Monday, January 13, 2014

Miss Fira and "Mr Big Eyes" make it to Huntingdon

With a few emotional hiccups behind us, we finally arrived to Huntingdon to check-in to our temporary cottage for the next month. After leaving Tacoma, we were right on schedule with stopping by my parents' to switch our luggage for the crates in time to drop the dogs off the required 4 hours prior to departure at the British Airways World Cargo center. The plan was after dropping the dogs off, I would be able to spend an hour or so with my Grandpa (who lives near the airport) and help him setup his Skype account while Jason drove back to my parents' to pick them up with the rest of our luggage. It all sounded perfect in theory. We were also feeling very calm and confident about the dogs traveling at this point.

When we showed up to the World Cargo office, we were told by the agents that Fira's crate was not tall enough for her height and that she needed at least three inches above her head for room. If you only knew just how much research, time, and money I had put into making sure I had found the perfect crates and accessories for our dogs. Both Fira and Dexter had the best crates for travel - I even ordered special metal hardware to replace the plastic hardware as well as hand release zip ties for the doors. I had also used the specific British Airways "crate calculator" on their website and verified the dimensions of the crates when I booked their tickets. Needless to say, we were absolutely shocked and in a state of panic when she told us this. The words "your dog will be left behind" were devastating to us. Not only would she have to arrive separately, but we would have to redo all of her departure-date-sensitive vaccinations. To make matters worse, there was another dog who had already been checked in who was essentially the same size as Fira with the same sized crate. I was outraged by these inconsistencies. Unfortunately, in this stressful moment, I let my temper get the best of me and said some words and behaved in such a way that I am a bit ashamed of. I felt like a Mom standing up for her kids.

So...after hearing a few unrealistic suggestions by the agents (who were not very friendly btw) we went with the option that sounded the most viable. They said we had 15 min to figure it out so they could get the weight and dimensions entered into the system. I called Petsmart in a panic and asked them to put on hold the largest travel crate they had. Jason drove like a maniac at unthinkable speeds and ran into the store to purchase this crate that was made for a 90-120 lb dog. Fira is only 65 lbs! This crate looked like it was made for a Great Dane. Meanwhile, my parents were on their way to the cargo center to meet us with our luggage. In the pouring down rain, my sister, Dad and Jason frantically put together the new crate while my Mom and I were inside the building trying to comfort Dexter and Fira and keep them quiet. They had definitely picked up on our distress and were feeling very uneasy themselves. Even though the crate wasn't completely assembled yet, I begged the agent to go ahead and enter an estimated weight of Fira's new crate in order to get their numbers in the system for boarding. Luckily, she agreed and confirmed that they would make it on the plane. At this point, it was 3:45 and the baggage drop for our flight was closing in 15 min.

We rushed to drop our bags and finally had a chance to breathe and say goodbye to my parents. On a positive note, because we had all been so emotional at the cargo center, our goodbyes were very light-hearted with lots of laughs and talks of plans to visits (If you know my family, this is rare. We are all a bunch of emotional criers).

Even though the agents confirmed the dogs would make it on the plane, it was a weird feeling to suspend control of the situation and have faith in the process. When we arrived at the gate, we were able to speak with the cargo agent who works for British and is on the receiving end of the process. He told us "the black one and Mr big eyes" had safely made it on, their crates were secure, and they had two other canine friends down there with them. What a relief!!

The flight was uneventful and went by fast. Immediately after landing, we looked out our window and saw the crates coming down the conveyer belt to exit the plane. We even saw the cargo agents pour water into their attached bowls. It was quite funny to see little Dexter's crate sandwiched between three other monster sized crates. Dexter is extremely fearful of large dogs, so this must have been the ultimate test of bravery for him.

We picked up our luggage, quickly made it through cutoms, and even had our visas stamped without the agent noticing my misspelled middle name! Another relief!

The red suitcase is packed full of dog treats, Dexter's sweaters, and some of their old food in order to properly mix it with their new British food.

We picked up our rental car and Jason had his first experience driving on the wrong side of the road while using his left hand to operate a stick shift. More on that in another post...

Our flight arrived at 12:20 and after picking up our luggage and rental car, we got to the Animal Reception Centre at about 3. When we checked in with the staff, they informed us that Fira and Dexter had arrived there safely from the terminal, were out of their crates, and had been given food and water. Another relief! However, moments later, another staff member came out into the waiting area to inform us that our vet had only indicated the rabies manufacturer and serial number, but had forgotten the product type. Who knew there were different products of rabies vaccinations? This seemed like a quick fix - they just needed to call our vet back home and ask them to fax the info over. Except for the time difference. It was now 7:30 back home, and even though the technicians were able to get the new paperwork together, our vet wasn't arriving to sign off on it until 9. So...more waiting. It was so difficult to know that Fira and Dexter were in the same building as us but we couldn't see them. As we sat in the waiting area with other people waiting for their animals, it was amazing to see not only the extensive hoops people jump through for their animals, but also the level of scrutiny and extreme detail the UK takes in inspecting each animal's health certificates. And as each family reunited with their animals, I couldn't help but tear up. I had butterflies in my stomach and was so nervous and excited to see them. Finally, at about 5:30, they informed us they would be bringing them out on their leads. With her tail wagging and her usual spring in her step, Fira came running up to us and gave us tons of kisses. Dexter was very scared and didn't recognize us at first. Once I picked him up, he started to relax a bit and let me scratch his belly. All in all, it took a solid 5 hours from the time of arrival for our dogs to get released.

Just as we were leaving, a group of men arrived to retrieve horses who had just arrived from New Zealand!

We made a quick stop to pick up a bite to eat and were on the road to Huntingdon. After getting lost and having to back track a couple of times, we finally arrived at about 9:30. The dogs snored the whole way there. 

The back of the car included 4 suitcases, 2 disassembled dog crates, and a sleeping spot for Fira.

Even though we were exhausted, hungry, and desperately needed showers, it was such a great feeling to have the four of us together again - ready to conquer this new adventure together.

***Disclaimer: The agents at the World Cargo office at SeaTac do not work directly for British Airways, but instead a separate contracted company. I was beyond impressed with service we received from the direct employees of British Airways.***


  1. Waaaah! So stressful!! Glad everything worked out okay in the end. That's so nuts they gave you a hard time about the crate at the airport!

    Looking forward to reading more and seeing pictures of your cottage! :)

  2. I am super duper happy you're doing the blog! What a nightmare with the crate. Glad the whole family made it safe and sound. My dad learned to drive stick while in England, and it was quite hairy! Wrong side of the road + wrong side of the car + stick = bad news.

  3. Loving being able to read about your adventure. U do a wonderful job of "blogging". Miss and love all 4 of you!