Service dog not allowed on European cruise

September 19, 2013 7:16:14 PM PDT
Rights we take for granted in this country don't always apply in other countries. That's what a visually impaired woman on the Monterey peninsula discovered. She was told she could not bring her guide dog with her on a European river cruise, so she turned to 7 On Your Side.

Carmela Cantisani wasn't quite sure what she was going to do for an entire month without her guide dog "Luna" and she was getting more desperate as her travel date approached. The two have been together for four years and are inseparable.

"Luna is a trained guide dog and she is trained to guide me around obstacles, to stop at curbs and to respond to my commands," said Cantisani.

She and her husband, Gilbert Converset, booked a river cruise with Viking that would go from Amsterdam to Budapest. They also planned an additional two weeks in France to visit with family. When Cantisani called to make arrangements for Luna, she received the bad news. Luna was not welcomed on the river boat.

"I was devastated," said Cantisani. "It makes me feel like a second class citizen, like I just don't have the same choices that other people have."

After talking with reservation agents without success, the couple wrote a letter to the company.

"There was no response at all. When my wife called a few weeks ago, they said they won't be able to talk to her," said Converset.

Viking would only talk to the travel agent. We caught up with that agent in Italy.

"I would say two or three times it was confirmed with me that a guide dog could not go on the cruise. There's no room for them," said Michelina DiGennaro from Travel Connection.

With the cruise scheduled for October, Cantisani began to get nervous.

"I decided to contact you because I was desperate. I didn't want to leave her. I just didn't want to leave her," said Cantisani.

Here in the United States, a cruise ship would be obligated to accommodate a guide dog under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Bryan Bashin is the chief executive officer of the non-profit Lighthouse For the Blind in San Francisco.

"The A in ADA is Americans with Disabilities Act," said Bashin. "I'd say blind buyer beware. That if you book a tour, you have to be very careful to understand that the laws of the country are going to govern your rights."

Viking is under no legal obligation to accommodate Cantisani on her European river cruise. However, when we contacted Viking, they told us this was all a big misunderstanding.

"They claim that it was a misunderstanding, but a misunderstanding that lasted five or six months," said Cantisani.

Viking says its policy does not allow animals, but makes exceptions for guide dogs. It blamed the mix up on employee error and said it would work to improve training. It declined to issue a formal statement.

"I want to say thanks to Channel 7. When they were contacted by Channel 7 On Your Side, it seemed like they just came around within a couple of days," said Cantisani.

Cantisani called other European river cruises and was told no guide dogs allowed. The bottom line is know what the laws are in the country you're visiting before you book your vacation.


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