How We Travelled With A Dog Overseas
WOOKIE’S AMAZING ADVENTURE – FROM SYDNEY TO EUROPE
When we decided to relocate from Sydney to France one of our biggest problems was getting our baby – Wookie – there safely. Wookie was a Lhasa Apso but with a bit of Maltese in him. Preparing him to travel via plane from Sydney to Europe required planning and quite a bit of patient training.
His journey would encompass the following flight time:
A van would pick him up in his cage at our apartment in Sydney (by truck from the pet transport company) at 7:30am. At that time all paperwork (prepared by our vet) had to be handed to the pet transport company. I won’t talk about this in detail as these regularly change and are different from country to country. But basically you had to have:
- A vets report with all required shots;
- Contact details of the owners;
- Flight details of the owners (we insisted we were on the same flights).
- Wookie had to be in a cage (there were strict requirements on the type of cage).
He would stay with the pet transport company till approximately 1:00pm that day and then be delivered to the Customs Office at the Sydney Airport. The pet transport company would submit all of the paperwork to customs.
He would board the plane for Singapore at approximately 4:00pm that day. The plane would depart around 6:00pm.
Arrival would be in Singapore approximately 14 hours later. He would remain in his cage for approximately 3 hours while the plane was offloaded and loaded with connecting passengers. Sadly, during this time at the airport, there is no caring provided for the animals.
He would then fly another 10 hours to Frankfurt. In Frankfurt, it would take another 4 hours to have him processed and checked by a vet before he would finally be released to us.
Total time away from us was anywhere from 35 to 40 hours. This entire time Wookie would be required to be in his cage. This meant he had to have water and also be able to relieve himself.
As parents of our pet, we had to somehow convey to him this journey was a good thing and not to be afraid. To communicate to him that sitting in the dark in a hold of a plane (which he had never been in), feeling the upward motion of take-off and the various landings, the surreal quietness of being in the air, the sudden motion caused by turbulence, the unusual feeling of pressure in his ears was all okay. On top of that, we wanted him to know we would be there waiting for him and that the 35 plus hours was a one-off experience. At home, we would often sit and watch him sleeping on the couch as we discussed our upcoming travels and feel an enormous amount of trepidation. I know we tried to be brave but would often hold him and whisper; “please, please let him arrive safely”.
Even now, six years later I still cringe when I talk about what was needed for the poor little guy to get through this trip.
The first problem we faced was getting Wookie used to a cage. He had been pampered his entire life, always slept on our bed and most of the time rode around with us in the car – never in any cage. He was basically treated as our child.
Somehow we had to get him comfortable about this whole trip, find ways to communicate with him and try to prepare him as best as we could.
How We Prepared Wookie For Overseas Travel
Over a period of about 4 months, we took the following steps (listed in order) to get him ready.
- We began by purchasing an airline approved cage and placed this in a corner in the living room. We got a size bigger than was required, as we wanted him to be able to stand up, turn around and stretch out when he slept. Inside we put one of his comfortable mats and a few toys and left the door open. On the outside, we used bold lettering for his name (during transportation we also taped all his flight and our contact details to the cage in a manner that would be difficult for baggage handlers to accidentally remove).
- We never asked or tried to coerce him to go inside. We just left the door open occasionally throwing a toy in or removing one out. At first, he was curious but never went near the cage. A few days later he ventured in to get one of his toys. Within several weeks, he began moving in and out of the cage so we made it more comfortable.
- After about two months, by which time he was actually napping in the cage we had a regular dog bed cut down to fit the back half of the cage. We took care to make the sides of this bed tall enough so as to be able to secure this to the inside of the cage (used double-sided tape). We hoped this would help him to feel secure if the plane bounced around and wanted him to be able to snuggle up as much as possible. I think the seamstress who I asked to cut the bed to this specific size thought I was a little crazy even though I did try to explain what it was for. Unfortunately, she did not own a pet and I sensed she thought I was a sentimental old fool. Regardless she did a great job and this was a really good snug fit.
- Once we saw Wookie was comfortable with his bed we made it a game to lift up the cage while he was in it, making a big fuss over him. We also began pushing this around our living room while he lay in his bed, which he quite enjoyed.
- Besides getting him used to the cage we felt it was important to make him familiar with airports and noisy airplanes. Consequently, two months before his flight we would often drive him to the airport and park the car just where planes were either landing or taking off. We would hold him and talk to him as the planes roared above us. Looking back on this I really do believe this went a long way to get him used to the noise and also the smell of jet fumes (it is often easy to forget how sensitive animals are to new smells).
- While at the airport we also introduced him to the storage area at the pet transport company facility and to the customs loading area. The staff at both locations made a real effort to meet and play with Wookie. By the time he left Sydney he had become very familiar with these two locations. We hoped during the day of his transport he would feel safe when he was there even though we were not with him.
- A week before his departure Wookie had a thorough physical at the Vets and we also made sure his ears were clean, nails clipped and teeth clean.
- The last week before departure we were very careful with his diet as we did not want him to have an upset stomach on the plane (we really fretted about this). All his human friends refrained from giving him treats but made up for this with teary farewell cuddles.
- The night before his departure we put down a towel and then on top “piddle pads” (puppy pads) in the front half of his cage. We did this as we knew Wookie would not want to relieve himself in his bed. We added several sheets together and then used double-sided tape to keep this in place in the cage. We hoped these pads would absorb most if not all and of his urine and therefore keep his bed dry. In addition, the water bowl was in the front of his cage and we wanted any water spillage to be absorbed.
- For the day of his departure, we were instructed not to feed Wookie. In most cases, depending on various dogs eating habits, this probably makes sense. However, we knew he really liked a very small breakfast and then a walk to relieve himself (this was his normal daily routine). In addition due to the distance and travel time, we were worried about him not eating. Consequently, the morning of his departure we woke Wookie at 3:00am and fed him a light (a really small) breakfast. We then took him for a long walk to tire him out a bit and once home bathed him. By the time he was dry the pet transport company had arrived and Wookie gladly got into his cage to take a nap.
- When the pet transport driver arrived we did not make any fuss over him when we put him in the van. Two reasons for this: Firstly we wanted him to feel this was business as usual. Secondly,well we were both sick with worry – wondering if we would ever see our baby again – we just struggled to talk.
- When we boarded the plane we had dozens of photos of Wookie with us, which we distributed to the stewards and any passengers who wanted one. We hoped the flight crew would see how cute he was and this would inspire them to remind the flight crew to keep an eye on the temperature in the hold. In reality, the Quantas crew were terrific and they did make an effort to make us feel comfortable about Wookie’s situation.
- The final step – and I am not kidding when I say – expect to drink a lot. No matter how well you have prepared for this kind of trip you will feel sick with worry the entire flight.
Arriving In Frankfurt
After running around the airport in Frankfurt from location to location to get all the required paperwork signed off (and thanks to a lovely French taxi-driver who drove us around for 4 hours) Wookie ran out of the customs office and into our waiting arms. He was excited, seemed really happy and still clean. Amazingly he had not relieved himself in his cage during the entire trip. The poor little bugger gave us each a quick lick and scrambled to the nearest plant. It was as if he wanted to say hi mom, dad, really happy to see you but I am “busting”.
Once he had relieved himself (this took a while) we got in a cab and set out for the Westin Hotel in downtown Frankfurt. It took him about 24 hours to fully recover and he spent most of the first 12 hours sleeping. We spent a few days at the hotel before setting out for Paris because we wanted him to feel fully settled in his new world. This time, however, he would be with us, curled on one of our laps.
PS: We did try to give his cage to the customs and vet personnel in Frankfurt but they could not take it. So we ended up asking permission to put it in their dumpster.