Setting off into Summer…

Maneuvering new surroundings: strange smells, unfamiliar sights, obstacles, loud noises, new people—it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  Fluid environments, never silent or still, make even the most centered individuals feel off-balance at times.  Conditions can change suddenly, anticipation or eagerness shifting to fear and nervousness in the blink of an eye.  Preparedness, communication, and a sense of adventure help hedge the bet that what will emerge from these experiences will be positive—for you and all involved.  Self-confidence, being open to new experiences & ‘flavors,’ repeatedly immersing self in the experience of living in the moment, and empathy for fellow travelers of this journey in life can impart the perspective necessary to succeed & thrive in the harshest of climates.

Daddy & Benson in the chair hugging! :)

Daddy & Benson in the chair hugging! 🙂

One of the most rewarding aspects of training & bonding with Benson is his eagerness in approaching the world.  For a puppy that started out friendly but nervous & edgy in the frightening, crazy environment of the humane shelter, Benson has developed a remarkably calm and laid-back manner.  He now has a special kind of quiet & cautious confidence.  As Benson works, plays & bonds with me & hubby, he learns he can trust and rely on our judgment when meeting new people & places; when he ‘reads’ that we are calm and relaxed, Benson responds in like manner.  Now, short outings and longer trips are exciting—and full of opportunity to broaden training.  We cultivate social manners, assistance abilities, and strengthen the connections in both our family & with the people and communities we visit.

So it’s Memorial Day weekend& summer’s on its way, most of us are looking forward to vacations & weekends with our loved ones.

Bensons Halti

Bensons Halti 

Benson is beat, whew!
Benson gets tired after his walks & training!

Traveling though, can be harrying & tiring.  Between planning, packing, loading and everything in between…it’s exhausting just thinking about ‘holiday.’  In honor of the occasion, we’re going to get right down to it with a handful of travel tip links & that can help you make travel less stressful for everyone involved!

Benson & his tug toy

Benson enjoys hanging in the sun with his tug toy while Mom works in the garden…


Daddy & Benson checking out the scenes…

There are many reputable sites that can serve as guides for your travel prep, regardless of the mode you are choosing, and for everything from international travelto vaccine requirements, etc.  I have standard items to include in my first-aid kit and travel packs… and sometimes I take additional items depending on the type of trip & where we plan to go, and whether or not we’ll be staying over anywhere away from home.

Benson loves rose-colored glass!

Benson loves rose-colored glass!

Now for some great resource & product links—here are just a few organizations, site & companies I like…

#1 link for today’s topic:  There’s nothing like a reliable source of tips & critical information, and the American Veterinary Medical Association site is just that.  Check them out at  as they have everything under the sun, and will have answers to many questions you may have, as well as tons of links that can aid you in planning and once you arrive at your destination!

Pet friendly hotel links and tips are provided from the link with travel expert Nicole Hockin (travelsmartblog/

Want to make sure you remember everything?  Here’s a list (and they have links to other pet travel sites & blogs):

Halti lead head gear

Halti collar for our outings…


FirstAid & Necessities

Be sure to pack a few staple items & be careful of chemicals/etc.
natural bug spray, paw creme, antiseptic, collapsible food & water dish, flashlight, etc.


There are TONS of suppliers to consider when purchasing travel items, wear, or safety devices… Benson & I have tried a few—some new & even used items found at yard sales& dime stores!  Look around at local thrift shops & yard sales & also check out some manufacturers and retailers online.

durability & control

Strong dog lead vs. wimpy lead… Lupine Wins

Benson and I have tried many, but we like the portable water/food bowls by

Bensons Portable Bowls has the most awesome collapsible food & water bowls…check Bensons pair!


For travel toys & gear/etc—and packs like the one Benson is wearing in the photos on our page, you can try  and  Water, waste bags & first-aid kits fit nicely and you can be sure necessities like those can be carried by your companion!  Don’t forget important things like medical alert bracelets, extra medication in a waterproof pill ‘box,’ natural bug repellants, sunscreen, and a whole bunch of odds & ends.

Brushes Benson uses

Benson uses a few brushes & accessories

Photos have example items to include in your pack, along with examples of leads, other gear, and specialty dog-wear ‘suited’ to your trip like Benson & I use.

Retractable lead--not always the best option

Retractable leads are not always strong enough, or don’t allow firm control of the lead… this is a heavy-duty version

Always take hunter orange (vests) when visiting known hunting areas & going hiking/etc.  and wear reflector vests when out at night.  You can see designs at —they have many specialty items available, including hunter/blaze orange, camouflage, rain jackets, halters, reflectors, booties & and much more!

Bensons Blaze-Orange Reflective vest

Benson loves his Blaze-Orange Reflective vest, and it is highly visible even in the dark!

Bensons Clothes

Clothing items Benson wears on his outings…

We picked up a fleece jacket/squall jacket (made by the Lands’ End) at a yard sale!

Blue Jacket (lightweight)

a lightweight blue jacket, great for everyday…

We also found a My Good Dog Polartec Thermal Pro Winter Dog Jacket

Bensons Warm Coat

Bensons snuggle-warm coat for the fall and into winter, or on chilly nights…

see it here: you can find a review of it here (that I agree with):  cute, easy to get into, snuggly warm, and clear of areas for urinating/etc so the coat doesn’t get soiled.

NOW GO! GO! Go put your travel know-how to work, and pack—GO ENJOY YOUR TIME TOGETHER WITH YOUR PET COMPANIONS THIS SUMMER!  ❤


Challenges & Opportunities

Challenges lie ahead, no matter where we begin our journey.  Obstacles of every kind seem to materialize, blocking the path; until we adjust our ‘framework’ and begin perceiving those obstacles as opportunities.  Suddenly a positive paradigm emerges, a rebirth of thought in constructive active tense—even when experiencing not-so-pleasant circumstances.  Our challenges become our ‘spring’boards into new being: catalysts of growth and change; a cycle of chrysalis, transformation and renewal; foundations for strength and perseverance throughout the rest of our journey. 

We’ve gotten to know the Foreign Service dog Firu, and resolved his family’s travel dilemma, while also highlighting some travel and documentation tips for ALL pet companions—service companions, therapy buddies, and typical pets alike.

[To catch up on the discussion visit our previous post,
and ; for more on traveling with service pets (& notes on international travel) visit and to meet other Foreign Service companions be sure to visit ]

Having touched on the issues of medical privacy and legal documentation regarding assistance animals, I’d like to provide some background of my personal story and familiarity with service animals & therapy pets.  (I’ll link some additional useful resources a bit later in this story.)

Personal need and responsibility go hand in hand when working with service animals.  Just as we have the rights to an assistance companion to help meet our daily needs, others have the right to expect safe and positive interactions with those service animals and their handlers.  Having a service or therapy animal takes dedication and discipline, and demands regard not just for one’s own needs but those of the service animal, and the interactions the team has with the public, as well. 

A number of factors led to Benson & I training as a therapy team—primarily, my husband of almost 16 years being diagnosed with MS about 12 years ago.  We were already familiar with working dogs of many sorts (police K9; search & rescue; etc.) in addition to physical/mental service animals, but suddenly we were in the position of needing one.  We knew my husband’s MS was advancing and he would benefit from having a service dog to help with a few common tasks and depression resulting from MS over time.

Even as he recognized the need, my husband resisted the idea of a service dog at first.  He feared the expense, but accepting a service companion was also a statement to the seriousness of his illness.  Fortunately, a friend involved our church during the fundraising and training process of her second service companion which kept the idea fresh in our minds, and wanting to learn more.

With experience in ADA and compliance requirements for non-profits, I began researching human-animal welfare & health organizations.  I looked for groups empowering individuals and encouraging personal responsibility with human training as the primary component—the core—of service/ therapy teams.  I discovered Delta Society/Pet Partners.  Benson & I are working to certify through Delta Society, so at risk of sounding a bit ‘commercial’ I’d like to say that Delta Society provides a great amount of information and the following links I provide are through DS/PP.

Many people have questions regarding not just documentation of service pets—but also what is required: what basic standards are expected of assistance dogs in particular.  For an excellent overview check out  Basic training standards can be found in one of their free publications, “Minimum Standards for Service Dogs,” Delta Society .  From legal information, to outreach materials, to sources for further study—Delta Society/Pet Partners is dedicated to “improving human health through therapy, service, and companion animals”—and is an absolute resource treasure.  With the information DS/PP provided, I began the process of developing & certifying our team.

Would it surprise you to know that handlers of service companions are not required to identify your or otherwise differentiate it from a pet?  Or that the dog does not have to wear any vests or tags to identify it as a service dog?  Did you know that they aren’t obligated to answer any questions regarding the nature or extent of a disability?  In fact, did you know others are prohibited, by law, from asking anything of the handler except “is this a service dog?”  Some of these facts made it easier for my husband to consider including a service companion pet in his daily life.  It helps to know your rights & how ADA & other laws can assist.

Once Benson & I embarked on this adventure, hubby decided to come along!  Suddenly, he was excited—his attitude toward training & having his own assistance dog became positive.  Hubby even discovered related interests (play therapy, animal-assisted activities & therapies, etc.) in his graduate studies of sociology & counseling!  As my husband’s physical limitations increase, we will focus Benson’s tasks to include more helpful interaction between them and create more specific service duties.

Benson & I value all the buddies we have in our lives, and so we continue to educate ourselves & others to the health benefits of our pet partnerships.  Benson has been a positive influence on my partnership with my husband, and is helping us transition through the daily difficulties of chronic illness.  Service companions require a lot of all parties involved, but the benefits are astounding and make every moment worth the effort—we know so!


Check out some FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) regarding service animals:

For those who need assistance with aid for acquiring or training a service dog, Delta Society recommends contacting Assistance Dog United Campaign (ADUC) ,which “provides financial assistance to individuals who have the need for an assistance dog but have difficulty in raising the necessary funds,” and to people/programs “whose purpose is to provide assistance dogs to people with disabilities.”  Check them out at:

A simple brochure like this one from the Delta Society, can help others to understand the role your service dog fulfills and help you learn your rights as a service dog handler:  Delta Society recommends keeping a wallet-sized “law information card” of the ADA & other laws protecting service animals with their handlers on you to share with others when needed:

Be sure to check out our FaceBook page:


Sometimes we reach an impasse and need a fresh perspective; sometimes, we lose sight of possible solutions when we are denied one avenue of action; sometimes we are helping and serving in ways we don’t realize.   Acknowledging responsibilities, abilities & achievements are a huge part of assessing ourselves and our relations with our companions –human & animal alike.  Upon occasion we discover that someone fulfills an important job that we didn’t even consider, or haven’t acknowledged & celebrated yet. 

A friend, mom2nomads (M2N), shared on her blog a dilemma involving her human children’s ‘littermate’ and ‘pup-sibling’ Firu traveling with his family.  

This is a complicated issue and will comprise of a series of blogs regarding different aspects of traveling with pets. FIRST, we will begin with information on the special categories of pet travel companions and explaining Firu’s special designation and begin covering how to document basic requirements.  We will cover how you can handle ALL of these categories of pet companions with companies transporting you, and detail the general package of documentation needed; eventually this topic thread on BensonsBuddies can serve as a parent guide or checklist outlining how-to prepare & train ALL pet companions for travel, and a few tips for your trips!  I hope these blogs help your family journey with your pet-kin!


M2N’s family is in the Foreign Service—-and serves “to promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the U.S. abroad” according to the US Department of State (USDS).  They act as diplomatic and civil emissaries (that are representative of our families in the U.S.) to areas around the world to live for periods of time.  Foreign Service  are similar to our active military in serving in sometimes “difficult and even dangerous environments” says the USDS.

M2N clearly expressed that her children rely on their furry sibling for stability–emotional and psychological, mental support.  The children have spent large amounts of time without their father while he has served in special capacities separate from the rest of the family.  The entire household is relocated to new places regularly and they must be prepared to be evacuated or reassigned when our government deems it necessary—at a moment’s notice.  They live in dangerous environments and risk their lives to assist in regions of conflict and difficulties serving their country actively.

Because of these stresses, Firu, their rescued ‘dog-ling’ was adopted as a puppy when they arrived in Costa Rica their newest home. Firu has helped the family bond in their new home after multiple traumatic relocations—regular relocations are both a blessing and a curse so to speak. For children of active military and civilians serving overseas, moving can be difficult, and stable companionship of a family pet can provide a key linchpin in helping ease the emotional trauma of moving.  When such children are saying goodbye (permanently or temporarily) to their family, friends or home, their personal or family pet can serve as a therapeutic pet companion that stays alongside them throughout their journeys.

M2N was at an impasse with United Airlines regarding travel with their fur-family.  The company admits they do not equate our Foreign Service with our active military troops—even when sending them to the same places, and under the same conditions as defined by the US Dept. of State.  The company does not equate the furry-friends as companions the same way they do those of active military & assistance dogsInstead of reclassifying their own policies to deal with the reality of families in this situation to make things easier, the current company restrictions put barriers up for our Foreign Service members & families—including outrageous fees.

However, there are special categories of companions that are exceptions to the more well-known rules of service dogs—ways that allow pets like Firu to serve beside their companion while traveling.  YES, they are legal! (These should not be taken advantage of by people whose companions don’t qualify.)   There are many categories of helper-companions—yes, the recognized seeing-eye and other physical assistance animals—but also mental/emotional assistance pets & therapy pets.  Whereas therapy pets may or may not be permitted in certain public locations depending on their duty at the time, true assistance animals—both physical and mental assisting companions—are permitted.  Firu is not simply a family pet, nor is he a therapy pet in the sense that Benson is training to become a therapy pet partner, but is a member of this special category of family pets that serve as EMOTIONAL SUPPORT AND PSYCHIATRIC ASSIST ANIMALS. **I’ve linked United’s own policy regarding pet companions in each of these categories, which aren’t exactly like all companies but are very helpful because they reflect general guidelines, see link below. 

M2N states in a section: “…And we endure separation; since we joined the FS nearly eight years ago our oldest has been separated from his father for a total of one year and six months, our two youngest just shy of two years due to medical evacuation, post evacuation and my husband volunteering to go to Iraq.”  Traumatic events, and hardship such as relocating two times in seven months at the will of our government, take a toll on everyone, especially children.

So for the Firus of the world, this is how to document the need and travel safely & legally.
You should qualify given the conditions you’ve described, here’s some info that will help you correct this situation!


First, speak with an embassy official regarding a statement of need from qualified individuals.  Statements from BOTH the Dept. of State and a medical doctor would be best, but the medical doctor statement should be sufficient.  Mental health OR Family-health General Practitioners legally qualify, regardless of the doctors listed as desired from the company.

Next, doctor must agree with your assessment of your pet’s critical role in your family’s life—specifically, the children’s—and be willing to make a short signed statement to that effect.  You can contact them by appointment, letter, or phone to discuss the pet-companions relationship to the family & your children’s emotional health in particular.  The doctor might want to schedule an appointment or observe the interactions of your family with the pet; they may require periodic updates as to how you all are doing.

At this point I’d like to make a couple of important points regarding discipline and certification that apply regardless of any classification.  It’s always good to train & get a Good Citizen certificate with your family pet.  It shows ability and sociability, and when paired with Veterinary immunization, fecal & blood test records, it gives you proof that your fur-family has earned consideration as a companion.

You and your ‘Firu’ will have to show discipline & follow specific guidelines regarding seating arrangements and any ‘2nd carry-on fee for something like a small crate when permissible.  Travel accommodations can be made [crate-by-side or staying seated beside the companion(s)] —esp if you all are grouped in seating anyway.  The sticking-point always seems to be when extra seat space is taken, and service animals must be floor or lap trained regardless.  Your companion cannot block access to emergency exits, and the family should take direction from stewards in charge of your seating (you’ll have documented & requested approval be put on-file for when it is needed).

Proper grooming and discipline prevents any ‘gripes’ with others is required, and be sure to keep your companion under control at all times.  Be accommodating when working with the company & crew to iron-out details.  It does take effort on the company’s staff to be receptive, so respect their effort, know your rights & work with them.  (Diplomatically, as you always do!)

You will need to contact ‘Firu’s’ vet and ensure you have records of rabies & other standard immunizations. a statement from the vet on your fur-kin’s temperament, hygiene & suitability for travel.  Take this opportunity to check with the vet on any necessary travel-aids or medicines your pet may need.  Though they aren’t always necessary, fecal tests are helpful. Be aware that some states/countries have quarantine laws & more strict regulation with pets including guide/assistance pets—so do your homework and contact the proper agencies with all your documentation.  (note: some people have hamsters, reptiles, bunnies, cats, and other types of emotional support animals!)

IN SUMMARY… M2N: I’d suggest you create a few easy-forms (like V.A. forms, bleh) for others in the Foreign Service who obviously also serve & need this help.  Create two or three simple “Statement of Need” documents that cover what we’ve discussed above—one the doctor to follow as a guide or just fill out & sign; the other for an embassy official to follow or just fill out and sign/stamp, one for the vet, etc.  Include the professionals’ contact info so your request can be verified by the travel company when necessary.  If you are able, make a legal sworn statement BY YOU in front of a qualified notary after forms & letters are completed & returned to you.  Make copies & keep originals.  In fact, keep originals on you, along with confirmation arrangements with that company all in your carry-on, while you travel!

[Physical or mental support] assistance animals should be permitted & FREE OF CHARGE—but again, you may pay a baggage fee if they allow you to bring a small crate.  During medical emergencies or evacuations your information can be on-file with the proper agencies to allow your pet to go with you.  However, they do require documentation verification and THAT TAKES TIME & PATIENCE and LOTS of advance planning.  Again, start now & DO RESEARCH because places like the UK & Hawaii (for example) have very strict laws regarding ANY animals—be patient & press on!

One last note, REGARDING YOUR MEDICAL PRIVACY: although forms often state that companies have the right to know your condition & contact your doctor to verify, you only have to provide the information needed to verify patient status and need for therapy pet.  YOUR MEDICAL CONDITION(s) OR ANY DETAILS THEREOF ARE YOUR OWN—they remain private according to HIPPA law unless it is pertinent to quarantine or other health-emergencies in the regions you are traveling to/from.  YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO TELL ANY AGENT THE SPECIFICS of your condition, BEYOND YOUR DOCUMENTED PROFESSIONALS statement of need.

Stay tuned for the next BensonsBuddies post on this topic –Travel Volume Two!

link to to United Airline’s Service Animals policy:

March-ing into the new year…

We often reflect and comment that we find ourselves marching forward in time whether we like it or not.  Often, we are told to “keep up” and not feeling as though we quite can, or never will.

Recently someone linked a very motivational commentary on March and the attitude with which we approach the coming spring.  We like to make ‘resolutions’ and desire to March along into that changing world with each new year, during spring – the season of rebirth.  Even in a changing world, some things are inevitable.  We suffer old & new setbacks, encounter opportunities for old & new experiences, and unfortunately we often fall back to only the old tools and ways.

Sometimes we lead ourselves to believe that security is latching to the known and locking down the plan, as if life always flows in one direction.  My car did that once–only worked in reverse; but never my universe.  I’m no different though… looking ahead to emptying “death rooms” now, exploring the land and cultures of the region, and training with Benson.  This next year with Benson will be about self-discipline and discovering our style and strengths.

Moving forward means hours of training, and bonding, to attempt our certifications in the spring & summer of 2013.  What about after that? Perhaps a walk-for-life, a Maine MS walk?  Maybe the infamous Appalachian Trail & Acadia next? Those would be true tests of our ability and endurance, skill-trails&trials… in every sense of the words.

We don’t really know if it’s going to be “a ‘step’ at a time–OR ALL AT ONCE, tumbling over– so goes the universe.  Maybe just look to the stars, reorient ourselves, and ‘ride the cycle’ again.’  Most of us are hopeful though; praying that however long it takes– IT’S ALL ON THE BUCKET LIST!

Benson is a quick learner and has a big heart.  He tries to squirrel-away treats, jumps fences, and hog toys.  He pretends to sleep so he can have a few more minutes sleeping in the big bed, and takes long drinks at the water bowl–so he can stay up and hang with family & friends a few minutes longer!  He directs that fun-loving and spirited attitude into every friendship we make.

Benson is going to make a great pet partner teammate; he’s already a great friend.  Looking forward to the  fresh air, the majestic places, new pet-partners & friends along the way–because Benson’s buddies know it’s about the company we keep.


Our “Last Sunday of Epiphany” Epiphany

On Epiphany Sunday, 2012…

My husband & I took Benson for his first worship service — his first real test navigating large crowds (& crowds of kids!) and judging his temperament in active groups.  We will have another year or so of training before he is ready to test for licensing & interact fully with the public & enjoy full visitation ability.

We observed the anniversary of Nelda’s birthday & burial, complete with communion and fellowship coffee. (Enjoying banana browned-butter cake, yummmmm!]

I think Nelda would have been proud of her ‘granddogson.’ (I know she would have had as much love for him as she had for her ‘granddogters!’)

Benson had to remain seated or laying down during service (approx 1hr) stay calm during the congregation’s singing… i.e. not join along!! :-/
He had to this while following along with most other activity of worship: lessons, sermon, etc… We took a couple short breaks like during the peace, but handled communion—complete with a special visit from Fr. Tim!!!

Benson really enjoyed laying on the floor & peeking under the pews at the kids in front! He did great, not a peep the whole service & followed every whispered command!  Later, Benson maneuvered the ‘fans’ in the kitchen. [He’s working it already… hmmm…] Although he was nervous sometimes when the children descended, he stayed calm & hid behind me and acted ‘cute.’  In fact, he handled the tight space & fellowship during coffee hour very well… before heading home & crashing for the rest of the day. (YES!!!!!!)

Pretty soon we’ll be ready for limited contact visits around town for more realistic training, which should be cool! =-)