I know most folks don’t traipse the planet with canine companions in tow, but in years past my partner Sara, an international aid worker, and I have moved our mutts to whichever corner of the globe was hosting the latest disaster or most recent instance of humanitarian need. Our dogs accompanied us first to Vietnam and then to post-earthquake Haiti. They now live with us in Ecuador.
Though transporting pets to our most recent international destination seemed daunting, indeed, no move proved worse than getting our dog Ralph to Vietnam. That devolved into canine trafficking of the semi-comic (nearly disastrous) kind. It makes for a cautionary tale, of sorts.
This post, then, is not so much a “how-to” guide to pet travel, as a “learn-from-my-mistakes” manual. Below are behaviors to avoid.
It even started off badly.
When Sara’s father dropped my dog Ralph and me at the airport in Lexington, Kentucky 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.
I wasn’t happy 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.
1. Lesson number one in pet travel: Invest in a tape measure and learn how to use it!
But we passed inspection. Ralph was loaded. I tried to relax, knowing the 27 hour flight to Hanoi would 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 my dog was doing 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, might 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.
2. Lesson number two: Eat crap!
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 through a maze of travel-weary passengers, I was told, “Madam, you not go on this flight.”
“Excuse me?” Surely I hadn’t heard him correctly. “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 a hotel,
- that Ralph could not.
Floating somewhere near the ceiling, looking down on the silly woman in this ridiculous Asian airport misadventure, I realized this was not a good situation.
I realized the woman was close to losing it.
I realized that woman might be me!
3. Lesson number three: Avoid coronary arrest!
Ninety minutes later—
And in full possession of my body once again, 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 talk to Sara.
- 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 walked the airport all night, pushing his perfectly-sized kennel on a luggage cart until my feet ached.
4. Lesson number four: Don’t even consider high heels.
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, though it concluded with Ralph arriving uneaten in Hanoi, it proved so crazy-making along the way, I doggedly decided to take him to Haiti the following summer—and, now, this year to Ecuador.
However, the trip to Haiti proved less eventful—except for Ralph’s traveling companions on the flight from Miami to Port-au-Prince—the 10,000 chicks he hasn’t stopped chirping about since.
That, he tweets, was a true crime against ALL canine kind.
5. Lesson number five: Under pain of canine retweet, do not repeat!
Have you ever had a misadventure that involved a precious pet? What’s the craziest thing you have ever done for your dog or cat? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever traveled with?
(I know some of you have heard this story before. For that, I apologize. The original telling of this tale has been reworked here. This is new and improved version, if you will.)