Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bowzer Bureaucracy

Owning a pet in the Foreign Service is not always easy. Moving a pet around the world is certainly difficult.

Back when Casey was a puppy, we were PNGed out of our very first post (for you non-FS-types, to be PNGed means that you are declared “persona non grata;” that is, you are ordered out of the country, never to return again).

So there we were, needing to leave rather quickly, but the U.S.-based airline wouldn’t take the dog – too hot, they said. I still remember standing in the travel agent’s office, listening as she pleaded with the airline supervisor “but they have to leave the country this week! They’ll be arrested if they don’t! Can’t you do something???” “Arrested?” I wondered. “Really? Because that would really kind of stink.”

They found a way to get us out, with the dog, and all was well. Until the third time we moved, that is, and the dog had to transit back through this same country, alone. Worried that the dog wouldn’t be allowed to transit the country, an unnamed-on-this-blog Embassy official opted to fudge the documents just a bit, so it wouldn’t be obvious that he was ours. The dog made it through to the next post.

Sure, it’s funny now, to have a “puppy non grata.” But trust me: it wasn’t funny at the time.

Every time we ever move, something dog-related goes wrong. There was the time the dog was stopped en route, pulled off of a flight in Germany. Airline officials told my husband, who was travelling with the dog, that the dog was in an improper cage, and unless my husband forked over $300 right then and there, the dog wouldn’t be allowed to fly on. Never mind that it was technically their fault for allowing the cage on board. And never mind that he’s flown countless times, before and since, in the same cage. $300 later, the dog continued on.

So I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me just what a pain it is going to be to get poor old Casey out of here. A four-day long pain, with multiple steps to be taken and fees to be paid and instructions to be misunderstood.

Today was Day One.

I took the dog to one of only two vets in the city who is authorized to give rabies shots for entering and exiting pooches. The rabies shot needs to be administered at least 30 days before you plan to escape the country. They’ll then make a doggy “red book,” providing proof of vaccination. But they can’t do that on Day One. No, you have to come back five days later to pick up the red book. So that’s one day next week.

Then I’ll have to go to yet another clinic, the only clinic in all of Beijing that is authorized to do an “exit exam.” Never mind that Casey had a thorough exam today. For which I paid $100. He’ll need another $100 exam. The next one will be conducted entirely in Chinese. So I’ll be forking over almost $100 to say things like “huh?” and “say again?” And here’s the real catch. This exam has to be completed no more than 10 and no less than 7 days before we leave. Unless, the receptionist cheerfully explained today, the government bureau changes the rules. “They do that sometimes,” she told me, “Best to wait until 7 days before you leave. In case they’ve changed the rules again.” I’ll have to pay for the exam, she explained, and then I’ll have to come back the next day to pick up the results. Unless I want to pay an extra $15. Then they might be able to have the results back a few hours later on the same day as the exam. How convenient.

But wait! There’s more! After that’s done, no more than five days before we hop on the freedom bird, I have to take those fancy papers somewhere else. At this new office, I’m told, I’ll finally be given permission to take the dog out of the country.

So: for those of you keeping score, that’s four, possibly five, days that will be devoted to doggy departure issues over the next month.

Today’s visit wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. For starters, everyone there spoke English. So when I called them from the road, hopelessly lost, they were able to talk me in. That’s a first for Beijing. And, though they were concerned about Casey’s hips, they did not think he is in any excessive pain. They prescribed more glucosamine, and seemed surprised when I told them I didn’t have enough cash on hand for a month’s supply. “But hey,” I noted cheerfully, “I’ll be back next week anyway, with more money!” They seemed pleased to hear it.

They took his temperature and scraped his ears and shone a flashlight in his eyes. They seemed concerned about a growth he has on one eyelid. “How long has this been here?” they asked. “Ummmm…. At least 6 weeks?” I responded, because that’s when the last vet saw him. “It’s grown that fast?” they worried. “Ummm…” I said again. “Maybe? But, you know, it could have been there longer. I mean, he’s really hairy, so I might not have noticed it.”

They looked at me, baffled, I suppose, that I could have overlooked such a thing.

“When is the last time he had a full exam with bloodwork?” they wanted to know.

“Ummmm….” I said again, thinking hard. “Six weeks ago? I think? I guess I’m not sure what they did then.”

Yes, I wanted to add, I am the world’s worst dog owner. You try feeding four kids, holding down a part-time job and packing your house to move to some random foreign country. Let’s see if you can remember the last time your dog got a shot.

But suddenly the atmosphere in the room changed. It was a tiny exam room, you see, and by this time it was overfilled with two vets, one technician, one scatter-brained owner and one terrified dog. One terrified, flatulent dog. Yes, the dog began to pass horrid gas. They all just kept asking me questions, and all I could think was “somebody, please, open the damn door!” But of course they couldn’t open the door, because the dog was leaning on it, panting his old-dog breath frantically.

The room was slowly filling with these terrible smells, and still they pressed on, poking and prodding and consulting while I tried to take shallow breaths and the dog panted and passed furious gas.

Finally, finally, they were satisfied with the exam. They picked up the needle, which had been on the exam table the whole time, and injected Casey with a brand new dose of rabies vaccine. “Now you must wait 30 minutes, in case there is a reaction,” they solemnly declared. They must have noted my glassy stare and realized I’d stopped breathing, because the chief vet added magnanimously, “you may wait in the waiting area.”

So there you have it. I made it home safely, lighter of wallet, weaker of lung. But I’m home. And I don’t have to deal with any more vet appointments until next week.

Next time, I’m buying a goldfish.


Shannon said... [Reply]

And yet life wouldn't be the same without the pets, would it? We need to get moving on the cats, pronto.

Oh and with goldfish you have to deal with finding them a home and listen to sobbing kids or at least I did in Jakarta. Mine are still confused as to why we can't take the darn snake to Malawi. It's a SNAKE for goodness sake. It sits all day under a log and comes out twice a month for 5 minutes to eat, then hides under the log some more. So why are the kids crying about what is easily the world's most boring pet?

Don't you hate that cage thing? When we flew to Germany 2 years ago United refused to allow my cats cages on the plane, we had to buy new crates from United right there on the spot to the tune of $70 bucks each! Now we have 4 cages for 2 cats.

A Daring Adventure said... [Reply]

I'm so sorry it's such a huge production! It really does sound like an awful process.

Alex said... [Reply]

Thanks for this! We're definitely not looking forward to the dog issue as we head to our first post...

Bfiles said... [Reply]

oh wow. Poor you. Poor doggie.

Walking to China said... [Reply]

I so understand. We had our cat the front room of the vets office. With people standing around asking what in the world we were doing with the cat. Then they threw his bits and pieces into the small fireplace that heated the room. It was surreal!
The cat is totally fine!

Sara said... [Reply]

My husband and I go back and forth on whether or not to get a pet. I have to say this is a good commercial for not getting a pet!

Kristen said... [Reply]

Oh my goodness, that is one crazy process. It is so helpful to read stories like this as we too will be transiting our beloved pup to Armenia next year. I'm already nervous about it. If you any tips specific to that post, I'm all ears :) But it's good to have an idea of what kind of craziness to expect in the pet transiting world. And I'm glad to hear that Casey seems to be doing better. That must be a relief to you all, although after reading this story, maybe not :)

Connie said... [Reply]

Poor old dog! Glad they were doing a good exam and everything, but what an ordeal. It is tough to travel with pets! That's why we only wanted to adopt 2 cats. You have to have more than one, but too many and you've got more than you can carry. We have often used boarding and shipping and other expeditor services. It is very expensive, but very handy, and tax deductible I hate to be without our pets, but placing them with someone who can do all the exams and paperwork in one place, then board them and then ship them to us when we land (and sometimes they've arrived immaculately groomed too!), is very convenient, and I think it's got to be better for the animal as well, to be in the hands of the pros from the start to the finish. However, it's easy to do from the US, not so from overseas. Our vet in Amman advertises such a service, but I do not know anyone who has used it. Good luck with the rest of Casey's appts!

A Daring Adventure said... [Reply]

It's Friday, and it’s the Weekly State Department Blog Roundup’s Three Month Blogiversary - and you're on it!

Here is the link:

(If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)


Jill said... [Reply]

Okay... I must admit that I laughed outloud though most of your post (because I SO RELATE as I'm going through this same thing right now with my dog)... and freakin' HOWLED when you got to the part about your dog passing horrid gas.

We thankfully got our rabies shot last month, but we go next week to start our ridiculous process to get our dog out of the country. The vet of course told me the list of things I needed to do - many of which sounded excessive - so I checked the USDA website. Sure enough, I was given the 'white price list' ... with about 5 more tests than are needed by the good ole US of A.

I'm sure the vet is going to love me when I veto everything he plans on doing... I'll just be thrilled if our dog gets out. Lufthansa refuses to issue the ticket until the day we fly, but swears the dog is booked in the hold... this IS India... I'm not so sure...

Best of luck with Casey - and I'm right there with you on the bad dog ownership. :)

Ambrose said... [Reply]

Amazing what you have to do to keep your dog with you.

Please. Write your own stuff.