Ground dog day, part 1

You know what they say about the best laid plans

Spoiler alert: This saga has a happy ending. I am writing this sitting in our apartment in Berlin, both dogs safely snoozing on the floor next to me.

When we first knew we were moving to Berlin, we prioritized making a transit plan for our two dogs – Abe, a Brittany/Blue Heeler mix and Pinky, part Rat Terrier/part anxiety in motion.

On our only other international move, we flew three cats to Seoul – one in the cabin with us and two in the hold as excess baggage. Our experience then convinced us that this would be way too stressful for the pups. Many airlines no longer accept animals as baggage on international flights, anyway. So, despite the additional cost, we budgeted to hire an animal transport company to book them on a live animal cargo flight.

Abe demonstrating his ‘crate fit’ for the live animal shipper approximately one month before travel.

Bringing pets from the United States to Germany is not as complicated as it is with many other countries. But you do have to plan carefully and make sure you have good vaccination and health records.

A USDA health certificate from a certified vet has to be issued within 10 days of the flight, per travel regulations. In order to bring them into the European Union, the dogs also had to have EU-compliant microchips and documentation that they were vaccinated for rabies after implantation of the chip. This was an issue with Pinky, who we had never had chipped. She had to get an additional rabies shot, despite not needing it, because we had to have her chipped and then re-vaccinated. The rabies shot has to be after chip but at least 21 days’ prior to entering the EU.

Three months before the move, we carefully chose our pet shipper, Starwood Animal Transport, because they work with Lufthansa Animal Cargo. Our online research indicated Lufthansa had the best reputation for animal welfare. They have a huge Animal Lounge at their hub in Frankfurt and safely transport every kind of animal – from thoroughbred horses to reptiles and spiders – in addition to people’s dogs and cats.

We literally planned every other part of our move around the dogs’ travel.

My husband moved ahead of us to Berlin to start work and also scout for housing. We planned for him to pick up the dogs from the Frankfurt Animal Lounge and drive them back to the apartment in Berlin.

At the vet for their final exam. We were so glad that our regular vet clinic had a vet who could do the the USDA paperwork.

The dogs were scheduled to fly out on a Tuesday. Our movers were scheduled to pack and move our stuff on Wednesday and Thursday and the kids and I would fly out that Friday night.

Starwood booked the dog flight as soon as the openings became available, we got confirmation weeks’ ahead of time that they could fly then.

If you know anything about how air travel has gone this summer, you see where this is going.

The morning of their flight – also the same day we finalized the sale of our house – Rosie, our coordinator from Starwood, called with bad news. Over the prior holiday weekend, Lufthansa had cancelled all current live animal bookings and embargoed all animal flights until two weeks later than our travel date.

Our dogs who, according to import regulations, had to travel within five days of us, who also had heatlh certificates with a 10-day expiration date, now had no flight.

Poof. Just like that. All of our plans and reservations and deposits paid, nothwithstanding.

Rosie assured us she was trying to rebook them on another flight into the EU. Maybe Munich, maybe Paris, and then someone could drive them to meet my husband. She would let me know the additional cost.

If not, the dogs would have to stay behind until the embargo was lifted. Kennel fees were very expensive, she said, and were filling up with other similarly stranded pets. Did we have any friends who could take Abe and Pinky for an open-ended, but hopefully short, stay?

We did not.

We had four days before we had to be completely out of our house, turn it over to new owners, sell our car, say goodbye to friends and family, and get on a plane ourselves.

I called my husband in Berlin to cancel the rental car and the plan to drive to Frankfurt and told him to stand by.

Now what?

To be continued

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