REUNITED

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.

WinstonAs 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?

  • FAVN Report. AKA “Rabies Titer.” I don’t really understand this test, but it is a necessity. It has something to do with making sure the animal doesn’t have rabies, or antibodies to rabies. I think. This part of the process took the most amount of time. Winston and I are very lucky to have had my mom and an amazing vet office help us make sure we got everything done on time. A sample must be drawn from the animal and sent to the only lab in the US that does this test- Kansas State University. Results take 3-4 weeks to process. The FAVN paperwork must include the animal’s microchip number. Korea only accepts animals with the 15 digit microchip (ISO compliant). Winston already had a microchip, but it was not the internationally recognized 15 digit one. Therefore, he had to get a new microchip before the FAVN test was completed. The FAVN paperwork is returned with a sticker indicating the titer level. Winston’s was >/=6.01IU/mL. Proving that you don’t always have to know what’s going on to get things done.
  • Health Certificate. This is APHIS Form 7001 (Nov 2010). (Make sure to print it in landscape format.) It must be filled out by a USDA accredited veterinarian. It must include the results of the FAVN test. It must be signed in blue ink. It must include the pet’s microchip number. It must be dated within 10 days of arriving in Korea. I had my vet list every recent test and result on there so as to have as much information as possible. I visited Winston’s vet a week prior to our flight. We filled out the form, and then I had to send it overnight to the USDA office in Nashville along with $121.00. I included a prepaid overnight envelope for the paperwork to be returned to me. When I sent the health certificate, I had to include the original FAVN results and rabies certificate. It was all returned to me quickly. The health certificate returned with a stamp and signature of a USDA veterinarian.
  • Rabies Vaccination Certificate. I don’t believe there is a standard form for this. However, it does need to have the vet’s signature in blue ink.

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.

Winston 2However, 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.

    • Delta, and many other airlines, have a heat embargo from May 15-September 15. No pets can fly between these dates. My flight was on May 14.
    • If the temperature at any of the cities I was flying in exceeded 85˚ while we were there, then Winston would not be allowed to depart.
    • Winston’s crate was the maximum size allowed to fly as excess baggage: 40″x27″x30″. (I purchased the Sky Kennel XL from the AAFES website and was very happy with the quality.) Upon seeing that Winston had put on some weight in my absence, I was terrified that there was a weight limitation that he would exceed. I was informed that the crate could be “over 100 pounds as long as the crate was not over 97 linear inches.” This seemed strange because they wouldn’t allow a crate that big anyway.
    • Winston’s crate had to have holes on all four sides, all metal hardware, and zip ties for the door. It had to include “Live Animal” stickers on the top and sides and a form indicating when he was last fed. It also had to have a food and water container accessible to the outside. I had to show TSA agents that he could fully stand up, sit, and lay down in the crate. (During one of these demonstrations, Winston felt the need to lick a TSA agent. I thought that was very kind of him because I suspect they don’t get a lot of love from travelers.)
    • I outfitted Winston’s crate with his bed, a peanut butter filled Kong, a squeaky toy, and a water bowl. I froze a water bottle and poked holes in it before the flight. It fit snugly into collapsible water bowl that we use when hiking with Winston. As it melted it released water into Winston’s bowl; this method provided Winston with water for the duration of his travel. The oversized baggage worker (He worked with oversized baggage and was not himself oversized) said that he had not seen that before and that it was not only allowed, but a very good idea.
    • I had to secure food and a leash to his crate so that he could be fed and let out. However, I was able to do this myself in Detroit. It took at least a dozen people to make it happen, but I was able to care for Winston during my three hour layover. There were phone calls and conflicting directions, but I made it to the baggage service desk where I was told that I would not have enough time to see Winston. Dejected, I stopped by the closest restroom before returning to my gate. As I exited the restroom, there was the man who just told me that I wouldn’t have time and a baggage worker with a very large crate. The baggage worker was arguing, “but she has to get him! I can’t recheck him! You have to find her!” It was me! And there was my Winston! I was given directions on where to take Winston so he could relieve himself, but I guess I looked terrified and the employee took pity on me. He escorted me through corridors and outside. Winston was too delighted with his adventure to do anything productive like eat, drink, or pee. I had to take him back in and recheck him, and then go through security myself. (TSA Precheck lines are awesome!)

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.

MAY: 31 IN 31
CHANGES

10 Comments

  1. Reply
    sandy gardner 24 May, 2014

    What a great entry. Why doesn’t some enterprising person create a company that specializes in relocating pets for expats?

    • Reply
      Bethany 26 May, 2014

      There is a company here that helps people leaving Korea, and I’m saving their info for the future!

  2. Reply
    Joyce Rutherford 24 May, 2014

    GREAT shot of Winston in the iris. Glad everything worked out for the two (three) of you.

    • Reply
      Bethany 26 May, 2014

      Thanks, Joyce! I was actually just trying to get pictures of the flowers, but Winston kept prancing around!

  3. Reply
    brad 25 May, 2014

    I am so glad that Winston made it over with you and everything is fine. Now you know what to look forward to when you guys leave Korea and go somewhere else.
    More photos of Winston please.

    • Reply
      Bethany 26 May, 2014

      Thanks again for your help! And forget Korea! I’ll turn this blog into “More Than a Dog: The Winston Chronicles.”

  4. Reply
    knitwgrace 1 June, 2014

    I love this photo of Winston! He looks so happy to be here! And I must say, I’m stressed out just reading this!!!!

    • Reply
      Bethany 1 June, 2014

      Isn’t he photogenic?! The process doesn’t seem nearly as bad now that it is over; I am actively trying to forget how stressful it was!

  5. Reply
    Liz Ogle 2 June, 2014

    Bless both your hearts. Your blog made me CRY! I could actually feel the agonizing you went through to get your baby home. Great writing and I hope Winston realizes how lucky he is to have a great mom and dad like you and Jared are. Sorry you had to go through so much tho baby. <3

    • Reply
      Bethany 2 June, 2014

      We’re making up for lost cuddles now! Happy and whole :)

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