Bringing Rusty to the US: The Journey

I was basically a bag of fragile mixed emotions in the days leading up to the big move. The plane journey of 26 hours for Rusty was something I really dreaded. But it was also one of the things that I thought if I could get through, would help alleviate a lot of the stress that I was feeling about relocating.

While animal air travel is pretty well established, there are still some risks associated with it since temperature and pressure changes could have unpredictable effects on the physical well-being or even emotional state of the animal. It didn’t help that my family friends who were SIA pilots also told me that the cargo section of the plane is usually not temperature controlled and the pilot HAS to remember to activate it since the default is no action. That information basically scared me to shits and conjured lots of worst case scenarios in my head.

I scoured the internet for better peace of mind and thankfully found some good tips to follow. I basically prepared Rusty’s crate to a T following this video on YouTube. Also got the idea of doing up a cute letter to the pilot so that the crew would remember to do the necessary. I was hoping that the cuteness factor and photos ensured that whoever handled him; the crew, the cargo people etc could connect with him personally and be less likely to treat him like another piece of luggage.

In preparing the crate, we had lined it with an absorbent paper mat (in case he peed) and some bedding which was actually the husband’s towel and my pillow case so that Rusty was kept warm and had familiar scents for comfort. We also tied 2 water bottles and threw in 2 of his favourite toys to keep him company. An additional dog tag was put on his collar just in case his original one dropped out.

We arrived at the airport about 3 hours before departure time to give ourselves ample time to settle any procedures. We tried to get Rusty to do a poop and pee before we put him in the crate but he wasn’t keen at all. Dogs are very sensitive to the energy of the people around them and we took some time to try to coax him into the crate. Tried as I might to stay positive and calm, he was probably well aware that something not so good was going to happen to him.

With Rusty in the crate, the Lufthansa check-in staff proceeded to weigh him and register him as excess baggage. We got a sticker tag for him just like we did with the rest of the luggages. At this point, we handed over the Export License and Health Certificates for the airline to make a copy. And that was the only point at the Singapore side which needed our documentation.

After sticking on the necessary “Live Animal” Stickers and his bag tag, we bade a quick goodbye to him before the cargo staff whisked him away on a separate trolly. It was also at this time that we found out that there was going to be another dog with him on the flight. At first we were quite happy about it as it meant that Rusty would have safety in numbers since it was unlikely that the pilot would forget about 2 dogs in the cargo. However, happiness turned into worry when we realised that the other dog was super anxious and was barking a lot. We were quite worried that Rusty would be affected and feel more and more afraid of the flight. Also, we were concerned that he wouldn’t get to sleep due to his yappy partner. We kept telling him to be a brave boy as he got wheeled away, though that advice could well have been relevant to us too. Worry worts we both were. 😛

Btw, I was super appalled that the other dog (a Japanese Spitz) had an empty crate, i.e. no bedding and toys. And the owner decided to take off her collar in case she scratched it and choked herself. What if she was cold, and what if she somehow got out of the cage and had no form of identification? Not something that I would have done.

Thankfully, the flight to Frankfurt was extremely smooth and we slept almost throughout the red eye flight. Time past pretty quickly and left us little time to worry obsessively. We hopped out of the plane hoping to catch a glimpse of them offloading Rusty but not much luck there. When we first booked with Lufthansa, we had heard about an Animal Lounge for pets in transit for more than 3 hours and were very keen to find out if Rusty would be transferred there. However, after checking with several people at Frankfurt, all of them told us that Rusty would remain in his crate throughout. We were so confused and devastated. While we caught a bite, I spent the whole time trying to verify the information over the web. Unfortunately, there was little clarity about this from other pet owners online as well. Hence, my desire to document this properly.

There was a moment of panic just before we boarded our 2nd flight when the staff could not find Rusty’s record on the plane manifest. She even asked us if we were sure we had a dog for this particular flight. Wow, I really wanted to box her. Thankfully, she found the information like 5 seconds later. We also had confirmation from the cargo handlers that Rusty was standing by to board just below the aerobridge.  He was the only dog onboard this time. The stewardesses were super amused with the letter when I passed it on to them.

Fast forward to our arrival in Chicago. We spotted Rusty coming off the plane from our seats and we literally ran to customs and immigration thereafter. Just like J had described his experience with Otto, we found Rusty in his crate sitting alone in a corner next to the baggage claim. I remember someone (probably airport personnel) coming by to ask us if he was ok but all I could remember was savoring the moment of seeing our little one again. We still couldn’t take him out yet but Rusty didn’t seem any worse for wear and I remember thinking that he wasn’t as smelly as I thought he might be. 😀 Was also glad that we were kiasu to stick 2 water bottles on his crate as the levels were both pretty low by the time we saw him. Learning from J, we quickly fed him some of his dry food in case the customs guys decide to confiscate it.

Getting Rusty past customs was quite a non event. We went to the CDC counter near baggage claim and pressed a button to call for an official. A lady turned up and basically checked his Health Certificate, asked us how old he was, gave us a ticket and directed us to queue at the normal customs clearance line. No one inspected Rusty or checked if he was actually physically healthy, all of it was dependent on the paperwork produced. You could actually bring a different dog! So much for quarantine and security. Ironically, the Bak Kwa that the husband was helping friends to bring over got confiscated instead. kwakwakwa…

Except for 2 days of jet lag, Rusty is doing superbly well. In fact, I think he has been the most adaptable among the 3 of us. He loves his life here more I am sure as he gets to head out everyday, many times a day for walks. People are also so much friendlier and affectionate to him and his presence.

So did Lufthansa take him out of his crate? I think so. We found a brand new food container tied to the inside of his crate. His bedding was also shifted from the original position that we had put it in. Am not sure how long he got to walk about outside but it’s a relief to know that he wasn’t cooped up the whole time we were traveling.

Read about the preparations here.


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