Flying to Europe with a Service Dog

Catherine, Oliver and I are traveling to Europe in June to attend Ton and Elmine’s mid-summer unconference and do some camping in the Netherlands and northern Germany. And, of course, we’ll be taking Ethan, Oliver’s service dog, along with us.

As a service dog, Ethan is generally entitled to go anywhere we go, including inside the airplane cabin, and into Europe. But special arrangements are required to make sure this all goes smoothly; our advice from Dog Guides Canada in all such matters is to communicate early and often, and so over the past month I’ve been working to cross all the Ts and dot all the Is. Here’s what I’ve done:

Before even making the decision to go, I needed to find an airline with the combination of reasonable airfares and a progressive service dog policy. Fortunately we found that in Condor, which flies from Halifax to Frankfurt (the other alternative was Icelandair, but as all its transatlantic flights involve a change of planes in Iceland, and Iceland requires some additional government paperwork just to allow service dogs inside the terminal, we opted against).

After making the Condor reservation online, I contact their Special Services department (“sonder reservierung”) and provided them with a letter from Oliver’s psychologist and a certifcate of Ethan’s training from Dog Guides Canada; a few days later they send an updated booking confirmation with reserved seats:

Ethan's seat reservation on Condor.

As Lufthansa is carrying us from Frankfurt to Düsseldorf I then had to contact their Canadian call center and ensure that Ethan was added to our flights in their system; they didn’t require any advance documentation, but I was advised that we’ll need to show proof-of-service-dogness at the gate before boarding.

With the flying handled, I then turned to matters of border control.

The Germany Embassy in Canada has a very helpful page of information about travel with animals and the section Accompanied Noncommercial Movements of Pets (Cats, Dogs and Ferrets) spelled out what we needed to do: within 10 days of travel we needed to have Ethan inspected by his vet and a Veterinary Certificate for non-commercial movement of up to five pets filled out. With this in hand we need to then visit the “official veterinarian,” which, in our case, is one of the vets at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency out by the Charlottetown Mall (that long, narrow building you’ve always wondered about beside Boston Pizza); they charge $20 for the certification.

There are a few other requirements that Ethan has to meet to enter Germany, all of which were in place already: he needs an ISO-standard microchip (fortunately Canada went with the European dog chip standard instead of the American one, so we’re set), and rabies vaccination.  Our helpful vet did some research for us and found that there aren’t any strange European dog maladies for which Ethan would need any additional vaccinations.

As far as lodging on our trip, we decided that, although it would likely not be an issue to take Ethan into hotels and motels with us, we would, instead, rent a VW camper (from DRM), which will give us a self-contained rolling home (we had the benefit of the experiences of my friend Bill and his family, who took a 5-week trip across Europe in a VW van several years ago and rave about the experience).

And so, in theory, we’re set and ready. I’ll be double-checking all of the above as our June 17 travel date draws nearer, but if all goes according to plan we’ll drive over to Halifax on the afternoon of June 17, park the car, gather up our suitcases and our dog, and head off to our next European adventure.

Interior Renovations

Next week will be the 15th anniversary of the founding of Reinvented Inc., and the week after that is the 15th anniversary of the ancestor of this blog. For the first 10 years of writing in this space, I used a homebrew system that I hacked together; in July of 2009 I migrated everything into Drupal, coincident with the migration of my longtime client, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, of into Drupal.

By way of celebrating all these anniversaries, as a learning experience, and to get with the times, over the last month I’ve been slowly migrating from ye olde Drupal 6 into sleek, modern Drupal 7. Today I flipped the switch, and if you’re reading this then I was successful.

At the same time as I made this switch, for the first time I am serving from a server that I don’t own: since the site went live in 1999 it has been served by a series of owned-and-operated PCs. In the early days these were housed in the basement of my house at 100 Prince Street; more recently the server, known as “ross” internally, has been based in silverorange’s Fitzroy Street data center.

Starting today the site comes from a virtual server in Amazon Web Services’ North Virginia data center. As much as it pains me to move away from a custom-crafted piece of hardware that I can see and touch with my own eyes, that the power supply on “ross” died a month ago served only to reinforce to me that it would be kind of nice not have to worry about keeping the now-decade-old piece of iron rattling along.  And, besides, I use Amazon’s product every day otherwise, and I have come to have a grudging love for it: it’s feature-rich, hits a good sweet spot between 100% DIY and completely-managed, and it’s relatively inexpensive (it costs me 7 cents an hour to run this server).

There are a few other changes around here that came as a part of this big migration:

  1. I’ve turned off comments. Dealing with comment spam has been a factor of maintaining this blog since I started; at the same time, the conversation that used to happen in the comments has either disappeared or moved elsewhere; as I noted in 2011, the number of comments has fallen off dramatically in recent years, and spam, even with good spam filtering, has exceded “ham” in recent months. It’s no longer worth the trouble to keep up. If you want to speak amongst yourselves about something you read here, do it on Twitter or Facebook or Google+. Or go for coffee.
  2. I’ve turned off user accounts. Without comments, there’s not really any need to support user accounts, so I’ve disabled them all. Thanks to all of you who enjoyed the always-promised, never-delivered privileges of membership over the years.
  3. Really fast search. There are 15 years of my life poured out here (1.4 million words in 6700 blog posts). So in addition to a resource for the web to find SIM cards for Berlin, it’s a useful archive for me to recall what happened when. So I’ve put some additional work into making the site search work better, faster and stronger. And it’s now a lot more obvious, with a search field sitting up there in the left corner. So I’m primed and ready with quick access to, say, everything I ever wrote about Island Tel (a lot, as it turns out).
  4. Mobile-friendly. The site has always been mostly-readable on phones and tablets; now it should be more so.

There will likely be a few broken links and other things you’ve come to know and love; I’ll be mopping up the damage over the next few weeks. In the meantime, I look forward to another 15 years of writing about what’s happening.

For posterity, and to show off the throughput of the new digs, here’s an Apache ab test on the old site:

Concurrency Level:      5
Time taken for tests:   11.266 seconds
Complete requests:      100
Failed requests:        0
Write errors:           0
Total transferred:      2612300 bytes
HTML transferred:       2548900 bytes
Requests per second:    8.88 [#/sec] (mean)
Time per request:       563.309 [ms] (mean)
Time per request:       112.662 [ms] (mean, across all concurrent requests)
Transfer rate:          226.44 [Kbytes/sec] received

And here’s the same test on the new site:

Concurrency Level:      5
Time taken for tests:   5.299 seconds
Complete requests:      100
Failed requests:        0
Write errors:           0
Total transferred:      4505500 bytes
HTML transferred:       4460400 bytes
Requests per second:    18.87 [#/sec] (mean)
Time per request:       264.945 [ms] (mean)
Time per request:       52.989 [ms] (mean, across all concurrent requests)
Transfer rate:          830.34 [Kbytes/sec] received

For the technically-minded among you, the server now uses an Amazon Web Services m3.medium instance with 3.75 GB of RAM, 1 “virtual CPU unit” and a single 4GB SSD root drive supplemented by a 20GB EBS volume; this replaces “ross,” a 10-year-old plain vanilla PC with 1GB of RAM and a processor so old that it likely doesn’t compare at all in the modern era.

Safari Screen Shot

Chrome iOS Screen Shot

Links Screen Shot

Android Screen Shot

Lost in the Barrens

I have never been one of those Canadians wrapped up in the romance of the North. Except that I have been: when I was a kid, Farley Mowat’s Lost in the Barrens was a transformative book for me; I truly could picture myself as Jamie Macnair, lost in the barrens, forced to fend for myself. Nothing could be further from my truth, of course.