I went to the US for two weeks and didn’t blog a bit. My return to Korea has been filled with preparations for the end of the school year, a change of command ceremony, and dog walks.
Yup, dog walks. I was able to have our sweet dog, Winston, join me on my return to Korea. Instead of blogging or taking pictures of Korea, I’ve been cuddling and taking selfies with my dog. Priorities. It was a huge relief to finally get Winston over here with us. We spent a year without him, and Jared and I have both missed him terribly. We decided to bring him over for several reasons. It was no longer the best option for my mother to watch him; we now have a better understanding of our neighborhood and living arrangements for a large dog, and we just wanted our dog with us.
I worked on bringing him over for several months. I was so anxious about something going wrong that I did not tell many people of my plans. I scoured the internet for information; I talked with other pet owners; I sobbed on the phone to at least three airline representatives. I wasn’t sure that it was going to happen until I got through the final customs check point. Even though Winston is currently asleep at my feet, it still seems unbelievable.
As happy as I am that Winston is here with me now, I must admit that the past few months have been pure hell. I know that my personal issues with planning, perfection, and over-protective nature to Winston did not make the process easier. All I wanted was an easy answer, a guide, a confirmation that everything would work out. I never got it. Though I know that not every situation is the same, and that sometimes the rules seem to vary from person to person, I want to share my experience in hopes that it helps someone else in the future.
First, there are very particular requirements regarding vets and paperwork when importing a dog into Korea. It was pretty confusing a first, but going over everything again and again made it easier for me once I arrived in Korea. Three papers are needed when you bring a dog into Korea: a health certificate (aka a pet passport), a FAVN report, and a rabies vaccination certificate (all must be originals). Seems simple, right?
My main problem with getting Winston to Korea is his size. He’s 95 pounds of love (though I’m hoping with diet and exercise that 95 pounds will go down). It’s impossible for him to fly in the cabin, so I was left with two options: excess baggage or cargo. With these two methods, Winston would be transported in the same area of the plane; it would only change the process. From my research, it was clear to me that excess baggage was the preferred method. I would be able to check him in at the passenger terminal, and he would be delivered to me in baggage claim. As a cargo shipment, he would have to be dropped off and picked up at the cargo terminal, separate from where I would be checking in. If he shipped as cargo, my plane would have to arrive in Korea before 4 pm Monday-Thursday. If we arrived later or on a weekend, I would not be able to take him home until the customs office opened. I did not want to fly him as cargo and risk not being able to take him home immediately.
I started calling to book flights. There is a military travel agent, SATO, that books flights for personnel and dependents. As I was not actually PCSing, just going on a a vacation, SATO would not book a pet reservation for me. I researched flight schedules, airport hubs, and airline policy. I made at least twenty phone calls to airlines within a week. I would wake up at 4:45 to to accommodate the time difference and give myself plenty of time to make calls before going into work. Sometimes I would call the same airline with the same question in hopes of getting different answers (I did get different answers, but the same results.) I called United Airlines; the routes from Tennessee to Seoul had multiple stops (which I wished to avoid for both mine and Winston’s sakes) and had outrageously expensive pet fees. American Airlines informed me that they would not put pets on flights over 12 hours, and all the flights to Seoul exceeded that limit. Korean Air will not fly pets over 70 pounds. Delta is often cooperated with Korean Air. Delta direct flights from Atlanta to Seoul were all managed by Korean Air; thus the 70 pounds limit and that option was closed to me. As I was flying from the eastern US, I found only one option available. If I could get to Detroit, Winston and I could fly straight from Detroit to Seoul on Delta. Since it was out of Detroit, not Atlanta, the flight would be operated by Delta and Winston’s weight would not be an issue.
However, they really wanted to fly him cargo. I really did not want that. The flight from Detroit arrived late in the evening, meaning that if Winston flew cargo, I would not be able to have him leave the airport until the following morning. I was nervous enough about having him travel for 24 hours; I did not want to have to leave him in a crate for another 12. So, I kept researching. I kept calling. Through multiple conversations I realized that I had one final card I could play. What is the whole reason I am in Korea? The Army. I generally avoid bringing up my dependent status; I don’t feel I warrant special treatment simply because Jared serves. I made another call to Delta and spoke the magic words: “military waiver.” I don’t know if there really is a waiver. I don’t know what it entails if there is one. All I know is that Winston was on the flight, booked as excess baggage, and I got a discount.
I couldn’t fly from Tennessee directly to Detroit, because the planes on that route were not large enough to accommodate Winston’s crate. Instead, my mother and I drove from Tennessee to Atlanta the day before my flight. Winston and I flew from Atlanta to Detroit and then on to Seoul.
There were, of course, many more obstacles and considerations.
Winston did great on the flights. He seemed in good spirits when he was brought to me at Incheon Airport. I had to go to a special service counter and wait about 20 agonizing minutes while airline staffers went to retrieve my retriever. The customs/quarantine inspection went very smoothly (and I must say it was in part due to my intense preparation.) I handed over the health certificate, FAVN report, rabies certificate, and my passport, and then I had to take Winston out of his crate to have his microchip scanned. The only holdup was waiting on another traveler who was going through the same process. We had one more checkpoint to go through, but his paperwork was not in order (I wanted to throttle him for making us wait). Finally, Winston and I were escorted out of the baggage area, and suddenly we were home. Together.
This post has taken forever to write. I found that it was much more enticing to enjoy the fact that Winston is here than to write about the process. It was painful enough the first time around that I was not very excited to relive it through writing. (This is the same reason that I never wrote about our move to Korea. I wanted to forget.)
I never could have accomplished this on my own. I am incredibly grateful to those who helped me along the way. My mother, for caring for Winston for a year and making countless visits to the vet. Ginger, at Parkway Animal Hospital in Sevierville, who dealt with my incessant questions and worked tirelessly to make sure my paperwork was in order. Gina, at The First Class Pet in Seoul, even though she was not getting my business she still answered questions and provided resources. My dear friend Krystle, who provided encouragement, suggestions, surrogate puppies, her magicJack phone line, and met Winston and I at the airport. Cindy, a Delta employee in Detroit, who helped me when she didn’t need to. My Papaw, who put together Winston’s crate and my uncle Brad, who inspected it and gave me travel tips. Paws across the Peninsula Facebook page for their advice and forms. And, Winston, who made all the work all worth it.