Lowcountry Dogs Abroad- Greetings from Europe!
Hey, y'all! Gosh, I've been dying to say that for weeks now! Let me introduce myself. I'm Erin Thomas, a Lowcountry girl born and raised, temporarily living in Stuttgart, Germany with my husband, John, and our two Boston Terriers, Max and Dulcie. So why are we over here, you ask? In a nutshell, my husband is a civilian electrical engineer with the Navy and he's working on a project here for a few months. Myself being self-employed, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to join him for the adventure of a lifetime! The fact that Germany- and Europe in general- is so pet friendly made the decision to bring our pups along an easy one. So here we are, Thomas Party of 4, for the adventure of a lifetime- and I couldn't think of a better place than LCD to share about any and everything dog-related along the way!
What better place to start than at the beginning- actually getting Max and Dulcie across the pond! If you're like me, you've often gone on vacations and wished your pups could've come along. Sure, it's feasible when you're just driving down to Florida or up to the Smokey Mountains, but what about Mexico or better yet, truly overseas? Exactly what I was thinking- 'how do I do that?' Well, I won't lie and say and that it's a quick, easy process, but I will say that it's definitely possible and that it just takes a little work. Here, I've broken it down step-by-step (based on my experiences, of course) for anyone considering their own adventure!
1. Get your ducks in a row. You need to know the guidelines for the country to which your pups are traveling. Most of these will be health-related items, such as vaccines and microchipping, and can be found at the Department of Agriculture (www.aphis.usda.gov). *Pay close attention to the timelines associated with each item- some vaccines must be given at least four weeks in advance and others, within a week of departure, for example.*
2. Make an appointment with your vet, keeping in mind the timelines mentioned above. Ask them to schedule enough time to administer necessary vaccinations and microchipping, to complete a physical exam (required for standard international certificates) and to fill out all additional paperwork. In the meantime, print out all blank forms to take with you to the appointment (these can usually be found online). *Be sure that your vet is properly accredited to sign off on all paperwork.*
3. Contact the airline to make your pet's reservation and to learn the guidelines for flying with your pet. These vary by airline, so it's imperative that you know the specific rules for the airline you'll be flying with. They will be able to help you with crate size, items permitted in the crate, paperwork that needs to accompany the dog(s), etc. Opt for direct flights when at all possible, even if that means departing from a nearby airport. *The most important part of this step is ensuring that your pup can indeed fly on the date you choose and I'm the perfect example! We needed to be in Germany by the end of July, but neither Delta nor United will fly dogs between May-September, so I had to go with another carrier, Lufthansa.*
4. As soon as possible, set up the crate in which your pet will be traveling. Leave it open in your house so that he can get used to seeing it, smelling it, and hopefully, laying in it! As your departure date nears, encourage him to spend more time in the crate, eventually closing the gate behind him for short periods of time. *This step is especially important if you have a pup, as I do, who is not crate-trained! He will be anxious enough with the flight itself, so it's best to help ease his fears where you can.*
5. Within one week of departure- and after the vet appointment, schedule an appointment with the USDA to get all the vet paperwork notarized. For South Carolinians, the office is in Columbia and appointments are limited, so set this up as early as possible. If you dare, you can use UPS of FedEx Overnight, but that's risky. *I recommend scheduling this appointment several days before departure to allot for any mishaps. For example, I got to Columbia and they had sent me the wrong form, so I had to return to Charleston for my vet to fill out the correct form, then return to Columbia the next day. Better safe than sorry!*
6. On the day of departure, feed your pup his usual breakfast- nothing out of the ordinary that could cause stomach upset! Depending on your flight time, give him plenty of opportunities to drink water (we all know how dehydrating flights can be!) and maybe even a little snack if your flight isn't until late in the day. Squeeze in a nice long walk or play session before heading to the airport. Walk one more time to potty when you arrive at the airport. *Remember, a full-bellied, empty-bladder, tuckered-out pup is a sleepy, happy pup!*
7. The folks at the check-in counter will take care of most things from this point forward- putting the proper stickers on the crate, ensuring that the necessary veterinary paperwork is in place, inspecting the crate for safety, etc. I also opted to tape a small baggie of dry food and a bilingual note (stating the pups' names, the flight schedule, our contact information and a 'please take care of my babies!) to the outside of our crate. *This is the point where you will say goodbye to your pup. As tough as it will be, do your best to stay upbeat- no need to cause additional anxiety!*
8. Once you arrive at your destination, you will likely have to go through Customs first, but then make your way to Baggage Claim. Generally, there will be a designated area for cargo and large items, so head here first to pick up your pup going to get your luggage. *En route to Baggage Claim, be on the look out for a large rolling cart to take with you. Especially if you're traveling alone (my husband went a day earlier to get our car, apartment, etc., you'll need something to help you navigate with the crate and luggage through the airport!
I want to quickly let everyone know how wonderful our experience was with Lufthansa- from the reservation to answering questions to helping us feel confident at check-in to the flight itself. We couldn't have been more pleased and would recommend them to anyone looking to travel with pets!
Believe me, I know that the flight- assuming you're traveling on the same flight as your pup- will seem a little longer than usual and that you'll be thinking about him 'below deck' wishing you could be with him, but you'll just have to keep reminding yourself that he's safe in his crate with his soft blanket (and maybe an old t-shirt that smells like you!) in a climate-controlled, secure cabin. And best of all, that the next time you see your pup, you'll both be in a foreign land and he'll be so glad to be with you on the upcoming adventure that he'll likely forget all about those confusing 10 hours on the plane!
Want to hear more about our European adventures? Check out 'Thomas, Party of 4,' our travel blog: http://ThomasPartyof4.wordpress.com We love meeting new people and look forward to hearing from you!
Erin Thomas is the owner of Summerville's Lowcountry Pet Sitters, the area's premier in-your-home pet care service. For more information, please visit www.LCPetSitters.com or call 843-327-7487.