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Disabled in Lovely Lima

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A Service Dog Partner's Dream Come True

Working in the hospitality sector you get to meet so many interesting people and sometimes when establishing a closer contact with them you hear about incredible experiences and details about their personal lives. Understandably for privacy reasons you are never able to share them with anyone.

Meeting Davis and Booster was a completely different story! I am really touched by their personalities and it is in honor that they agreed to share their story on LimaEasy with YOU:

Lima Easy...? Almost...!

My name is Davis Hawn. As a disabled man with psychiatric and mobility impairments I choose to utilize a unique medical device to help get me through my day. Imagine having a robot with a heart that is at your beckoning command 24 hours a day. When you can't walk he pulls your wheelchair and fetches water from the refrigerator. When you're depressed and consider previously unfathomable options he consoles you in a way that only he can. The symbiotic relationship is simultaneously life-enabling and life-saving. My modern day medical miracle of choice is no robot, but rather a warm blooded, sentient Service Dog named Booster.

The lives of the disabled are vastly different but all are problematic at times. Even some of the basics most people take for granted are often overlooked when planning to accommodate the disabled. Can a wheelchair make it through the bathroom door or over the curb? Is there Braille on an elevator button for a blind person? Is there sign language on the TV screen for the deaf? Somehow the disabled makes it through their day but some days are better than others. In Lima, community planning, compassion, and legislation make the difference. For me it made ALL the difference...almost!

Two years ago I came to Lima but left Booster behind. My days were cloudy and filled with regret for having done so. Booster saved my life once and I promised to always share what he did for me when my life was at its lowest ebb. Today if you Google us (Davis Hawn Booster) you will see 15 pages on the internet, an affirmation of the promise made years before. Last January, Booster developed a deadly tumor that ate through his skull cap. A cake and ice cream party was planned as he had less than 3 weeks to live. Through tsunami-like tears I sent Booster's Ct-Scans to researchers around the U.S. coupled with 8x10's of him hugging Cuban children in a classroom and embracing Thai children infected with the HIV virus. I attached a note explaining that he has done so much to educate people, if he could talk he would say take my life and learn more! I have an education, Booster has an education, and together we travel to educate others around the globe.

I temporarily moved to Florida so Booster could undergo radiation therapy and surgery. A neurologist affiliated with the University of Florida operated to remove the remnants of the cancerous growth. A neurologist from the University of Minnesota took a piece of Booster's tumor and developed an anti-squamous cell carcinoma vaccine for him. He received shots every two weeks for a period thereafter. He is the first canine in the world to receive the novel treatment. Almost a year has passed and by the grace of God and modern medicine he is alive and is still working. Hopefully, knowledge gained from Booster's medical treatment may one day help humans suffering a similar affliction.

Booster enjoying Halloween in Lima-Peru

(Picture: Booster enjoying Halloween in Lima/Peru)

First Impressions

Once again I find myself in Lima however this time Booster is by my side. Leaving him behind simply wasn't an option. Soon after we landed in Lima, the airport veterinarian examined Booster and his paperwork. It was a warm welcome with no hassle or red tape. I talked with the airport working-dog handlers for an hour! I was anxious to share Lima's luster with someone who could truly appreciate it, someone who quite literally cherished the very smell of life! I knew that Booster would love walking with me in Lima smelling the airs of canine passersby.

One of a dog's greatest pleasures is smelling the scent of another dog's urine. Seriously, it's like reading a newspaper and they gleam loads of information. This is a tidbit of canine related knowledge I learned while pursuing a Master's Degree in Canine Life Sciences at Bergin University of Canine Studies in Rohnert Park, California. It's the only college of its' kind in the world! Education is empowerment even for a dog! Few people realize that he cost to educate an Assistance Dog can exceed $75,000, often far in excess of the cost of a human education!

For both dogs and their owners, Lima has a lot to offer. Limeños obviously love their dogs as members of every breed can be seen accompanying their owners on walks. The parks are abundant and meticulously maintained. Even the sidewalks in Miraflores have grassy areas imbedded along their path. The beach front offers a walk and a potential swim for retrievers like Booster if permitted. Ever- present signs beckon citizens to respect the park areas and not walk on the grass in places. There are signs reminding citizens that the law requires you to pick up dog waste and dispose of it properly. There are well constructed, metal waste disposal bins everywhere.

I am told there is a leash law in Lima. That law is important for the disabled community. It helps prevent a pet dog from possibly accosting an Assistance Dog, like a guide dog who is leading a visually impaired individual. Another canine related law requires animal owners to pick up their dog's waste. Offenders of this law are subject to a fine. This is incredibly important to prevent public outcry. The law should be strictly enforced and the resulting fines would pay for the cost of enforcement and provide much needed revenue for park maintenance.

Often dogs are more conscientious than their owners!

All around Miraflores I see lowered curbs for the disabled. I turn on the television and watch a broadcast of the "Comision de Viviendas y Construccion" (Housing and Construction Commission). In the lower corner of the screen is an individual using sign language for the deaf. I understand that the local building codes require access for the disabled. It is all very impressive. Lima is doing all the right stuff! I subsequently learned that the Peruvian Congress approved a new disability law last year based on the UN Convention of the Rights of People with a Disability. I am proud of the Peruvian legislature and the hard work that it must have taken to enact such legislation.

"Welcome Booster" - Hilton Hotel Lima Miraflores

(Picture: "Welcome Booster" - Hilton Hotel Lima Miraflores)

Arriving in Lima

When I arrived in Lima I realized that I'd made a scheduling mistake and the room I needed wasn't available. I had made arrangements for Booster to stay at a small guest house as most hotels in Lima don't accept dogs and especially not 100 pound dogs! In TOTAL desperation I reached out to the Hilton Hotel in Miraflores and my prayers were answered. An informative young lady answered the phone and empathetically explained that she knew about Service Dogs and Assistance Dogs. The latter is an umbrella term which includes many types of dogs that work for the disabled. Booster is a Service Dog cross-trained for psychiatric and mobility use.

When I entered the Hilton "we" were greeted with enthusiasm and compassion. I was initially overwhelmed and had to sit down and reflect. These fine folks "got it"...really got it! I asked for their help to share my life experience and my feelings of gratitude for the Hilton reception I received. I instantly thought about others who are disabled and live on meager incomes. Perhaps they couldn't afford to stay at the Hilton but they deserved to be able to visit Lima. I WANT people of all kinds to visit the city I fell in love with!

Why Booster did not get to see "Annie"

The Hilton concierge arranged for tickets for my group of four to attend the play Annie. A theater representative told him that my Service Dog could not accompany me. I was shocked and honestly devastated. I felt like a black American in the 50's in America denied access due to my minority status. Booster had flown at my feet in the plane yet was rejected in an otherwise disability friendly venue! That very day we saw a Lab puppy on many billboards being used to create emotion to sell toilet paper for corporate economic gain. The play featured Annie in the accompaniment of a live dog on stage. Disabled President Roosevelt was in a wheelchair on stage next to a dog but I wasn't allowed into the theater with a Service Dog for the disabled? I almost decided to leave due to my upset.

The Hilton staff arranged for us to be interviewed by two wonderful El Comercio reporters who shared a tear during our discussion. I revealed many personal details about my life as I don't really care what people think about "me". I DO care about what people think about Booster and Assistance Dogs! The reporter did her homework and produced a sentimental, complete, and informative story. When I read the last paragraph I was shocked. The recently enacted disability related legislation (Law 29830) provides access for rights for those who are disabled and partnered with Assistance Dogs not solely Guide Dogs for the blind!

I was not aware that such legislation existed in Peru. Traditionally you think of guide Dogs for the Blind but today's Assistance Dogs perform a plethora of task-specific work for their disabled handlers worldwide! When you Google Assistance Dogs and Service Dogs in Lima Peru no reference is found to this legislation. I only found out as a result of "our" story graciously featured in El Comercio newspaper.

Booster in Cuba

(Picture: Booster in Cuba)

A typical Day in Lima?

The disabled citizens in Lima have a great law that gives them equality and provides inclusion in our everyday world. The law includes a specific provision for Assistance Dog access in ALL public and private venues, even in an ambulance by their partner's side. The disabled, whose health is at risk, need the emotional support proffered by their closest family member. In many cases it is their Assistance Dog! How could such an incredibly wonderful piece of Peruvian legislation be foreign to its citizens I pondered.

Within an hour of reading the story I went grocery shopping at Vivanda grocery. Booster and I confidently entered the store. People watched as Booster carried a box of cereal for me in his mouth. Suddenly, a young man with a radio stopped me and explained that dogs weren't allowed in the store. I don't speak much Spanish but the newspaper story spoke volumes in his native tongue. It is the law I explained... "La ley"! I proceeded to shop as people saw a Service Dog in action for the first time! I then went to the movie theater. Now THAT was interesting!

The theater employee sold me a ticket and Booster and I entered. I bought popcorn and a drink. A presumably Peruvian man told me I was crazy if I thought I could have a dog inside the theater. I explained it's the law and he said in Spanish "I'm not stupid". Well he certainly wasn't educated in respect to his country's modern day laws! When we got to the door where the movie was going to be shown, two female employees intervened; I was told that I could not enter. I explained "La ley" and showed them the newspaper story. They still refused admission. I then calmly suggested that they call the police so we can all have a discussion and examine whether we are lawful citizens and abide the law! I explained that it was nothing personal and I knew that they were just doing their job. I explained that it is about education and discrimination. They copied the newspaper story and Booster and I sat through a movie in Spanish with no subtitles. Neither of us is proficient in Spanish! At what cost education I mused to myself!

On the other extreme, I shopped at Wong (Supermarket) before the newspaper story empowered me. The security guard stopped "us" and I presented Booster's ID card. A lady rushed over and explained that I had a medical dog and it would be OK. Yet another good- hearted Peruvian soul to add to the ever-growing list!

Chilli's Restaurant Lima/Peru

(Picture: Chilli's Restaurant Lima/Peru)

Dining with Booster

I went to dinner at Chilli's restaurant (also before the newspaper story was published and I knew about the law). The manager understood and in Hilton-like fashion seated me. People quit watching TV and watched Booster pick up my "intentionally dropped" keys and bring them to me. The staff one by one made their way to "our" table and introduced themselves to Booster and occasionally "me". I wouldn't want it any other way! When I was about to leave an amazing thing happened. A loving and devoted wife pushed her paralyzed husband into the restaurant. Their entire family came to "our" table and they were a little amazed that I had "my" Service Dog beside me. It turns out that her husband has a Service Dog that they obtained from a Swiss organization. I explained that they no longer need to leave their other "family member" and "medical assistive device" at home!

Conclusion

I appeal to those in the media to help get the message out that the disable partnered with Assistance Dogs are welcome in Lima. From a business perspective, the disabled often travel with an assistant so that's 2 tourist dollars earned for each disabled visitor! In "our" case however Booster is my assistant enabling me to maintain my independence. This is the ultimate benefit of partnering a human with an Assistance Dog. Imagine parents knowing that their disabled child is at home in the dark without water due to a traffic jam. Now imagine the same parents knowing that their child has an Assistance Dog that will turn on the lights and open the refrigerator and bring water to their child!

Booster in Thailand

(Picture: Booster in Thailand)

Diabetic Alert Dogs watch over diabetic children at night. When the child's blood sugar level goes out of range the dog goes to the parent's bedroom and awakens them so they can check on their child! Other Assistance Dogs pull allergic adults and children away from things like peanuts that can be deadly. The general public has no conception of the life and death value of Assistance Dogs in society! Public access for Assistance Dog partners is critical.

I appeal to all Peruvians to learn about and abide by Law 29830. Even if some things are a little costly or different (like allowing access for an Assistance Dog) please try to understand. Please abide by the law as it is there for a reason. It was developed with a lot of thought from very bold and educated people and you must trust their decision. If you own a business, please tell a fellow business owner! If you have a disabled friend please let them know about the law.

I would love to see businesses have a sign on their door stating: Assistance Dogs Welcome. When business licenses are renewed perhaps the Government can include a notice making business owners aware of the Assistance Dog provision in contained in the law 29830. The U.S. Department of Justice and Civil Rights Division published (and updated and republished) a document to help business owners understand the law and how it may affect them. It is entitled: Commonly asked questions about service animals in places of business (http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm). Perhaps Peruvian authorities could pen an equivalent document and publish it online at little expense. To not create awareness negates the value of a law that undoubtedly cost a great deal of time and expense to enact.

Booster at the Bergin University of Canine Studies

(Picture: Booster at the Bergin University of Canine Studies)

Final Words

According to Booster, it's all about education. He should know - he's spent his life educating humans. He is the greatest teacher I have ever known. Runner up is Dr. Bonita Bergin the founder of the Service Dog Concept and Bergin University of Canine Studies. Dr. Bergin's (Bonnie) greatest expectation of her students is that they change the world through the use of a dog! She certainly has done so; therefore it is a reasonable expectation. With Booster by my side, coupled with access, I strive to meet Bonnie's expectation. Education is costly. Lack of education even more so! Please help educate fellow Peruvians as to the life-enabling requirements of the law 29830!

Special Thanks go to the management and staff of the Hotel Hilton Lima Miraflores, Chilli´s Restaurant and Supermercados Wong.

If you are travelling to Peru with a Service Dog / Assistance Dog pdfyou should download the law 29830 and have it on hand to avoid painful discussions.

© Story by Davis Hawn & Booster for LimaEasy

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GuestSunday, 18 August 2019