puppy raisers grow tremendously attached to their dogs, but know when their puppies “graduate,” that a fully trained guide dog will provide life-changing support for a person with visual, hearing, or other physical disabilities.

To learn more about Guide Dogs for the Blind and its puppy raising program, visit its Web site (link). You can also learn more about the organization Adam is associated with, East Bay Guide Dog Raisers, at their Web site (link).

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