Jet-Set Pets: A Beginner’s “Guide” to Globe-Trotting with Dogs


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.

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

Hats off to our Lucy, who loved living in Vietnam. (Or so we thought.)

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.

ralph

On our way to Ecuador–with 10 suitcases and TWO dogs! Ralph supervised our departure.

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.)

90 thoughts on “Jet-Set Pets: A Beginner’s “Guide” to Globe-Trotting with Dogs

  1. Wow! That is some adventure!! Poor Ralph!

    Hmmm .. the craziest thing I ever did for Frankie was sleep on the floor (on his dog bed with him) post-surgery. He was too disoriented from the meds + the cone & with a multi-level house, I wasn’t taking the chance of him tumbling down the stairs. He slept great 🙂 I didn’t sleep at all … but I’d do it again!

    MJ

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    • I know. Poor baby. They insisted in Seoul that I not take him out of his carrier. But, as you might have guessed, I spent a good bit of the night with him in the “family” bathroom–mostly holding and loving on him.

      I don’t doubt for a minute you slept on the floor with Frankie. I would have done the same thing!

      Take care, my friend–and don’t work too hard this week.

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  2. No, I haven’t. But sadly I thoroughly enjoyed your mishaps. Not because they happened, and only because all ended well. But because you are a master story teller. And I was fully entertained. 😉 HUGS! FIRST!

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    • Wow, that’s one heck of a trip! You know my pain, then. You know it well. Too well, I might add.

      So glad your babies made it safely. I look forward to checking out your blog! Hope you will stop by again. It’s great “meeting” you!

      Like

  3. My pet travel adventure comes nowhere close. When we relocated to a new city three hours away from our hometown, I drove the car loaded with pets. We weren’t even out of town yet before Hemmy, our big, brown cat, had an accident in his carrier. I pulled over, stuffed myself into the back of our jam packed Honda Element, miraculously found a towel, dried the cat off and the carrier out all while balancing precariously in the one clear inch of free space I could find. The carrier was too messy to put him back into and I still have at least 2 1/2 hours of driving to go. I didn’t want him loose in the car so I put him in the soft sided carrier that our dog rides in. I call it her tent since it pops up. It’s mostly just to keep her from moving around in the car. Anyway, I put Hemmy in with Starla and he considered it a great trip from that point forward. Luckily, there wasn’t room for all four of our pets in the car I was driving so my husband took our female cat in the Uhaul with him. She threw up on the way so I think I had the easier trip.

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    • Oh, no, Nora, cat pee is horrid! Sorry, but I think you had it worse than your husband–way worse, my friend.

      I’m just glad Hemmy enjoyed riding with Starla. And even more glad Starla was willing to have the company. But from reading (and seeing) your blog, it looks like she is pretty accommodating. Always willing to do what’s requested, at least in the photo-posing department. LOL

      Great to hear from you! Hope your week is going well!

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      • You’ve certainly got Starla figured out. Hemmy gave her a nasty look and hissed and she curled up in the corner of her own carrier and gave him all the room he wanted. Hemmy was typically a friendly cat so once he secured the territory he wanted he stretched out and basked in the sunshine.

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  4. I so feel your pain. I did the unthinkable. I paid a service to move Harley up here. At 120 pounds his kennel only fits on two commercial class airlines which only operater out of certain airports- none of which we are close to. It took 2 very long flights, an overnight kenneling and two employees driving a van more than 6 hours on separate legs to get him here. And I was just glad I didn`t have to discuss his health issues with the Canadian Mounties. All this to say that I can now laugh at your post instead of crying.

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    • Now THAT’S a BIG DOG!

      We paid a service to get Ralph to Haiti after the earthquake. It was our only option. And, you know, they charge an arm and a leg. Pound of flesh, my ass—–several of them!

      So glad Harley arrived safely–and you retained your sanity. That’s an optimal outcome, dear Emily!

      Could one pay a service to remove teenagers from Canada?

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  5. It amazes me that you survived this! What an ordeal. I’d never have been able to cope. I’m glad you and your loved ones are all together now.

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    • It was an ordeal, but in the end I realized that surviving that meant I could get through most anything in the international travel department. I would have thought I couldn’t have done it either. But one rises to the occasion, believe it or not.

      Great to hear from you today. Thanks for your comment!!!

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  6. The only time I have flown a pet was when we moved our former cat, Cypress, from Florida to Ohio. He was in the luggage hold (or wherever) an they were to hand carry him out to us upon arrival. Guess what? They didn’t and here he came going round and round on the luggage carousel with the biggest eyes you have ever seen. That airline got an earful, let me tell you, but it was nothing compared to your tail..er tale. 🙂

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    • Oh, Beth Ann, that’s unforgivable! I’d love to know what airlines it was. Hope it wasn’t Delta, as they were the ones who partnered with Korean Air in our fiasco. Ours was a Delta-Korean Air flight.

      And that’s only half the story. It happened again on the way home. I kid you not. And I even made a trip to the airport in Hanoi ahead of our return to the US to be sure Ralph could fly with us on departure day. We made several phone calls, as well. Still, when we arrived that night, airline officials said Ralph would have to wait two days–so Sara had to remain in Vietnam for two extra days, when she was trying to hurry to Haiti. This was less than two weeks after the earthquake. I couldn’t stay in her place, as Ralph was registered in her name. It was CRAZY!

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    • Great to hear from you. I will assure you, however, that our trip to Ecuador with the dogs was a piece of cake compared to getting them to Vietnam or Haiti. Hopefully, your dogs will travel with you in the cabin. That works well!

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. Hope you’ll visit my blog again soon. And good luck with your move!!!

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  7. I was at the edge of my seat during your entire story. I felt badly for you, and even worse for Ralph! I’ve always been afraid to fly my dog on an airplane, because of horrible stories I hear of the animals not getting enough oxygen, or it being too cold, or they die from anxiety/heart attacks, etc. Being a hovering dog mother, I couldn’t do that with our Henry (who, granted, is our ‘3rd child’ and according to our adult children, treated much nicer than they ever were). Ha. Anyway, when we moved cross country we didn’t fly, we drove Henry from MA to CA, using dog-friendly hotels. Took almost a week. I’m in awe of your travels with Ralph. Thanks for a great post!!

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    • I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed my post. It was quite an adventure Ralph and I had, so it makes for a good story. You are indeed a good “dog mother” to have traveled with your dog across country via car. I imagine Henry enjoyed the journey. In fact, you sound a good bit like me. I don’t have kids, so the dogs have become our babies.

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope you’ll stop back again soon. Can’t wait to visit your blog!

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  8. Being owned by two large dogs I particularly enjoyed this fun post!

    I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating…submit your work! This would work well on so many pet-friendly sites and/or magazines 🙂

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  9. We have one dog. When we brought him here it costed a small fortune. When I was finished with American they refunded all of my money. I always ask the question. How would like to be put in a little box, it’s dark and noisy and no cocktail service ?

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  10. I do remember this story from the first time. Which simply means, I’m a long-time reader/fan! 🙂

    I have never traveled with a pet before, unless you count my stuffed teddy bear when I was 6.

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    • THAT would make a great children’s book–“Travels with Teddy.” Only I suppose you’d have to name him “Charley.” Wouldn’t want to offend Steinbeck. LOL

      And, be assured, I appreciate your long-time reading, dear Mark! You rock the blogosphere, my friend!

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  11. I love the way you tell this story. I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time, but you tell it in such an amusing way that I can’t help but laugh. The only traveling I’ve done with pets has been in the car, and that never turns out as badly as I anticipate. I thought this latest move would be eight hours of hell in the car, but the cats were so traumatized by it all that they couldn’t even squeak out a meow. (They also hid in the closet for a week after that, but that’s another story.)

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    • Oh, thank you, Robin. You are such a sweetie. Glad you enjoyed the post.

      Yes, cats tend to be more traumatized by these things than dogs I think. Glad your felines eventually recovered and emerged from hiding.

      Great to hear from you, my friend!

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  12. I almost hyperventilated and had coronary arrest just reading this post! Love your writing style, Kathy. It pulls us in every time. And, as Robin just said, can’t imagine it was much fun at the time. However, I do believe that your writer-part was grinning behind the scenes, thinking how some day she would make use of this misadventure.

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    • Okay, your comment made me laugh out loud! What a hoot. Especially since you SOOOOO have me figured out. I not only told Sara at the time that this would make a great story, that’s now what she says to me when not-so-fun things happen–but it will make such a great story!

      Great to hear from you, Kathy. Thank you. I’m happy you enjoyed the post! Oh, and I saw you have snow. I’m gonna miss that here, I’m afraid. Call me crazy, I know.

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  13. Although I am very fond of animals, I don’t have any pets, but I’m quite sure that if I did, I would not travel with them. I have a hard enough time traveling with myself and a single small carry on bag. When I last flew in mid-June, a cross country JetBlue flight from San Francisco the New York, a passenger sitting catty corner from me, had a small female dog whose name I seem to recall was Ginger, but it’s possible that that’s a total delusion on my part and the dog was actually a male named Alfred. Whatever this dog’s name and gender was, it was such a lovely and docile little beast. I recall being so impressed with this creature, who I first encountered in the lounge, I asked the owner if her mutt was sedated. The owner did not give me much of a response indicating to me that she was quite shy or possibly sedated herself. Anyway, on the flight at 35,000 feet, give or take an inch, the woman would stealthily removed her pooch from the carry on and discreetly snuggle her. I had the impression that she gained immense comfort from her furry companion. Unfortunately, a flight attendant with x-ray vision who was barreling down the aisle at the speed of light noticed this bond and read the pet owner the riot act. I was under the distinct impression if that owner did not return her dog into its satchel in a three count, that no-nonsense flight attendant would have kicked them both off the plane in mid-air. The pet owner did as told without arguing. For the remainder of the flight an insanely proud father encouraged his 3-year-old of indeterminate gender to scream its lungs out across the country. The flight attendant said nothing to him, but I so would have welcomed, “Tell your kid to shut the hell up.”

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  14. My hat’s off to you! I don’t think I could do it, Kathy. Take my dogs on such a trip. Not even to Chicago. I’m going there soon to visit my daughter and see her new apartment. She wanted me to bring young Oliver. A four-hour plane ride with a skitterish puppy? No thank you! I’d be afraid he’d be tortured by it.

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    • I understand. As I mentioned to someone else, Lucy, ironically LOVES to fly. When her black backpack carrier comes out, she can’t wait to crawl in and find out where she’s going. How does Oliver feel about car travel. Seems to me, so far, dogs behave on planes as well or as poorly as they do in an automobile. Ironically, our Lucy is BEST behaved when traveling. Maybe that’s why we do so much of it with her.

      Enjoy your trip to Chicago!

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  15. Poor, sweet, patient Ralph. (And poor, sweet, patient you too!) I think my anxiety levels would have put me over the edge almost immediately. So glad all turned out well in the end.

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    • You and me both, Terri. Ralph was patient and sweet. In that instance, I was a little less so. In fact, at first I was furious. Thanks for thinking so highly of me. You’d be surprised what one can handle. Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend!

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  16. Oh my goodness Kathy! That is quite a story. I would have been beside myself with worry. Poor Ralph. What a strenuous trip for both of you.

    As I may have told you, Reggie is not able to fly so we drive to Tennessee. He’s a very good co-pilot. He has to sit in the back seat though because he tries to steal my road snacks. 🙂

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    • How funny! I have a picture of that SO clearly–especially now that I know you a bit. Ralph would steal snacks also, I fear. Doesn’t surprise me to hear that Reggie is such a good co-pilot! Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend!

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  17. Ralph seems like a trooper! He’s probably a well seasoned traveler by now… I once shipped my cats from Sacramento to Houston when I had to move to Korea and they couldn’t come with. It was devastating to me because they were scared and about to go live with someone they never met and I couldn’t help them understand any of it. Happy ending is they still live there and have a nice life. It was a way better choice than the pound option others were trying to push on me…

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    • Oh, that would be very sad. Glad to know they are still in the same home and happily adjusted.

      Great to hear from you, Lindsey. What were you doing in Korea? I’m afraid I now have negative associations with it–no fault of country–just some sort of Korean induced form of PTSD–the PTSD of doggy transport variety.

      Hope your week is going well, my friend! Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  18. Pingback: Enough About Me . . . | Lisa A. Kramer: Woman Wielding Words

  19. Goodness that sounds stressful. I thought when I moved our boys (dog and cat) from Boston to London that was a pain. The flight was delayed off course, because when you really want a flight to go smoothly it never does. But this tops it and I’m sorry it happened. Ralph is a world traveler!

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    • Well, you have lots of experience then!

      Had to chuckle at your calling them your “boys.” Sounds so much like us! And I love you guys for taking your pets! That’s the way it should be. I don’t understand how folks can leave part of the family behind! But then that statement betrays a bit of bias, doesn’t it?

      Yes, both Ralph and Lucy have lots of stamps in their “passports!”

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      • Leaving them behind was never an option. Actually, I stayed behind for three months in Boston while all their paperwork and details were straightened out since we didn’t want them living with friends for that long. We spoil them and yes, they are family.

        Ralph and Lucy may have more stamps than me!

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      • I would have stayed behind with mine, if necessary, as well. Yeah, we spoil our something terrible. I’ve read it’s a bit more complicated to take a pet into the UK–have to get rabies levels, etc. We haven’t had to do that, fortunately!

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  20. Pingback: The Misadventures of International Travels with a Dog - Hostal de los Perros

  21. I’m back. I can’t believe it’s been over a month since you posted this, Kathy. Such sweet doggies. I would be so upset. I get so very attached to my dogs. I would have been in tears in the Seoul airport. Travels with our pets have been good; however, when I worked at Los Angeles Int’l Airport (LAX), dogs and cats used to get loose out of luggage compartments and be running on the runways and ramps. So I am leery of traveling by air with a pet unless I can have that pet under my seat.

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    • So wonderful to hear from you, Samantha. It’s REALLY hard to keep up with blogs over the holidays. I find it HUGELY challenging.

      Hearing about dogs loose on the runway is SO scary. Wow. I’m wondering if they didn’t used to reinforced crate doors. They are SO thorough about that now, I’m wondering if that is a new development.

      You know, you have worked at a lot of interesting places, my friend!

      I’m so, so happy to hear from you. Hope you’re having a good weekend and are able to avoid the snow in your area.

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  22. Aaagh, I know this is a tale that should make me realise even more how hard it is to combine life abroad with a dog…but you got there! Ralph got there! I could get there! I really, really, really want a dog now. Going to contact my compound owners and see if we can get permission to foster at least.
    Oh, and thank you SO much for tweeting about my Mooncup story (I saw it on your feed on the left). That is SO kind. I should really get to grips with the whole publicising via Twitter and FB thing shouldn’t I?

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    • Oh, bless your heart. I don’t know what I would do without my dogs. They moved with us to both Vietnam and Haiti–and now here to Ecuador, of course. The great thing about little dogs, like our Maltese, for example, is that they can travel in the plane, under the seat in front of you. Makes a huge difference. Plus, they don’t shed.

      Yes, FB and Twitter help. I only began Twitter about a year ago, but I get a lot of traffic from FB, where I also shared your post. It was PRICELESS! I post my pieces on the Ecuador expat forum on FB and probably get about 300 hits from there on each post–at a minimum. This post got 700 hits from there on the first day. You may have similar luck in Qatar. Bet there are lots of expat moms there who are not working who would LOVE your stuff–lots of expat moms who would love it, the world over! You write so well and are SOOOOOO damn funny!

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  23. Very cute pictures!! And since I’m a professional pet spoiler (PPS) for a living and i’ve shown dogs a long with my Mom for even longer– I am well acquainted to the mess called “traveling with pets.” It’s not for the faint of heart and truly I wonder if it should happen at all. I’m so glad your story ended well–many don’t when it comes to overseas travel. I’m a crazy person (like most of us) when it comes to my pups so in your situation Ralph and I would more than likely have been in the pound together–for life because I surely would have killed someone.

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    • PS. Last night, I just helped my son on a paper about the geography of Haiti. I learned a lot. We won’t be moving although I am sure the people are lovely the hardships are many. The earthquake brought a lot to light for me, but really I had no idea.

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    • I had NO idea that you showed dogs. That’s cool. No wonder you have so many cute puppy pictures. Plus, I love the PPS–professional pet spoiler. That’s TOOOOOO good. I tried to kill someone. Damn someones refused to cooperate–even with the killing–even more thoughtless of them!

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