For the past 12 years I have traveled from one end of this country to the other with my service dog. The most difficult task for us was finding places for Maddie to relieve herself.

One trip I will never forget had us flying from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City, Mo., for 12 hours. Yes, I am serious. We arrived at the airport at 4 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight, with a connecting flight in Detroit. But we were diverted to Ohio due to severe storms. There was nowhere for Maddie to “go.” No grass or even soil was available. When we made it to Michigan, there was still no place for Maddie’s relief. We finally landed in Kansas City at 10:30 p.m., but had to wait another 15+ minutes before getting to a grassy area. That experience was one reason why I decided to drive instead of fly.

I just saw on the news that Detroit Metro Airport installed a grassy area for the service and police dogs on duty at the airport. Nicknamed “Central Bark” by airport employees, it features two “porch potties” complete with grass and fake fire hydrants.

Editor’s note: In 2008 the U.S. DOT began requiring that air carriers provide relief areas for service animals. However, travelers in “sterile” or secure sections of airport terminals typically find those areas in inconvenient locations that could cause them to miss flights. In 2011 DOT proposed new rulemaking to alleviate those issues. The FAA also held a free conference last month (April 2014) on providing service animal relief areas in airports. Read more about 49 CFR Part 27.

Downtown districts
When attending meetings, especially while serving on the U.S. Access Board Public Rights of Way Board committee, Maddie and I often had to travel as much as half a mile to find grass. This is not good during bad weather. Also, the distance makes it virtually impossible to take care of both the service dog and owner’s needs during timed breaks.

It amazes me how many hotels and motels are in “concrete land,” without a location for service dogs or even pets to relieve themselves. Finding a facility that includes such amenities is so rare that it’s refreshing.

I’ve heard that some, if not all, service-dog-training services train the dogs to relieve themselves twice a day. I feel that this is unkind for the dogs that give us so much. When we are sick or out of sorts, we don’t wait to take care of our needs. How can we possibly ask the service dog to wait?

Time for cities to take action
There are more service dogs now than ever before. ADA standards have been updated to clarify that service animals are also used for mental problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and medical disabilities such as epilepsy and diabetes. It is imperative that public agencies include regulations that require such a simple consideration for our service dogs.

If your jurisdiction does not have anything in place, 2010 ADA Part 35 (Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services) includes an excellent guide to follow: Section 35.136 Service Animals. (Please note that this is NOT part of 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.)

It’s time for cities to review and update policies, and for municipal planning and codes departments to include relief areas before approving new plans. It is the least we can do for the dogs that not only save our lives, but also allow us to live fuller lives that include employment, daily chores, entertainment, and travel.

Wishing you success in all you are doing to improve the world we live in, Michele with Maddie in my heart forever.