"Something tells me we're not in Switzerland anymore, Princess."
"Really? What clued you in Sherlock?"
WARNING: Educational post to follow. Read at your own risk.
Now that we're so over that rainbow and back to reality, I want to share what we've learned from our experiences in preparing for a long overseas flight with dogs.
When we flew out from California to Switzerland two years ago, both dogs were too anxious and refused to go on a walk or take care of their bathroom needs. And when we arrived in Switzerland, it wasn't pretty in their kennels. This time we drove up to Zurich, close to the airport, the day before our flight so we could do a nice long walk, in large, nearby forest I researched ahead of time on the Internet so that both dogs would be empty. By now the dogs are much better at traveling and know what it means to stay in a hotel, such as taking care of business promptly and being courteous to room service.
The morning of our flight, we navigated our way to the large forest with a Parcours Vita (fitness trails). Loki immediately took care of his business but after a 1 hour walk, Juno only tinkled. We shrugged our shoulders and accepted we'd have to clean her kennel when we got off the plane.
Earlier that week, Mr. Wild Dingo---king of "The Economy of Motion"--- had fashioned some heavy-duty castors to snap on and off Loki's extra-large kennel so we could stack the kennels inside each other, put a suitcase inside and roll the kennel while walking the dogs into the airport. Both dogs were excellent in the airport, completely relaxed and patient at check in. While Mr. Wild Dingo took care of payment for extra-large luggage and the kennels, I tried walking Juno again, but again, she had nothing to give.
The dynamic duo back at the tree farm.
Then it was time to load them into their crates---and all hell broke loose. By now, Mr. Wild Dingo removed the big castors from Loki's crate for air travel and stored them in his carry-on. But the crates were already loaded on a rolling dollie, and neither dog was feeling too confident about hopping that high. I don't know what I would do if I were by myself, because Mr. Wild Dingo had to pick them up (60 and 70 lb dogs) and place them inside. Thank dog they were behind closed doors. Loki punished us with ear-piercing opinions that echoed throughout the loading dock hallways. I asked an attendant about watering the dogs and contrary to what some people tell you, the airline attendants do NOT go down to cargo space to give water to animals on the flight. Again, I had to accept that this would ok for a 12-hour flight.
On boarding, I planned to ask the attendant to confirm the dogs were loaded. When we first flew out to Switzerland, the attendant told me she could only confirm how much weight was loaded in cargo and could not confirm which particular animals were on board. This time, I asked an attendant and she mildly said she could try. Then I handed her a photo of the dogs---a huge smile came over her face and the ooo's and ahhs soon followed. She went out of her way to confirm they were loaded. Cute furry faces always make people go the extra mile. I'm not sure it was necessary because as soon as we sat down, we heard it: Loki's high-pitched yipping and barking and Juno's husky's cries below us.
I wondered out loud, "I wonder who owns those obnoxious barking dogs?"
"They're completely intolerable," agreed Mr. Wild Dingo, "I feel sorry for the sucker that owns them." We're not too proud to disown them to save a little dignity whenever we can.
Then the attendant came back to tell me what she had to do to confirm and on take off she came again and confirmed that she confirmed with the captain that they were indeed loaded. She handed me back my photo and the woman next to me smiled knowing we owned the noisy offenders.
The 12-hour flight was uneventful and passed quickly for me. After customs at SFO, I went straight to animal pick-up while Mr. Wild Dingo retrieved the bags. It took a good 30 minutes before we saw the dogs come out. We planned to take the dogs out, quickly clean their kennels (we had bags and cleaning supplies), snap on the castors, stack the kennels inside each other, stack in a suitcase and roll everything out with the dogs walking on leash. But an SFO officer asked me to keep the dogs inside the kennel as their K9 unit (a lone beagle) was in the area working. No problem, can he please direct me to where I could find a flat-bed truck so I could push the dogs in their crates and our suitcases out the door effectively? And this is where all airports seem to breakdown in providing good services. There were flat-bed dollies but not available to us unless we asked a porter to assist us and push it himself. That porter tried to negotiate what his tip would be, as if any traveler in the International baggage claim would already be carrying USD. Basically, we were being held hostage. Let's face it, it's not a tip when you try to negotiate payment.
For 20 minutes we sat there with no alternatives on how to carry 4 bags and 2 crates loaded with dogs. So we let Loki bark his fool-head off at the top of his lungs, while Juno cried in unison. Mr. Wild Dingo, who's biggest pet peeve is being noisy in public, did not discourage the racket. He was furious at the porters and the situation we were in. Eventually, another porter felt bad and came over with a truck and the extorter-porter followed with a second truck. They wheeled our dogs out through the airport curbside and we followed behind with our 4 bags of luggage. For once, Loki obnoxiousness saved the day. It pays to have a cracker handy when you need it most. But the next time this happens to us, I'm going to take the dogs out of their kennels on leash and the airport rules can screw it.
And the dogs' kennels? Immaculate. I don't know how Juno did it, but she did. It seems with travel experience, they know what to expect and can be patient.
. . .
Sigh. I'm going to miss those simple distractions like horseback riders, goats and farm cats.