if only dogs had wings
Departing for Africa, S was adamant in her opposition to owning a pet. Though we both grew up with dogs, S thought that shipping one halfway around the world every couple of years as we moved from post to post would be cruel, especially in light of airlines’ ever worsening shipping policies and the distinct possibility that if we were to be evacuated we’d have to leave our pet behind. But then she saw a poster for a couple of rescue pups, and her desire to adopt one overcame the worries and what-ifs. Besides, packing out felt eons away when we had only just arrived to Kenya a month prior.
Now, with just about two months left to our imminent departure, we are scrambling to make decisions and finalize arrangements for Emmie. S spent months working through all the possibilities and overcoming the obstacles of transporting Emmie to Moldova. Despite the fact that she is not a particularly large dog, no airline would fly Emmie directly to Chisinau, and the closest we’ll be able to ship her aboard an aircraft is to Bucharest, seven hours away.
This presented us with a choice: we either have to leave Emmie in Nairobi for three months with a friend while D is on home leave and in training or take her as unaccompanied excess baggage to the United States, leaving her with our parents for the summer, only to fly her back across the Atlantic when we move to Eastern Europe. Either way, Romania is as far as she can go, and we’ll have to rent a car to drive the seven hours over the border to our new home.
We spent a long time debating the pros and cons, knowing that it would be a lot to ask a friend to take care of our dog for three months and then ship her for us, particularly given the myriad bureaucratic hoops a pet must jump through prior to travel. These vary by country, but in Kenya dogs must be issued a health certificate by an accredited vet a day or two before travel. Shipping Emmie as cargo would also cost significantly more than buying a ticket for one of us to make the same journey.
On the other hand, Emmie would have double the number of flights and more than double the flight time if she came as unaccompanied baggage back to the States. We’ve heard too many horror stories about how airlines mishandle pets, which include everything from dropping pet crates to neglecting to give pets water and leaving them roasting in the cargo hold when planes experienced mechanical failures. More than one FSO has posted nightmarish accounts of delays in clearing customs or ambivalence by the airline’s pet handlers that have led to the death of their animals. Even when all goes well, pets are often rattled by the experience.
Our summertime move is further complicated due to the “no fly” policy most airlines employ when temperatures are above 85°F degrees. Some airlines flat out refuse to transport animals during the summer months, though they typically waive this preclusion for government employees. Even so, the danger of a pet dying in the overheated cargo hold means that by trying to take Emmie to Europe as unaccompanied baggage during the summer, we risked postponing our flight if the temperature were too high on the date of our ticket. We also had to take into consideration the Fly America Act, which requires government employees to fly on American carriers if they are available, even if non-American companies offer cheaper and more convenient routes. United, which recently agreed to make an exception to its horrendous pet shipping policy for Foreign Service employees, remains one of the worst airlines to fly one’s pet and we knew it would be our airline to go from DC to Eastern Europe.
We ultimately decided to leave Emmie in Kenya an extra 3 months and pay a shipping company to transport her in order to minimize her stress of moving to a new continent. That decision made, S set about untangling the puzzle of multi-country pet travel policies and logistics. First, we needed to find a shipping company, but we could not use a U.S.-based one because neither our origin nor destination was in the States. Even though Emmie’s flight path would transport her from Nairobi first to Frankfurt, German companies also would not take her. Then we had to settle on a route, finding an airline that allows pets to fly out of Kenya — Turkish Airlines for some reason does not — and also flies from Nairobi via Europe or the Middle East to Bucharest (because pets flying cargo cannot switch airlines).
In short, figuring out how to ship our medium-sized dog from Nairobi to Chisinau has been a logistical nightmare. After figuring out the route and identifying a shipping company, we made multiple trips to the vet, first to implant an ISO micro-chip, then to give Emmie her annual rabies vaccine several months early, and finally to get her blood drawn to send by DHL to a lab in Germany for a rabies titer test a month after the vaccination. Although Moldova is not a member of the European Union, shipping Emmie to Bucharest means we have to follow the stricter EU importation policies. It is unclear whether Romania considers Kenya a high incidence rabies country, and therefore we do not know if she actually needs the titer test, but we’d rather not chance the authorities trying to quarantine our pet.
Although we are close to finalizing our pet shipping arrangements, our plan hinges on finding a kind soul to house Emmie for three months while we travel back to the States. We have asked multiple friends, but have found that those who are dog lovers often already have a dog or two, and sometimes a cat also, and are reluctant to take on an extra animal, while the friends without pets typically don’t own any either because they travel frequently for work or because allergies or aversion to animals preclude them from owning pets of their own.
We’re hopeful that somehow this all works out well, and that not only will Emmie arrive safely in Chisinau at the end of this summer, but that it also won’t take too long to habituate our African dog to Eastern Europe’s cold climate.