And the Dog Came Too: Travelling with Expat Pets

[pullquote align=”left”]The often forgotten passengers in a life of global travel are the unsung heroes dragged along with us, our family pets. On our first international move from England to New Orleans, USA, we were the owners of Max, a superior and long-suffering English Springer Spaniel, who was unaware he was a canine. In his head, he was as human as the rest of us.[/pullquote]

Our vet, who had previous experience of getting our dog into a confined space with disastrous results, recommended sedation for the transatlantic flight.  This was in the days of tranquilizing travelling pets.  The tablets were prescribed, but it was not an option I was keen to explore. How hard could it be to get a dog in a kennel?

The sky-kennel was put together, equipped with Max’s bed and a few personal items, but he wouldn’t go near it.  My plan to get him used to it, eventually sleeping inside, was failing fast.  With my spouse away on the high seas, three children to supervise, and a house to pack up, the last thing I needed was to mollycoddle a neurotic dog.  I was boss; the dog was not.

Time for action.  He sat facing the open mesh door of the kennel, rigid and refusing to cooperate.  Encouraging entreaties were met with contempt, and firm commands were dismissed with a scornful sneer.  Standing behind him, I grabbed his scruff with both hands, shuffled my feet firmly against his well-padded rear, and tried to push him along.  He resolutely dug his front paws into the floor rug.  Lifting him by his scruff and scooting his rump with my feet, I moved him a couple of inches forward. Slowly, the kennel door came closer.

As we hurtled forward with one last shove, the dog roared into action.  With a violent gnashing and snarling, he adopted the starfish position across the front of the cage.  His modus operandi was to startle me into letting go of his scruff. We’d been here before; it was a bluff.  Although the snarling, bared teeth, dripping drool, and the whites of his eyes glinting as he looked at me sideways did make me hesitate.

He was positioned with paws gripping the four corners of the kennel, his chin on the top turned slightly, so we could have direct eye contact; even his tail was a solid rod of refusal against the bottom rim of the kennel.

I pulled his head gently back, knocked him off balance, and shoved him in, as he struggled and twisted round to escape.  Still clutching his scruff, we were eyeball to eyeball, his bared teeth against my wrist. I let go.  He was growling and drooling, twitching his drawn-back lips to show an impressive expanse of feral teeth, but he made no attempt to move. I closed the door and left him for the requisite five minutes.  Oh Lord, could that dog howl.
Back to the drugs and balancing the dose, something the vet had vaguely suggested we might need to attempt a few times before getting right.  Within an hour of wrestling the tablets into him, he was out cold, snoring like a banshee.  By dinner time, the snoring had ceased, and I was checking for breathing every ten minutes, convinced I’d killed him.  The next morning found him stretched comatose on the floor beside the kennel.  His eyes remained open and unfocused all day, but he was relaxed, chilled out, and as high as a kite.

On the day of departure Max was calm but alert, the result of a finely-tuned dose of sedative.  His journey to New Orleans via Chicago was uneventful, returning to his sky kennel quite happily after a bathroom break mid-journey at O’Hare International airport. We never regretted the decision to take him with us, and he remained a loyal and loving companion for nine more eventful years.

Years later, we relocated from New Orleans to The Netherlands with an adorable gentle-eyed southern belle called Sable. She was lightly sedated despite airline policy of not transporting drugged dogs. They assumed she was naturally calm and gentle.

[quote style=”1″]The bureaucracy of relocating family pets overseas can seem overwhelming, but it’s worth every headache. My overall best tip is that however high the relocation stress levels, never be tempted to take the canine drugs yourself. It won’t end well. Trust me.[/quote] 
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  • Linda A. Janssen

    Loved this story. Every expat who relocates with a pet has a story to tell, and yours is a doozy. I was laughing out loud at ‘he adopted the starfish position across the front of the cage’! It brought back tremble-inducing memories from our own move to The Netherlands from the US with two cats and a small dog. Loading the dopey dog was a breeze – he was just thrilled to come along on the adventure. But getting those two cats into their own carriers? I still shudder at the memory.

  • Anonymous

    Hehehhee a great story. I never travelled internationally with my dog, which is a good thing. Getting him up and down the stairs of the bus (some silly rule the UK has) was trauma enough.