Relocating your Pet: Advice From One Who Has Been There

By: Lyrae Johnson

If you have ever taken your pet for its annual visit to the veterinarian, you know what a challenge it can be just to get the little guy into the same room as the pet carrier, let alone into the car or onto the examination table. Now, imagine you have to take your eight-month old puppy as checked baggage from Ohio to South Africa...all by yourself. The following is the true story of how I accompanied Fletch, a floppy-eared Beagle, from the US to South Africa, and what I learned about pet relocation in the process.

Are We There Yet?

I was traveling to Swaziland on business and it just "felt right" to bring Fletch to his owner, my colleague Kimball, so I could look after him en route. I retrieved Fletch at Dulles Airport (after his short flight from Ohio) and took him out of his carrier to let him stretch his legs. Big mistake. The Sunday night crowd at Dulles did not find the antics of a Beagle puppy as cute as you might think. He was pretty wired despite the sedative he'd been given at the start of his trip.

My flight was bound for Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and then to Johannesburg (JNB). The plan was to retrieve Fletch at CDG, water, feed and walk him; then dope him up again for the 12 hour flight to JNB. Things never go quite as planned (sigh):

â—?I mistakenly checked the bag with the dog food and so had to feed Fletch bread left over from what was a surprisingly lousy lunch at my hotel at CDG (and I really love French bread).

â—?It took hours for my transatlantic carrier to transfer Fletch to the next carrier's baggage handlers and things were so confused that I honestly thought they had lost Fletch (or, you know, "lost" Fletch).

â—?When I retrieved him, the nearest patch of grass I could find to walk Fletch was the median between the passenger drop-off lanes and the parking lot. Fletch was so disoriented, he had difficulty, shall we say, "relaxing".

â—?Considering my success in coaxing him to relax, you can imagine that in order to sedate Fletch, I had to wrestle him to the floor just to get the pill in his mouth...and to keep it there until he swallowed it.

After I got Fletch back into the pet carrier, the look on the little guy's face said: "Lady, what did I EVER do to YOU???"

Fletch and I arrived safely in Johannesburg the next day where we were met by Kimball and his son. I am not sure who was more excited to see the two of them, me or Fletch. However, we had one last little adventure with the Veterinary Services agent at JNB who just wasn't sure what to do with a "facsimile" (fax) of Fletch's South African veterinary certificate. After a few, and ultimately unproductive phone calls, he gave up. Fletch was a free dog!

Carry On vs. Checked Baggage. Keeping Fluffy Safe

If I were relocating my pet today and wanted it to travel with me as checked baggage, I would make sure of the following:

â—?I was not traveling alone - you need someone to handle the dog while someone else watches the bags. It's a miracle I wasn't robbed blind in CDG.

â—?I knew the procedures, location and phone numbers for the baggage services departments for each carrier associated with each leg of the trip. Then, I would know where my pet was supposed to be at any given point, how long it would take to retrieve him, get him some fresh air and get him checked in again.

â—?I allowed enough time before traveling to ensure I had true originals of my pet's veterinary certificates.

â—?I would not sedate my pet. It is simply not worth the health risks to slow their breathing and heart rate, or impair their balance when they are being jostled about in a pet carrier and experiencing significant changes in air temperature and pressurization.

I would not relocate internationally with my pet as carry-on baggage for 2 simple reasons:

â—?most airlines do not allow pets as carry-on for transatlantic, transpacific, Central or South American destinations originating in the US;

â—?and, even if the airlines did allow it, a squirmy, whimpering, miserable, confined animal is not anyone's idea of a good time; besides, dogs and cats have strong revenge instincts - it's not a matter of if, just when!

The fact of the matter is, if I were relocating a beloved pet across the US or across the globe, I would make sure my relocation service provider used one of the many reputable and experienced pet relocation service companies located in the US and in major cities around the world. I can attest: what's best for us is not always what's best for our pets.

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