Shall we get down to the nitty-gritty about what it’s like to ship two unruly, anxious hound dogs to an expensive foreign country? Oh, yes please!
Nothing else in this move mattered to me aside from the dogs. Our house, meh; our furniture, I could deal with selling if I had to. After all, this is stuff. And Sweden is the stuff of my dreams. But my dogs, nothing would be settled until I had them in my arms in Sweden.
Part 1: Research
We sought out three or four quotes from pet shipping companies. Now, here’s the thing…it’s 2012 right? We search the internet for these people, and all pet shipping websites look like they fell out of 1997. This did not make me feel like we were contacting reputable companies; however, good news, all seemed professional once we were in contact. Bad news, quotes were coming in at around $6,000. Hmmm. Finally, we ended up receiving a quote, after getting all the specific information once we knew it, at about $3,500. That’s still over budget, but much more reasonable.
We did research ways to check the dogs as baggage (cargo) and bring them with us that way. It would be about $200/crate. Sounded better, right? $400 and we’re on our way! But, there are no direct flights from IAD (Dulles) to Stockholm, the dogs would be transferred and I didn’t know how that would work, nor did I trust it much because if people’s bags can get lost, I didn’t even want to know what would happen to my dogs during a layover. So, we thought about renting a truck and driving with the dogs and crates up to Newark, NJ and hopping on a non-stop to Stockholm there…but then there was the fact that 1. I might be doing this all on my own; 2. they have to be in the cargo center 4 hours before take-off; 3. Cost of renting+driving a truck to NJ before an international flight, with dogs and luggage…it was becoming unnecessarily expensive and complicated. Then, we realized we’d have to coordinate all the paperwork ourselves, and we had no idea what Sweden truly required for incoming dogs.
So, despite our efforts to DIY dog shipping, we felt it’d be better to leave them in the hands of professionals.
I will happily put it out on the web that Aeropaws.com really helped us out. From what it looks like, they simply coordinate everything from paperwork, to drivers, to the cargo reservations, to destination services, all from an office in South Carolina. Being a neurotic, detail-oriented, overly worried dog owner, I asked tons of questions, clarified everything, and made sure we did everything we could to get the dogs over without too much worry, and they took great care of us and the dogs.
Why did we worry? Well, our darling Pete is somewhat special-needs. Kennels are not for Pete – he’s broken out of every one we’ve put him in, four years running. How does he have to travel to Sweden? In a kennel just big enough for him to turn around in. All I could think about was him busting out of the kennel and sprinting up and down a cargo plane, only to burst out the doors once opened and run out to the tarmac of the arrival airport. We could potentially cause an international air crisis because our 40 lbs. black and white Pointer is off dodging planes trying to take off.
Oh yeah, and you can’t sedate dogs being transported either. Our only hope, shattered.
Piper’s great, I didn’t worry about her too much. She is perfectly content being in her kennel. My only worry with her was that a cargo worker would see her, fall in love, and steal her from me. Feasible, as she is that cute.
So, once we had an official date of transport, and we locked up a $3k deal, I went to PetSmart to buy two airline approved kennels. At home, I set them up with the dog beds inside to encourage rest inside the new kennels. There may have been copious – bordering on unhealthy – food motivation for them to go inside the kennels, but it worked. Pete quickly learned that he could get as many treats as possible if he just went inside the dreaded kennel. Then he began to curl up and sleep in there MUCH to our surprise. I tried closing the door after a while just to see what he’d do, and he immediately freaked out each time. Despite that, we would then start putting him in the kennel (instead of outside, as usual) for short trips to the store, or to get coffee. He may not have liked it, but he wasn’t barking when we came home and he was still inside. Something was working, and I became more confident that he’d be OK for the journey.
Part 2: Preparations.
For Sweden, all the dogs need is a microchip to have been implanted before a rabies shot, and the rabies shot to have been given 90 days before transport, and for this to be documented. We thought we were golden until we found out our microchip is alpha-numeric, not just numeric like EU approved ones.
Vet visits for the documentation can only happen up to 10 days before transport, and on top of that, all the vet paperwork had to be stamped by a USDA office and returned before transport. We had enough time, but it was definitely limited. We scheduled their vet visit 5 days before we left (they’d be boarded and picked up from the vet office after we left). We thought it’d be OK to implant new, Euro-approved microchips at that visit. After all, we had proof they had already had microchips, this was just one that would be able to be read. But it wasn’t OK because the rabies certificates said one microchip number, and we identified them by the new number. So we had to go back to the vet to have them document both microchips and dates on the rabies forms, and hope and pray that it was enough – because if it wasn’t, and the Swedes looking at the paperwork didn’t approve, the dogs would be “destroyed” without warning. Full.On.Freakout.
Let me mention, this vet visit was on Feb. 14th. Matt was able to come home for that week to help me out, thankfully, but I was not only dealing with the dogs, the movers coming the next few days, selling 2 vehicles, grad school, packing for the foreseeable future in one bag, but also the most horrific cold known to man. Matt, being the wonderful man that he is, planned a surprise Valentine’s night dinner at our absolute favorite restaurant, Cock and Bowl, and I had to make him cancel due to the stress of the day at the vet and the fact that I had a fever, couldn’t contain the snot in my nose, and sounded like a 77-year-old chain smoker.
I know, right?
But I digress. We compiled every bit of official vet paperwork and we overnighted the docs to the USDA and hoped for the best. We also bought and overnighted an alpha-numeric chip scanned to attach to one kennel, just in case.
The day we were to fly out, I took my fur babies to the vet for boarding, fixed up both kennels with potty pads, food, identification stickers/tags/etc, and duct tapped documents, collars, and scanners to the top of the kennels and prayed for the best.
We had a nice flight out here and a nice full day to get official immigration things done, and then a full day to drive up to Stockholm to retrieve them.
Part 3: Pick-Up
We don’t have cell phones out here, and the one promised to Matt – and the number we gave on all the pet documents – was not the number of the phone he was given when we got out here. Should anything go wrong with the dogs, we had no contact. We did manage to email the new number to a woman who coordinated the dogs getting through customs though, so that was good. She gave us directions to the cargo center, and we were on our way with little more info than the area to end up at.
Long drive to Stockholm, and we arrived at the Arlanda Cargo Center after dark. The car was searched and we had to go through an airport security check ourselves before we were let in. The cargo center has no signs saying, “Retrieve Dogs Here!” so we drove around this industrial building looking like idiots before we figured it out.
Our contact, Debbie, called us from customs saying Amsterdam (the dogs’ layover) didn’t ship the documents with the dogs. They arrived with NO paperwork. Dear God, only the worst comes to mind then. When we went into a small waiting area at the cargo center we heard a guy speaking in Swedish and made out that he was talking about our dogs and the lost paperwork. Debbie came in then and was speaking with him about this – all in Swedish and all stressed tones…and then an old Swedish man, probably the human embodiment of God himself, found and brought the paperwork over. It had been set somewhere else on the plane for some reason, but they just found it. ThankyouGod. Debbie ran off with it to customs, and within an hour we were going over the real cargo area to pick them up.
Another old Swedish man drove off with a forklift to get the kennels, and when he came back I could see two perfectly good kennels and hear no barking. I figured there weren’t dogs in there. Then I saw them, both standing up, both looking withered and scared inside their little cages. I ran over and smiled and said hi and went to pet them and they didn’t react. Oh, it was so sad, but so happy at the same time. They managed to survive the 24 hour+ journey.
We got them out and fed them right away, right in the middle of these men doing their jobs and unloading a big shipment. These cargo guys though, they smiled at us and the dogs, and it made me SO HAPPY to see these old guys enjoy watching the dogs eat and stretch and be reunited with us. Internet, the Arlanda Cargo Center workers are WONDERFUL.
Pete looked emaciated, Piper looked frightened, it was cramped in the back of the Opel wagon on the way home, but we were going home. Piper immediately just climbed to the front seat and on top of my lap, curled up and stayed there without moving the entire 3 hour drive home. She’s dirty, she’s heavy, but I didn’t care; 3 hours of uninterrupted, grateful snuggle time with my hound.
They are adjusting to apartment and city life pretty well. We walk them 3 or 4 times a day. They don’t go in their kennels when we leave now and there have been no accidents in the house. Pete looks out the window and sees birds flying at his eye level and gets really excited, and it’s funny to watch him run from window to window after them. Piper growls whenever she looks out the window, I think it scares her to look down from the 5th floor.
Days are usually spent lounging in direct sunlight, wherever it moves to on the hardwood floor. Nights are spent begging Daddy for food while he cooks. I still can’t get over the fact that I’m in Sweden, much less that these two rescued hounds from rural Virginia now get to run over moss-covered rocks and under the shadow of an 800 year old church. We’re fortunate, and very blessed. God must love dogs a lot, because it’s really a miracle that we all get to be together and healthy like we are. There is no taking anything for granted in this household.