Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Shaggy Dog Travel Story

OK,OK, so I know most people do not travel internationally with their pets. But I do. In fact, Sarah Lahey (Editorial Director of Born to Shop) and I work in relays to take both of my dogs to Europe, as the rule is one dog per person. So now Sarah and Toffee have gone to Paris and Junior Mint and I leave tomorrow.

The point of all this information is attempt to advise others who may be traveling with dogs this summer-- while it's possible that assorted vets and state laws may provide a better experience.

And let me say that I love my vet; she is wonderful and does a very good exam and follows all details. However, she insisted that my dogs needed a USDA (Dept of Agriculture) form, with the seal of the Great State of Texas-- received only in Austin, the capital-- or the dogs could be 'destroyed' by the French government on arrival.

I laughed nervously and said, hey dudette, no prob-- my dogs are French, they have French paperwork and they also have French passports.

She insisted this did not matter. I could FedEx my papers to Austin with return FedEx supplies ($55 each way) and then pay for the 3 seals required (over $100 total) or I could drive the 90 miles to Austin...if I could get an appointment. I did and I did.

My vet charged me $25 for the multi-page, 6-part piece of federal paper with serial number and then $54 per dog for the exams. Her office did download papers from the French Consulate in Houston (sent online) and filled in some of the required information as part of their service-- no extra charge for the French.

I spent 3 hours at the vet's office and came close to hysterical rage several times. I simply did not believe any of this was needed or even required and I was certain that with French passports, my dogs would be totally safe even if other people's dogs needed this paperwork.

First I called United Airlines. They told me they needed a plain old health certificate, valid within ten days of the flight departure, and did not require the USDA seal. I called several other vets. Most said the paperwork was for the French authorities, one got so fed up with me that she said 'Do whatever you want. It's your fault if they destroy the animal.'

Thank you very much.

Sooooo Sarah and I drive to Austin which thankfully is not far past the Sam Marcos Factory Outlets. We get a parking space across from the Judicial Building. We surrendered cameras, cellphones and submitted to searches and detectors because this building is the home of Homeland Security and because it was built by my personal friend Lyndon Baines Johnson and because these days, you can never be too careful.

We found the proper office (very well hidden) and turned in our papers and set ourselves down, as they say in Texas. We listened with horror and amusement as this amazing woman (Joan) fielded phone calls and inquiries. Our favorite was the call about importing pet crayfish into Germany. I could just picture the flight attendant:" Sir, did you order the special lobster meal?"

Another woman joined us in the waiting room so we compared war stories. This was her second trip in ten days; she was forced to drive 250 miles each way from the Texas-Oklahoma border. The papers had to be just so.

Her puppy had been donated to an organization in Nambia that uses guardian dogs to tend goats and sheep to protect them from cheetahs. It's kind of a Cheetahs R Us thing that is very popular in Africa. A few weeks ago I saw a story on 60 Minutes about paying the Masai to not kill lions, so I understood the principle.

While waiting, the maitresse du papier came out twice to ask me questions. The vet had written Junior Mint's birthday wrong but his passport had a different date-- which was correct. I assured her the passport was correct because the dog was a Saggitarius. No smile. Some other trival point was made and just shy of two hours later, out $102.30, and without the seal of the Great State of Texas but with volumes of paper work, we left Austin and headed back toward San Antonio and the outlets.

Better safe than sorry, we assured ourselves.

Now Sarah and Toffee are in the air. Sarah sailed through the United Airlines international check-in (meaning at the counter, not the curb) and reported to me that no one once asked to see the dog's paperwork. She was asked to pay $200 for the dog ticket to Paris and told that no, she could not buy the round trip return (this unfortunate as it will be charged in euros for the return) and bon voyage, ya'll.

I will report in as to if the French authorities ask for paperwork and what happens when Junior and I leave tomorrow. So far, the way I see it, I've wasted a lot of money and a lot of Xanax on this one. But afterall, a dog is a woman's best friend.

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