For the dogs' flights, we initially thought we would and could do everything ourselves, including taking them to the airport on the day of their flight, etc., but soon sobered up and realised that we needed to use a pet travel agency to arrange everything for us/them, as we were also planning my emigration from SA to The Netherlands and our wedding which took place just a week before were we due to leave Cape Town!
The financial cost of using a pet travel agent was completely eclipsed by the peace of mind gained from letting someone else worry about all the tiny details and logistics. We found an agency that was middle-of-the-road in terms of price, but that delivered exactly the same as other more expensive agencies. They booked the dogs on the same flight as us on KLM (a huge blessing to try to achieve if at all possible!!) and managed all deadlines and time frames with ease. They brought the crates the dogs had to travel in about one week before the departure date so that they could get used to lying in them, along with a daily dose of a herbal anxiolytic. (They should have given us some of that, too, but a glass or two of red wine a day did the trick!). I was told that prescription anxiolytics are not recommended as these have a negative impact on dogs' blood pressure.
The crates were very basic: made from wood, with a small water bowl attached by a piece of wire to one side on the inside. We were told to line the crates with newspaper and then to cover that with anything else we thought would be of comfort to the dogs. To this end, I put the dogs' blankets into each crate after cutting it up so that each of them had a piece of something that smelled familiar and also put a couple of my own socks and a cut t-shirt of mine into the crates. To Hiro´s crate, I added his favourite stuffed teddy bear! I lured them into the crates on a daily basis with dog treats, as well as left a couple of treats on top of the crates each day in order to get them to hang around the crates more readily. Whether any of this helped their mental state in the end, I honestly don´t know, but it certainly gave me something practical to do to calm my own nerves. I think I was more nervous about their travelling than my own, but can also see, in retrospect, that I probably projected some of my own anxiety about my own emigration onto them.
So, dosed up on herbal anti-anxiety pills, the dogs were picked up from my home in Cape Town on the same day as their/our flight – probably about 6 hours before our (human) check-in time. The moment of putting them into their crates and into the van was a sad and anxiety provoking moment for me for many reasons. It made my own emigration very real for the first time, as I realised this was it: I was leaving SA ostensibly never to return other than as a visitor.
I think I felt less anxious about my dogs, as the manner in which the pet travel agency managed everything was professional and comforting. I felt it was a blessing in disguise (for us, but perhaps not for the dogs who possibly wanted to be in touch with us for as long as possible) that we did not take the dogs to the airport ourselves and check them in at customs, etc. I think I would possibly have freaked out at seeing that they were going to be travelling as cargo. I must reiterate that having been able to arrange for the dogs to be on the same flight as us was top prize! Full points to the pet travel agency for making that possible.
Something else to be aware of when emigrating with pets, or just travelling with pets in general by air, is that some airlines do in fact allow for certain types of pets weighing less than 5kg to travel on board with their owners, as long as they are in a specified type of carrier. I was excited to learn that KLM is one of the airlines in the world that permits this, as Hiro (the chihuahua) weighs a mere 3kg. However, the laws of a country always take precedence in such situations over the rules of the airline and unfortunately, South African law prohibits pets from travelling on board with passengers. Thus, into the cargo hold Hiro went. Perhaps this was a good thing for Chandra, as this meant that she wasn´t in the cargo hold alone during the flight. I would also recommend not fantasising too much about the cargo hold, as that just raises anxiety about the pets during travel.
So that was it – we said goodbye to them and knew we would be on the same flight as them and see them on the other side. During the flight, we informed one of the friendly KLM flight attendants that our dogs were travelling on the same aeroplane. How he responded to this was nothing short of amazing: he returned to us a few minutes later and said that he went to the part of the fuselage where he knew pets were placed close to and let us know that he could not hear any barking, yelping or crying at all. That was certainly added to my/our peace of mind. (Yes - one of the many lessons I learnt while planning my own and the dogs' emigrations, is that peace of mind is paramount!!! - and not to be sneered at when finding out what you sometimes have to pay for it in monetary terms).
To be continued....