by Patty Yarman

For the past two years we have vacationed with friends who own a time share. In 2002, we spent a week in Orlando, Fla. In October of last year we visited St. Maarten of the Netherlands. My traveling companions are Lynn Boulter, age 75, his wife Edith, 78, and Lynn's guide dog, Park. I travel with my husband Steve, and guide dog Roosevelt. Our guide dogs have always been well received during our travels, so we were totally unprepared for what happened recently.

After our trip to St. Maarten, Lynn and Edith asked if we would join them in Puerto Vallarta the following October. I hesitated, taking several months to decide. I wasn't sure about traveling to Mexico. I guess I had heard too many stories. Lynn had contacted the Sheraton Buganvilia Resort where they had stayed previously, and was assured there would be no problem having guide dogs with us. So in March 2004, I finally said "yes" and purchased our airline tickets.

On Oct. 22, I took Roosevelt to the vet where he received another rabies vaccine. I hated doing this, but it was a requirement for his mandatory health certificate to enter Mexico. Stateside, he wasn't due for another vaccine until 2006.

At 5 p.m. on Oct. 26, after changing planes three times, we finally landed in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The Sheraton hotel and its surroundings were breathtakingly beautiful! After registering at the desk and getting settled into our suite, we walked through the courtyard to dinner. Edith is in fragile health, so my husband pushed her in a wheelchair. Lynn and I were well taken care of by our guide dogs, Roosevelt and Park. After a delicious meal, we returned to our suite and settled in for a night of planning our next day's adventures.

Sunday morning, we decided to attend a 90-minute breakfast buffet. There we met a nice agent named Eddie, who seemed very pleasant. This kind man took me and Edith through the buffet line while pushing her wheelchair. We were eating and answering Eddie's questions when a hotel staffer brought him a phone. After a moment, Eddie handed the phone to Lynn and our pleasant mood suddenly evaporated. We had been tracked down by the hotel manager and were being told to leave the hotel! No ifs, ands or buts! The Sheraton manager was telling Lynn they had received complaints about our pets and we were to leave. I felt so bad for Lynn, who was trying patiently to explain, while sitting in this huge outdoor breakfast area, that Roosevelt and Park were guide dogs, not pets. We were told to return to our suite.

When we got back to our rooms, the phone rang almost immediately. The manager was again telling us to "get out." Lynn explained that he had made numerous calls to the Sheraton and each time Guillermo (Bill) said our guide dogs would not be a problem. The weekend manager replied that Guillermo (Bill) was on his days off and we must leave. The other option was to lock our dogs up in a fenced-in parking lot! After several minutes of debate, Lynn and my husband agreed to see the lot in question. Upon his return, my husband said it was a fenced-in concrete area, at least half a mile away, where they kept fertilizer! Obviously, these people had very low regard for these remarkable animals. I would NEVER allow my guide dog to be parted from me in such a manner, especially in a foreign country around total strangers!

Later, Guillermo (Bill) was called into the hotel, where he flatly denied ever telling Lynn we could bring our guide dogs, either by phone or in an e-mail. My husband told him he saw an e-mail message Lynn had sent dated Sept. 23, 2004, once again stating we would be there with our dogs and giving our names. The manager said, "But I never answered the e-mail!" Then these Sheraton managers stated we were not to take our dogs downtown or on the boardwalk. They were not welcome, and we were NOT to let our dogs out of our rooms for ANY reason. Then we were booked on the first flights available back to the U.S.

We felt like prisoners in paradise! We watched as the hotel manager walked past our windows at least 10 times. Apparently he was making sure our dogs were not taken outside. We literally had to sneak the dogs two feet out the door and under a bush to relieve. I felt like a criminal!

There we sat with the pool, amenities and ocean all visible and we were imprisoned in our rooms. We could have left our dogs and gone out, but were terrified they might bark and the police be summoned. For all we knew, they could shoot our beautiful Roosevelt and Park! So there we sat all day and night Sunday, only leaving long enough to purchase food in the hotel grocery.

At 7:30 a.m. Monday, both managers were there to escort us out of the Sheraton. These men rode in the hotel van and made sure we went inside the airport. They took us there several hours before the small plane was due to depart. The place was practically deserted. I felt saddened and humiliated, knowing there was absolutely no reason for this type of treatment. These people had never met me or my beautiful, sweet Roosevelt. They hadn't met Lynn's guide Park, or even Edith for that matter!

We had all booked rooms at the Sheraton in Los Angeles for our return home from Mexico. Of course that didn't happen, as we were forced to leave before we even got started. Before leaving home, I had made reservations as a preferred customer to stay in the Sheraton our guide dog school utilizes. Our school probably gives them their largest clientele.

Is this the way the Sheraton hotels are run in other countries? I wonder how it looked to see two elderly people, one in a wheelchair, the other blind and being guided by a service dog, along with a blind woman, being escorted away by the hotel management. I wouldn't be surprised if people who care about the rights and fair treatment of the elderly and/or disabled, their choice of mobility tool, and the fair treatment of animals boycott this Puerto Vallarta hotel.

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