Thursday, June 19, 2008

Priceless Moments

Judy Hartwell and Guide Dog "Barika"

In 1956 I lost most of my sight at the age of 9 from a drug allergic reaction (a severe condition known as Stevens-Johnson Syndrome), resulting from sulfa drugs my doctor had prescribed for a kidney infection.

Then in 1994, I lost the remainder of my vision after having eye surgery to try and correct a problem with an ulceration of the cornea. This left me without any usable vision at all other than for light perception.

It took me about five years of being led around by the arm of someone else to decide that was not the way I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I decided enough was enough. It was at that point I decided I wanted to get a guide dog. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made. I couldn't believe the difference my dog made in my life. My new freedom was wonderful!

My dog is a beautiful little female German Shepherd by the name of Barika and has the sweetest nature of any dog I've ever had. She's exceptionally friendly and people, as a rule, adore her.

About a year after I got her, I decided to fly back to Michigan to visit a friend of mine and her guide dog, graduated from Guide Dogs for the Blind.

We had to transfer in Denver. As usual, they had pre-boarded us first, and placed us in the row of seats just behind the bulkhead. There were three seats in the row. The flight attendant had me sit in the window seat. The middle seat she said they were leaving vacant so my dog would have plenty of room, and then there would be a passenger in the aisle seat.

The flight attendant had just started to orient me as to where things were located, such as the call button, etc., when I heard a woman in a very rude voice say, "Oh my God, don't tell me I have to sit next to that dog!" The flight attendant turned to her and in a very calm manner asked the woman if there was a problem. "There is, if I have to sit next to that dog!"

At this point the flight attendant very politely asked the woman to please give her a moment to finish with me then she would see what she could do to help her.

After explaining everything to me, the attendant stood up and said to the woman, "Evidently there is a problem with you sitting next to the dog. Would it help if we moved you back a couple of rows or even across the aisle?" At which the woman answered, "No, I'm not moving any further back than this, so if you can't do something else about the problem, then you can just move me to first class!"

The flight attendant answered, "If you'll please give me a minute, I'll see what I can do," and she excused herself.

When she returned, (and this is when the moment became "priceless"), the attendant leaned over, and placed her hand on my left shoulder, in a very pleasant voice she said to me, "Ms. Hartwell, would you and your dog please come with me? I'm moving you up to first class!" What I would have given to have been able to have seen the expression on that woman's face.

Not only did they move me to first class, but I received the royal treatment, with the full complements of first class. I couldn't help smiling, when they served me a wonderful meal, (with real dinnerware and silverware), along with wine and the most heavenly chocolate mousse cake I've ever eaten. And there she sat with her little bag of peanuts.

That's not the end of my story. When we landed in Michigan, we had to wait for the ground assist person to come and escort us off the plane. While I was waiting, I heard the captain asking the flight attendant if everyone had gotten off okay. The attendant informed him all were off except for the one passenger and her guide dog who were waiting for ground assist. The captain, with a chuckle in his voice, replied, "You mean there's another hard working animal on this plane?"

He then came back to where we were sitting to say hello. He asked permission to pet my little girl and being the flirt she is, it didn't take her long to win his heart over with tail waggles and slurpy doggy kisses. The flight had been a long one, so the captain offered to take Barika out so she could “take care of business.” He assured me he had done this before and would take good care of her. She left with him eagerly, so I knew she needed to go out; she came back just as eagerly, as she's very much a mama's girl.

Then to top that off since ground assist still had not shown up, he personally offered to escort us off the airplane and to where my friends were waiting for us.

I'm so thankful to United Airlines and their wonderful personnel. They turned a very nasty moment into a "priceless" one -- one I have enjoyed telling about to all of my friends and family here at home and all of you out there who are reading this. And my thanks to that rude woman. After all, I could have been sitting there next to her with my own little bag of peanuts. I guess it's true, "What goes around comes around." Thank God, those kind of people are for the most part very few and far between.

Happy travels to all.

Readers: Do you have a good travel story to tell?


  1. Lol, what a great story! Keep up the good work with this blog!

  2. I have a funny story, although not nearly as funny as that one. When you got to the best part, I laughed so hard at that ignorant old insert interesting insult here that my boyfriend wondered what was the big joke.

    Once, I was on a greyhound bus. I guess drivers were right in the middle of switching, so the driver who ended up driving didn't see me get on with Trixie. We were driving along, and I asked to get off at a street before the terminal. He said "You'll have to point it out to me." I said "I'll do the best I can, but being blind, you'll have to go on a verbal description." So we were going along, I was describing stuff, bla bla bla, and when I got off at the right spot, I heard him gasp, "A dog? A guide dog? she wasn't kidding! She *is* blind!" I laughed all the way home.

  3. That's a wonderful story! It's always great to hear about the adventures of a guide dog and their partners. Great work on this blog!

  4. Great story and very well written. This blog is going into my favorites list!

  5. Oh how we have laughed about that incident!!! By the way, Judy said the dessert she got was to "die for."

    I had my own "trip to first-class. It was definitely not as dramatic as Judy's, but I was going to Chicago sitting in my lowly coach seat, happily waiting for my "peanuts" when a flight attendant put his hand on my shoulder (must be a flight attendant thing) and said, "A gentleman asked us to move you and your guide to first class." I said that was not necessary but she insisted. I finally agreed, and as I passed the gentleman who had apparently asked me to be brought to first class, rather loudly he said, "Good! You and your dog do not deserve to ride in coach!" All the first class passengers started clapping. I knew I was turning red by that time, but I smiled and said "thank you so much" and quietly sat down and enjoyed the rest of that very short trip. As the plane stopped after taxiing, the same gentleman leaned over my seat and said, "God's speed to you. Have a great time in Chicago."

  6. Hi,

    I've got a guide dog named Troy, and I've had him for one and a half years. He's a lovely boy and attracts people like food attracts flies! I was on a plane one time, and I allowed the attendants to pat him since his harness was off. He absolutely loved it! He was well-behaved too although he was quite excitable. The flight attendants were lovely too, they asked a heap of questions, and I was more than happy to answer them because I knew that other passengers would also hear what I was saying and get some education ot of it too.