An unfortunate incident involving the international trafficking of canines and what I haven’t learned since then

Okay, I’m forced to face an ugly fact–my life in Port-au-Prince has gone to the dogs—quite literally.  I know most folks don’t traipse the planet, canine companions in tow, but Sara and I, for whatever reason, see fit to move our mutts to whichever corner of the globe is hosting the latest in earth-shaking disasters.  And so, Ralph and Lucy have hijacked this half of Hispaniola wagging their way into the very heart of earthquake recovery, and I’m not even half-way kidding.

But to highlight the kind of misadventures likely to abound when transporting pets to unlikely international destinations, this post explains what happened when we moved our 40 pound Terrier mix named Ralph, not to Haiti, but to Vietnam over a year ago.

It even started off badly—when Sara’s father dropped Ralph and I at the airport in Lexington with a crate that proved to be, after meticulous measuring by an airline employee (measuring that took over an hour, I might add) one inch too big—one inch too large for the smallish regional jet we were taking to Detroit—the first leg of our journey to Hanoi.

I wasn’t happy to hear this.  I wasn’t happy at all to wait two full days till we could be rebooked and Ralph could be re-crated in a kennel a mere sand-papering would have made small enough in the first place.  But I remained calm.  I went home, over-sized crate in tow, and waited. 

Forty eight hours later—

An additional hundred dollars poorer but an appropriately-sized kennel richer—we were back at the airport, Sara’s father supervising the once more meticulous measuring, me hyperventilating in the corner, afraid I’d be another two days’ waiting. 

But we passed inspection.  Ralph was loaded.  I tried to relax, knowing the 27 hour flight to Hanoi can be exhausting.  But things went well, with me checking at each layover to be sure Ralph was transferred to the next plane and ready for the next leg of a very long trip.  Things continued to go well—

Until South Korea—

In Seoul, I again checked on Ralph upon arrival and was assured by a Korean Airline employee that he was well and would be transferred for the trip to Hanoi.

So I did what any American, living in a country with no western fast food besides Kentucky Fried Chicken, would do—I went to Burger King for my last supper of Whopper and fries, knowing it would be at least another 90 days and a second resurrection of Christ before I’d eat another meal with equal amounts of artery-clogging cholesterol and heart-stopping good taste.

Two hours later and that much closer to an early grave, I waited at the gate to board the flight to Hanoi.  I was exhausted, relieved to hear, “At this time we would like to begin boarding Koran Air flight . . .” and only a little alarmed when an airline representative began paging someone whose name vaguely resembled my own. 

Two minutes later—

Having dragged my baggage though a maze of travel-weary passengers, I was told, “Madam, you not go on this flight.”

“Excuse me?”  Surely I had misheard.  South Koreans’ speaking English could sometimes be hard for me to understand.  “Could you repeat that?” I apologized.  I had been traveling for twenty-two hours; I wasn’t processing well.

“Dog not go on this plane.”

“I’m sorry.  I don’t understand.”

“No room for dog on this flight.”

“But we’ve had this reservation for weeks.  There must be some mistake.”

“No dog in plane.”

Eventually I understood, though I never fully understood why,

–that we could not leave that night,

–that there were no more flights to Hanoi before morning,

–that we might not be able to go even then (there were no guarantees),

–that the airline would bring Ralph to me,

–that I could go to an hotel,

–that Ralph could not.

Floating somewhere near the ceiling, looking down on this silly woman in the ridiculous Asian airport misadventure, I realized this was not a good situation.  I realized the woman might be close to losing it.

Ninety minutes later—

I still hadn’t gotten Sara on the phone and knew that by then she had already left for the airport in Hanoi (translator in tow) ready to meet the quarantine official, whose “special fee” she’d pay to compensate for our late night arrival and the overtime he’d work to process Ralph’s entry into Vietnam without incident.

To make an excruciatingly long and less-than-pleasant story a bit shorter, I should mention the follow facts:

–I ultimately did get Sara on the phone.  Sara paid the official’s special fee (since, of course, it wasn’t his fault we didn’t arrive) and arranged to meet him again the next day, when, of course, there would also be an extra fee, since it would be Tuesday and there is always a special fee on Tuesdays.

–Forbidden by airport officials to remove Ralph from the crate he had already occupied for more than twenty hours, I pushed his perfectly-sized kennel around the airport all night on a luggage cart, telling myself repeatedly that if only  I got through the next ten hours, I would be able to take just about anything.  Cholera included, I now hope.

I should have known it would be challenging:  taking a 40 pound, blonde terrier to Vietnam, where the meat of medium-sized, light-skinned canines is still considered a delicacy.  And though it ended well, concluded with Ralph arriving uneaten in Hanoi, it proved so crazy-making along the way, I sanely decided to bring him here to Haiti this past summer. 

However, that trip proved less eventful—except for his traveling companions on the flight from Miami to Port-au-Prince—the 10,000 chicks he still hasn’t stopped chirping about.

But that’s another story, for another day—another lesson not quite learned.

17 thoughts on “An unfortunate incident involving the international trafficking of canines and what I haven’t learned since then

    • So far no quarantine has been required. Vietnam’s stated policy is not to quarantine heathy pets, though I think it’s up to the whim of individual quarantine officers and whatever “special fees” you are willing to pay. In Port-au-Prince you can’t even get a drivers license these days–I don’t think there are any quarantine facilities up and running.


  1. I’m laughing and horrified at the same time. Last Thanksgiving, I wrote a post about trying to get my five month old grandson across international borders without any documentation. It was sort of like that, but there was no crate involved.


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  4. Oh what a funny horrible awful story! I can feel your pain! Isn’t it interesting how some of our most challenging incidents in life make for the most interesting stories? Sometimes I am afraid I collect too interesting happenings just in the name of a good story, and I suspect you might, too.


    • So true. However, when things are seemingly really bad, I have learned to comfort myself by saying, “Kathy, at least this will make a really good story.” But that’s how I feel about my childhood and illness, that God somehow gifted me a great story to tell.


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