My soulmate isn’t going to Korea with me. My husband is, but not my soulmate.
Meet Winston, our 4 year old Golden Retriever. He is so much more than a pet to us. A companion. A playmate. A constant source of happiness and love. Winston seems to be hyper aware of my emotions. He feeds off of my excitement and knows when I need comfort. Because of this, I tease my husband that Winston understands me better than he does; therefore, Jared is the love of my life, but Winston is my soulmate.
Jared and I are a little ridiculous about Winston. Each time we come home, we yell and jump around in excitement that mirrors Winston’s own reaction to our return. We play hide and seek. We sit with Winston at the window and point out people to bark at. We spend enormous amounts of time cuddling. When he was deployed, Jared often mentioned how much he wished Winston could be there with him. I even dedicated my thesis to our best buddy.
So, why are we parting with our beloved pup? It is probably one of the hardest decisions we have made, and we went back and forth on the issue so many times. When we first found out that we would be going to Korea, we just assumed that Winston would join us. It was unfathomable to us to consider leaving him behind. However, as we started looking into the logistics of it, we started to get worried.
First, apparently it takes a long time to get to Korea. Nonstop flights from Atlanta are between 14-17 hours. Stopover flights can take up 38 hours. Since he is a solid 85 pounds, there is no way that Winston could go in the cabin with us. Winston has never flown before, and I hated the thought of his first flight being so long. He was the runt of the litter (when we went to pick him up, all his brothers and sisters jumped on us and Winston went to take a nap), and he is always extremely timid. He’s scared of boxes, bags, loud noises, and has even run in fear from a Dachshund. We knew that he would be scared to be crated, moved around, and hear loud noises. We were worried that he could not psychologically handle it. (We love our dog, but he really is a wimp.) Even if the flight went smoothly, Winston could be quarantined upon arrival. Some friends of ours moved their two pets to Korea recently, and the dogs were put in quarantine for a week simply because a required document was in portrait and not landscape format.
Then there are the physical health risks. Winston has always been in decent health. However, he does get sick more often than I would like. He has allergic reactions a couple times a year and just had bronchitis two months ago. (I was shocked to learn that dogs can get bronchitis!) I was already getting nervous about flying him over when my hair stylist told me about her bulldog dying on their move to Germany (short snout breeds have a higher risk of dying when flying). We found this CNN article about how pet airline travel is improving, but still poses risks. Through their article, we found this sad tale about a beautiful Golden Retriever named Bea. The fact that it was a golden just like Winston made it all the more personal and terrifying.
We researched several pet travel agencies, but they seemed to just help with paperwork on international flights and could not guarantee safety or treatment of the animal. Some dogs just die on airplanes. There is no way to predict how a flight will affect an animal.
We also considered Winston’s quality of life in Korea. We know that we will probably be living in a high-rise with no backyard. We would need to take him out on a leash multiple times a day. There are dog parks at some of the US installations, but we won’t definitively know how close we will be to those few areas. Through reading, we found that the stereotype of dogs being served as food is true, but not exceptionally common. We weren’t too worried about this possibility, but it did make us think about the risks Winston would face if he got away from us. Koreans are more accustomed to small dogs, and Winston’s exuberance when meeting strangers could prove difficult when taking him on walks. We plan to travel a lot in Asia and would need somewhere for Winston to stay. In case you haven’t picked up on how spoiled this creature is, Winston has only stayed in “pet resorts” before, not kennels.
So all of this- his timid nature, health risks, internet horror stories, his life in Korea- led us to the decision to leave Winston with my mother in the United States. We decided that even if there is just a 5% chance that something could happen to our beloved friend, then that is too high of a risk for us to take. Yes, something crazy could happen to him while we are away, but we have made the decision that he will be safer and perhaps happier staying with my mom. Winston will be able to play every day with his best buddy, Buddy, run on an acre of land, and bask in the glory of being a spoiled granddog.
Since I have not yet moved to Korea (Jared is already over there), we have made this decision solely based on our own exhaustive research. There is a lot of information on the web about how to safely transport your pet overseas and many stories of families who have successfully moved their pet. Despite these happy stories, I simply feel that this is the best decision for our family. I am in no way saying that no person should risk taking their own dog to Korea, and I understand that each situation is different. I am incredibly lucky to have someone who loves Winston and us enough to care for him while we are away. Who knows? We may get to Korea and find a way to reunite us with Winston that we feel more comfortable with. Until then, walking through the door to our Korean home just won’t be an exciting event.