A Nightmare with a happy ending


If Badger had fingers, this might have been his gesture…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, which is a shame because Joe and I have done some cool stuff since he landed.  I’ve been overwhelmed with life, work and things that just go wrong.

I’ll get back to all of the good stuff — luckily my life overfloweth with good shit — but this post is going to be all about Badger’s wild ride.  United has been in the press for two doggie mishaps this week, so I’ll share what happened on our end.  Before I tell you all that went wrong it’s only fair I point out that United took full responsibility and reimbursed and refunded costs.  I truly, truly hope they take all this bad press and put it to good use.  Better training and communication would go a long way in improving pet travel.  For the folks who think we’re crazy to spend all this money flying our animals, when you adopt a dog you adopt it for life.  While it’s certainly not a human child, it is a living being that deserves to be loved and protected.  When you move long distances, you have to fly your dog.  I get that putting them in the passenger area isn’t a good idea (although we’d be totally willing to buy a seat for our dog!), but the cargo area reserved for them should be as safe and well regulated as the passenger cabins — and the people moving them should be as well trained.

Getting Badger ready for the big flight

Before flying your dog overseas there are all sorts of things that need to take place prior to takeoff — each country has its own set of rules/papers/etc.  United’s Petsafe program sent us links and attachments of what we needed to do.  As with anything else it’s also up to us to make sure we do our research, so I spent hours making sure I had everything we needed to get Badger on his first flight.  Joe spent hours combing through the links and paperwork and getting Badger to all of his appointments.  Badger is a medium-sized dog, but we bought the large traveling crate (somewhere between $100 and $200) months in advance to get him used to it.  We made sure he could stand without his ears or head touching the ceiling, could turn in circles without touching the sides, etc. etc.  It took Joe a few weeks to get the dog to go into the crate on his own — lol, um, he used a piece of laundry I accidentally left in hamper.   Imagine my son-in-law’s horror months later when he discovered an old pair of my panties in the kennel (my husband’s training methods are not recommended).

Joe even got Badger used to riding in the crate, so that he wouldn’t be afraid come flight day.

Long story longer:  Joe got Badger chipped with the right chip, inoculated, trained for travel, got all the paperwork to vet to be filled out and sent to FDA to certify (vet cost:  $270 plus another $200 for the paperwork visit; $35 for FDA certification; $90 for UPS overnight).

The paperwork part is stressful.  For Europe the dog has to fly within 5 days of owner, and the paperwork needs to be certified within 10 days of dog flight, and it needs to be faxed to airline 3 business days before flight.  No problem since Badger was supposed to be on same flight as Joe, but we were stressing out on whether or not we’d meet all the deadlines.  We did.

 Badger’s first flight attempt

Joe was so happy and proud of Badger.  His friend Mike brought them to cargo 4 a.m. and the dog acted like he’s been flying all his life.  The airport and cargo didn’t phase him.  He was calm, happy and ready to go.  Cargo check-in lady goes over paperwork; it’s perfect.  Checks Badger, he’s good to go, and then decides that because there wasn’t a 3 inch clearance between the tip of Badger’s ears (the mutt has big-ass ears) and the kennel ceiling it wasn’t good enough for him, so he couldn’t go.  Joe begged, pointed out that he met the qualifications on paperwork, etc. etc.  Bitch wouldn’t budge (and I know she was just trying to do her job, but hello? This is something we needed to know beforehand, and if it was in paperwork somewhere we missed it, so it needs to be emphasized), so Mike took Badger home with him.  Joe, my big old grumpy bear, cried on his flight.

Badger’s second flight attempt

While Joe is en route, Kaylene, Kelly and I bust butt to get Badger on another flight.  Kaylene and Kelly run around town to get him an extra-large crate (around $375), which is huge (but they tie it in and drive with back open to bring to Mike’s house for assembly), and the stickers needed, etc. etc.  Mike, Joe’s friend, keeps Badger (since he has a truck) and agrees to meet them 4 a.m. at Cargo two days later.  Our paperwork is still valid.  I call customer service and ask if the scanned paperwork they have is still ok.  The answer is yes.  What I didn’t know then and I do know now is that the original paperwork is actually attached to the dog crate.  Common sense would tell you the owner should have the original paperwork to pick up the dog, which my husband had, but no: Europe regulation states it needs to be on crate — no copies.  So Badger is rejected again.  Mind you my daughter is cranky on a good day, she’s now also pregnant, so  4 a.m. isn’t exactly prime time for her.  Apparently, she saw a pregnant goat get accepted on its flight to Hawaii, which she joked was probably being sent off for slaughter.  Yep, stress has caused my girl to get all petty over a goat.  Joe’s friend was also inconvenienced  by this, but he took Badger home again, and brought Badger back to Kaylene and Kelly’s house over the weekend.

Oh, and I need to point out that since he’s now in an extra-large crate it’s too big for most flights out of Phoenix, so we can only book him on certain flights.

Badger’s third flight, he gets accepted, but more hell to come…

Our paperwork is no longer valid, so we have to go by the new deadline:  dog must fly within 48 hours of certification; certification must be overnighted to New Mexico and back.  More vet, overnight and certification costs.  We are stressed AF at this point, but we’re all doing our part.    We had to work around work schedules and a holiday, so basically Badger didn’t get to fly until 3 weeks after Joe, so his stress level is also up.  He’s an old dog, but Bingo!  He gets accepted this time.  Honest to God other dog owners with larger dogs laugh at how huge Badger’s kennel is. Ironically enough their dogs are in his former-sized kennel and they all get approved.  My daughter pays the $1,200 (of course I sent her the money) ticket, which includes an extra fee to walk, clean if necessary, feed and water him during his layover in Newark.  Oh and $50 for a Uhaul trailer to lug the kennel since neither Kaylene nor Kelly’s car could fit the new kennel in their car.

We’re told to monitor the tracking system to check on our dog’s flight progress.

Badger makes it to Newark the day before the Nor’easter hits

We’re high fiving, cheering, so damned happy our dog is finally on his way.  Tracking system reflects he’s in Newark.  I wake up Friday morning (he was supposed to land 8 a.m.) check the tracking system to see nothing has been updated.  Not worrying about it but deciding it’s best to check I call Petsafe.  I’m told my dog wasn’t put on his connecting flight because there wasn’t enough room for him in cargo — apparently $1,200 doesn’t reserve a spot?  He would be spending the night in Newark’s kennel and arriving in Brussels Saturday morning.  At this point it’s too late to cancel the van driver we hired to bring Joe to pick up Badger (our car isn’t big enough to handle his kennel), so we tip him 40 euros just for showing up and promising to come back next morning.

I go to work freaking out over my dog.  By the way, none of this is including the HOURS I’ve spent on the phone going back and forth booking Badger’s flights, etc. etc.  Luckily I have an international phone plan.

Badger is in Brussels

I’m stressed over the Nor’easter and worried that Badger’s flight will be cancelled.  I call Friday night, my time, it’s still afternoon in Newark to make sure he will indeed be put on the flight.  I’m then told he’s in Brussels.  Imagine my reaction.  I end up being on the phone for almost three hours trying to find out where in Brussels my dog is.  He’s apparently been there all day long.  Around 9 p.m. I’m told we’re just going to have to call in the morning because no one can verify exactly where my dog is.  Cargo in Brussels is telling us they don’t have the dog.  So, yeah we’re beyond belief at this time.

Saturday morning

After calls and hold time, we’re told to go to airport and begin our search for the dog at SwissAir baggage claim.  Brussels airport is packed thanks to weather flight cancellations and delays, so it’s chaotic.  Baggage claim won’t let us in without boarding passes.  The driver acts as our translator as we frantically go from one person to the next before we find a wonderful United employee who went out of her way to find Badger.  It’s almost comical the series of phone calls she went through to find him.  “Yes,” she says to us, “Customs remembers seeing your dog last night.”  Pause, and then, “but oh they don’t know where he is.”

We eventually learn he’s at “the zoo,” an all-animal kennel.  You guys are getting tired reading about all of this, but know it doesn’t end there.  We get to cargo, go into several areas before getting to the right one, and then literally spend an entire day going back and forth like idiotic pinballs going from one place to the next to dole out euros and get papers stamped.  Our driver had to leave, but his company promised to send another one when we were finished.  We arrived 8 a.m., left 4 p.m.

You see because Joe was here more than 5 days and because Badger spent the night in Brussels, Customs went all out on us.  Vet check, data put into some tracking system, etc. etc. cost another 640 euros.  I do have to put in a nice word for the folks at the kennel because they were really kind to us and Badger, and a few of them teared up in the end when we finally got to hug our “little lion,” their nickname for him.

The cost for all the time the driver had to spend with us was also 210 euros.

Badger was so stressed with a scraped nose, but OMG he was happy; we were happy.  He’s doing well.  He totally loves the apartment and city life.  That dog prances the streets of Mons like he’s been doing it all his life.  Separation anxiety is an issue, but we’re hoping it’ll get better.   He no longer freaks out when one of us leaves the room to use the bathroom.  But, we’re looking for doggie sitters so we can do things without him – until we can leave him alone without his howling.

We’re lucky our dog is okay, and we’re getting back the money we spent, but so much of this could have been avoided had the people in baggage, cargo and customer service communicated to each other better.

My opinion is with all the cost cutting, technology mainstreaming companies/governments do they forget the simple act of making sure their different departments/vendors freaking connect with each other.  The reason Petsafe couldn’t verify where Badger was because baggage took him versus cargo, and then he got sent off to kennel, but no one logged it.  No one thought to call the Belgian number listed on the papers on his crate.  Why?  The reason Petsafe didn’t know Badger was put on his original connecting flight was because the plane returned for a technical issue and someone put him on that plane, but no one thought to log it.   Why?

So, maybe this whole pet transportation crisis is a symptom of something much bigger in our society.  In our rush to mainstream we’re forgetting some of the basics.  Or, maybe it’s all just plain effed up.  Who knows?  All I know is Badger is officially now a Belgium hound!


Our dog hitting the parks and pubs like a pro!



Posted on March 16, 2018, in Belgium Year One and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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