Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dog Days - São Paulo and Newark

The kennel where my dog spent XX million hours

One of the biggest stresses I faced during the repatriation planning was what to do with my two elderly labradors (ages 14 and 11). The 10 hour flight plus extra hours in waiting for planes or connections or customs are pretty overwhelming for any dog, especially large old ones who have to travel cargo (not under the seat in front of you). 

Sadly, a little of the stress was "relieved" when one of my dogs, Caju, had to be put to sleep at the fine age of 14 about one month before our departure. So that left Haifa, an 11-year old half-deaf labrador, who we had adopted from the largest labrador kennel in Brazil when she was nine. We at first considered letting her live out her retirement with friends in Brazil, but then we decided that the stress of changing families outweighed the stress of the trip.

So the research began. It turns out that everyone has a different opinion on which airline company is best, which treats dogs terribly and which are the best. There were no options for a direct flight between São Paulo and Boston which was another big stress. I talked to several pet relocation companies who would do everything for you, but the price for that hovered around US$6,000. That's a lot of money. So I decided to go it alone. Which still cost upwards of US$2000 by the way.

Fortunately for us (and Haifa), we have a wonderful vet named Dra. Audrey. She and her husband said that they would care for Haifa until the end of American summer. Even though Haifa was allowed to travel during the summer months (hard to believe), I thought it better to keep her in Brazil until late August. Haifa left our house is São Paulo on July 22, one day before we left for the US. She would spend the next month at Dra. Audrey's house which is outside the city, with nine other retired labs and German shepherds. 

In the end, I decided on Petsafe which is a United Airlines "product". Their freight forwarder was MM Cargo. I am going to name them because I would suggest avoiding them (MM not Petsafe). But that comes later.  There are a number of requirements to send your dog: a vet approval within 24 hours of flight (everyone postdates, why they bother with the 24 hour thing, I will never understand), rabies vaccinations and updated other vaccinations. I also asked Dra. Audrey to make sure Haifa had a microchip (she didn't; she does now). If any of you São Paulo folks need a vet to help with the travel stuff, let me know and I will send on her info; she is wonderful. There is no quarantine between the US and Brazil.

I also committed to picking up Haifa at Newark, her port of entry, which is three hours from Boston. Why? Because the flight from Brazil gets in at 6 am, and she would have to spend six hours waiting for the ongoing flight to Boston -- they leave a good chunk of time for customs and then a mandatory "rest period" after flights of more than eight hours. I was not going to make Haifa wait around for a 12 pm flight.  I decided to leave Boston at 3 pm on Thursday, stay with a friend in Scarsdale, and then go early Friday August 29 to get Haifa at Newark.

So everything is going along well until the day before the flight. I get an email from MM Cargo saying "make sure you drop off Haifa at the airport by 2:30 pm". What? I paid extra to have her picked up from the vet office. I go crazy for several hours on the morning of the flight making sure the cargo guys will pick her up (they did at 12:30 pm)--and dragging poor BH out of big-time meetings to arrange payment and confirm the flight. So, Haifa is in her kennel to fly at 12:30 pm Brazil time, 11:30 am US time on Thursday.

MM Cargo tells me that I will have to pick her up in the US from the Cargo Terminal at 7 am. But I am suspecty and call United Cargo in New Jersey and the wonderful lady there (I should have gotten her name as she saved me a mess) told me that no, Haifa was coming in on a passenger plane and that meant I picked her up at Terminal C, Arrivals, at 7 am. Until the next morning, I am still unsure where she will be.

MM Cargo claimed that they let her out to play at their facility until time to board the flight at 7 pm Brazil time (6 pm EDT) but I have my doubts, and I'll tell you why later. She does not eat while waiting for the flight. She last ate at 8 am Brazil/7 am EDT.  I am sending emails and calling MM Cargo every hour to make sure things are okay. She is handed over to United at 7 pm for the 9 pm flight, according to MM.  There is no other way to confirm she makes the plane flight.

At this point, I am on the road to New York. I have to take a moment to call out my wonderful friend Susan who let me barge into her house on Thursday evening (okay, so I had a key but couldn't unlock the door until she let me in about 10 minutes later) after taking her son to college and even brought us pizza and entertained the 7 year olds. Oh yes, did I mention I had to take the twins with me? Yes. So much fun. And Susan even volunteers to come to Newark with me at 6 am to help out!! Who ever volunteers to go to Newark at any time of day? She's either an angel or else extremely sick in her head :)

I see that the flight has taken off ten minutes early. During the night I turn on my phone numerous times to check progress. I sleep not at all. At 5:33 am, UA 30 lands. At 6:30 am, we leave the house for the 45 minute car ride. The kids woke up well at 6 am, I must say and they're more than a little feisty on the way there.

We park in short term parking and walk across to the terminal. There I ask the Baggage Claim people about where to pick up a dog arriving on that flight. And they point me to "QuickPak" on the third level. This cracks my friend Susan up as she pictures poor Haifa covered with cellophane in one of the suitcase machines. Later I also crack up but only after I get Haifa.

As we take the escalator up, I see an office with huge stickers of dogs on the darkened windows. It is PetSafe. We stop there and learn that they do indeed have Haifa ("Brown Lab" is written on the white board in the back) though we are not allowed to see her until she gets out of customs. No QuickPak. It is then 7:30 am. Apparently customs opens only at 8 am (when was I told of this? Right then and there. The misinformation is incredible). We are told (by the very friendly helpers at PetSafe) to come back at 8:05 am to get Haifa. 

Petsafe at Newark Airport
 So we go for coffee and donuts at Dunkin Donuts on the arrivals level. The kids are starting to escalate into complete lunacy as they want their dog. We go back at 8:05. No dog. 9 am. No dog but they give us the kennel and even break it down for us so it will fit in the car. They claim she has been let out in the back room so I imagine she has "done her business". We chat with various people and watch as other dogs get loaded up. If you ever go through PetSafe in Newark, make sure you find a Jean-Louis there (J-L for short) as he was extremely careful and courteous with humans and pets alike. Check plus.

9:25 am. Susan has gone to get the car and bring it around front. The kids are outside the terminal running up and down trying to burn energy off. Finally, I find out that the delay was caused because MM did not send the paperwork through to Petsafe the night before as they were supposed to do, so Haifa was at the back of a long line of customs approvals.

9:30 am, Haifa comes out. She looks great and smells great too--Dra Audrey had given her a bath the day before and she had not had a single accident in her kennel in spite of being locked up for more than 16 hours. She wags and wags.  The kids see her from outside and race to hug her. All good. We take a photo, thank everyone and head out...sort of.

Haifa can't hold it any longer and when she hits the carpet between the automatic doors to leave the terminal, she lets loose a tidal wave of pee. I can't even pull her outside. She is desperate. Then she proceeds to walk and poo all the way down the corridor of cars. I head back with a plastic bag I had in the car and clean it up. The poo. The pee is informed to Petsafe so they get someone to clean it up (I hope). This is Haifa's commentary on the experience.

We drive Haifa back to Susan's house where she poops and pees again. She is exhausted. She has pretty much slept for five days straight now. She has bloody diarrhea too--I will take her to the vet on Friday to see if it is the change in food or if there is a bigger problem.

Would I do this all again to an 11-year old labrador? Selfishly, yes, I would. I love having her here. But she suffered to get here. If anyone wants to hear more about the experience (like this novel isn't long enough) and my recommendations, leave me a comment and I'll get back to you. Right now, I'm gonna go hug this sweet girl.

Haifa this Labor Day!


  1. I am glad to see that Haifa made it home. Maybe the peeing and pooing was just payback for making her wait. I am quite sure you would do this again for your Haifa, lets just hope you never have to.

    1. I suppose I would. But it is a selfish decision in many ways. Haifa was loving her month with Dra. Audrey...she might have been okay with staying there forever. But I won't have to think about it because hopefully we are here for a good long time!!

  2. she just gave the good ol american this is what i think of you.
    bless her furry heart iam happy shes back with you.
    hpefuly her tummy tssues have started to settle down.
    i would give her distilled water skinless chicked and brown rice
    also cooked in distilled water.
    do that for about a week then start adding our water a little at a time
    till her body acclimates to this countrys water suply huggies and kizzies

    1. That's exactly what we're doing...she seems a bit better. Vet visit Friday...

  3. Glad to know the family is reunited. <3

  4. What a nightmare indeed.......but thankfully it's all behind you now and Haifa is there safe and sound!

  5. I am SOOOO HAPPY that she is with you safe and sound. I too would not have slept a wink !! As I read I kept stopping and in my mind was thinking, I would have to have found a way to make the trip with her!- though that is what we would ALL WANT to do - the airlines certainly would not find a way to accomodate this !! They are a part of our heart and souls and we would do for them just as we would do for our children, heck - they ARE our children as well !! AND AS FAR AS THE LESSONS YOU LISTED - it pretty much applies to any and ALL situations these days: Do not trust what you are being told because every person you come across tells you something different !! You need to call, check and recheck again ! Basically have your finger on control of every possible outcome ! A "captain" of the ship so to speak!! and whenever possible whether human or canine - never take a connecting flight - the hassel of losing luggage or "precious cargo <3" is huge !!! Much happiness to you and your family !! - Shelley M.

    1. Yes, I wish we could have flown with her but it just wasn't possible. She'll be fine, I'm sure...

  6. I'm so glad she finally made it home! Just remember the old saying "If anything can go wrong it will". But you also know that "All's we'll that ends well" and this adventure obviously ended well.

  7. So Glad she made it. Several of ours have been in flight hours but none as old as Haifa. I won't send the oldies. I am afraid of the trip. Our broker here in Rio is good and thank God all of ours arrived healthy and safe. It's a harrowing journey and stress for them. I still think she is better off with you though and hope she gets over it quickly. xoxoox

  8. Wow - what an ordeal, but the look on Haifa's face says she'd do it again to be with her family! I am so very glad she's home safe and sound. I'm praying that her health issues are just the stress of travel and that she's better soon. We have 3 labs, and I know how sweet they are! <3 xxxooo

  9. Have just lost a post so might have 2 show up! I am so happy beautiful Haifa is home with her loving family and I can just imagine how thrilled the twins are. I hope her stomach issues are just because of the stress of her travel. I have been worried about her and thank you for keeping us posted. Would it not be great if they could travel in a large "doggy airline" where they can rest on beds, play and arrive rested and in good condition? And yes you would & should do it again. She was happy at the senior dog resort but soon she would be missing her loving family especially her mom.

  10. I really appreciate this account of your experiences. I am looking at bringing 3 dogs from Hawaii to the mainland US, and while not at far as Brazil, I am still so anxious over the whole thing. I appreciate reading your experiences and will definitely look into Pet Safe. Glad Haifa is home :)