This service dog sailed 700 days on cruise ships

Cornelia Marinussen only got Joska a few weeks before the service dog proved to be an invaluable travel companion.

She and her husband, Cornelis, who are both legally blind, got separated ashore on a cruise to Alaska in 2014. Cornelis took the wrong way on a walking trail and lost track of Cornelia and her father, who had joined them.

“I called his name, no answer. I called his father’s name, no answer,” Cornelis, 52, told USA TODAY in an interview. But when he called Joska’s name, the black Labrador turned around and pulled them back to him.

The Marinussens, from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, take cruises so frequently that the 10-year-old dog has spent nearly 700 days at sea. Holland America Line, the couple’s favorite cruise line, designates Joska as an honorary 5-star sailor – the line’s highest membership level – and will grant it a Platinum Medallion at a ceremony in New York on Wednesday.

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While Cornelis was born blind, Cornelia, 57, lost her sight at age 24 due to complications from spina bifida surgery. She decided to get a service dog to help her get around more easily.

She got to it quickly. “Of course the first time, (Cornelia) was also looking, ‘Okay, where’s the place where I’m going to do my business’ and that kind of stuff, but the rest of it went fine,” Cornelis said. .

Are service animals allowed on cruises?

Holland America does not allow pets, therapy animals, or pets, but service animals are welcome except on domestic cruises or roundtrip from Australia due to government policy.

Service animals are defined as those “that are individually trained to provide assistance to a person with a disability”, according to their website. Other outlines like Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian cruise line and Royal Caribbean International have similar rules

But bringing a service animal on board requires additional steps. Although the cruise line does not charge a fee for service animals, obtaining the documentation required by destinations can cost hundreds of dollars, Cornelis said.

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How do I take a service animal on a cruise?

Ross McTaggart, director of entertainment at Holland America who also served as assistant general hotel manager for the line, said guests tell the cruise line they have a service animal during the booking process, and that the reservations team will work “to ensure that all the correct permits, vaccinations and everything else are up to date and sent to us in advance so that we can grant the animal entry.”

Sailings can stop at ports of call that have “very specific and strict requirements” for service animals to be allowed to disembark, according to Holland America. website. The line says customers can find information about vaccinations and required documents at local customs offices, their pet’s veterinarian, or online through the United States Department of Agriculture.

McTaggart said the cruise line tries to guide customers through these requirements, but “the responsibility lies with the owner.” He added that all crew members receive accessibility training and service dogs tend to acclimate very quickly to ships.

Cornelia and Cornelis Marinussen sail frequently with service dog, Joska.

Cornelis usually weighs Joska’s food and packs it in small plastic bags. When they take a cruise that starts in the United States, he said, he orders the food online and has it shipped to their hotel, and sometimes sends it to the cruise line, who then bring it. on board. Passengers cannot feed service animals in restaurants or bars, McTaggart said.

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The cruise line also makes sure to have a rescue area in place, McTaggart said, which could be a patch of grass, a sandbox or some other material. Cornelis said the ship also provides gloves, paper bags, hand sanitizer and sanitizer.

Joska is retiring soon – probably in November – and Cornelia is already on the waiting list for another dog. Having it has changed the way they travel. Before Cornelia caught her, they had been to Mexico in 2012, and she had to crawl on her hands and knees while visiting Mayan ruins to avoid falling.

“And when she got Joska, we came back, and she was walking so fast I couldn’t keep up with her,” Cornelis said.

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