Saturday, October 3, 2009

Unconditional Love

I am a dog person. I love them, grew up with them and our family life would be very different without our faithful canine Kenda. Our kids are crazy about her. She is an 80lb yellow lab, I swear she sheds half her body weight everyday (born-to-shed dogs as one of my friends said), thinks everyone that comes to our house is there to play with her and is as sweet as can be – the last part is what pretty much saves her doggy butt day in and day out and is why we couldn’t imagine coming to Japan without her. Remember that email that requested volunteers for Peds billets back in March of 2008? Well, I made the appointment at our vet the next day to start the paperwork process – not even knowing whether we would ultimately have order to go overseas.

We had been told by numerous friends that bringing a dog to Japan was a nightmare. It requires 6 months of quarantine and flight arrangements that would give you ulcers. Some of it lived up to the warnings but thankfully not all. I had more paperwork on our dog coming to Japan than all 3 of our children combined. I’m not kidding.

People who have pets and are stationed Japan make all sorts of arrangements to get their pets here. They come ahead and leave the animal behind with friends or relatives while they work their way through the 6 month process – and then they either fly back to get the pet or they have them put on a plane unaccompanied and cross their fingers that “it’ll all work out.” We had heard too many nightmare scenarios about unaccompanied pets on flights and I knew one thing for sure there was no way I was going on that flight half way around the world again – so come hell or high water Kenda was coming with us.

It’s not like I was trying to process Kenda to Japan totally blind – I did have a 10 page document that is available from the Japan District Veterinary Command and it does outline what you are supposed to have completed prior to having your pet enter the country. Here is the rundown:

  1. Dog has to have an AVID Microchip. $$$
  2. First inactivated rabies vaccine with AVID Microchip number noted on Rabies Certificate $$
  3. At least 30 days later second Inactivated rabies booster vaccine administered. $$
  4. At least 30 days after rabies booster vaccine a FAVN blood test is sent off to one of only 2 facilities in the U.S. $$
  5. 40 days prior to entry into Japan you must notify the Japanese Govt with the “Notification for Import of Dogs” – with a Flight Number and arrival date (remember this detail in future blog entry).
  6. No more than 10 days prior to arrival in Japan you are required to obtain a USDA Certification. This entails several steps and since we were in transit between leaving Norfolk and flying out of Atlanta within this 10-day time frame it was a bit more complicated. Our vet in Norfolk, Dr. Gerlach, had been working with us to get Kenda overseas – and for all he helped me through this process I will be forever grateful. He filled out the forms Quarantine Form A, Quarantine Form C 1/2 and 2/2 so that the vet in Atlanta would only have to do a final clinical examination 3 days prior to our departure to meet the USDA requirements. $$$

Parents – you’re never too old to need them

Let me just put this right out there – I have great parents. Even though I suspect that my mom secretly wished that somehow this whole overseas move would fall apart right up until the moment we set foot on the plane, my parents never said a word (at least to me) and instead offered to help me in any way they could. Even offered to take care of Kenda while I was trying to get us packed out of Norfolk. That’s huge when you haven’t had a dog for 20+ years and your home always looks like Southern Living is stopping by for a photo shoot (I think Jeff continually wonders how I missed out on that gene pool trait). I bet they are still trying to dehair the place. The game plan was for my dad to take Kenda to the vet we had taken all of our dogs to when I was growing up, for her final clinical examination. This was taking place while I was temporarily homeless traveling through the state of Virginia picking up kids from various summer camps making my way to Atlanta. Upon arrival in Georgia I would go to the USDA office, 2 days before our flight, with all of the above forms in hand to get the final precious piece of paperwork with the official embossed stamp that would allow Kenda to come with us – the U.S. Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals.

Best Laid Plans …

The USDA office in Atlanta is in Conyers – not exactly around the corner from where my parents live. It’s a trek. Not having been out that way in years, my dad offers to go with me and as it turns out this was a very good thing. We arrive at our scheduled appointment time, with documentation in hand feeling quite sure that all was right with the world. I’d double/triple checked the forms, taken the paperwork to the Vet Clinic on base in Norfolk for them to review, had 2 different vets helping me get all the information in the correct boxes. So I confidently handed over the paperwork thinking great, I can check this off my list, we’re outta here and I’m already mentally figuring out what the next thing is I have to do before our flight leaves in 48 hours when Meta the USDA clerk said “I have bad news (this is where I got that really awful sinking feeling in my stomach and she sounded like she was talking from the other end of a very long dark tunnel) – two of the items on the forms are incorrect and we cannot process your dogs paperwork.” Not exactly what I was hoping to hear and that was probably about the time that all the stress of the last 7 months hit me like a train engine. I just lost it. There was not a thing I could do to hold back the tidal wave of tears.

So a couple of notable things happen here 1) Meta is a government worker but stop right there – I know what you’re thinking … but she is not the stereotypical government worker - she is really, really nice and she is my USDA Angel. She could have said “sorry, your problem, you fix it, make another appointment, neeeeexxxxt” but instead she actually helps me. She in fact goes out of her way to help me and by a stroke of good luck she points out that this is all fixable – the vet in Norfolk flipped around the information for one of the rabies vaccines on Form C 1/2 (they all have to match) and the vet in Atlanta signed a document in the wrong place on Form C 2/2. She contacts the vet in Norfolk to have them fax a corrected Form C 1/2 – which thank goodness the USDA can accept a fax – while my dad helps take care of the correcting the second form – which has to be an original signature. 2) One of my dad’s great traits is that he’s a “fixer” – he’s the type of person when something is broken he can figure out a way to make it right. He’s also not one to overreact to much of anything – and so my dad pretty much takes over, asks how we can fix this and tells me not to worry – we’ll get it straightened out. This is exactly what I need to hear – snaps me back to reality and we set off to head back half way around the city of Atlanta to Dunwoody to get the vet there to sign Form C 2/2 in the correct spot. My dad then drives the original back to Conyers to get the USDA Health Certificate while my mom drives down to pick me up so that I can go back to their house where I continue to repack all the kids bags after defunking them from the various camps.

“So, what are you doing?”

In the middle of driving around Atlanta I get a call from Jeff – from Japan. It is always a red flag for me when he starts off a phone call “so what are you doing?” … I know it’s not going to be good whatever it is. I’m never quite sure what he wants to hear … “oh, nothing, I’m just sitting around waiting for your call so I have something to do” vs “I’m in the middle of cleaning toilets, unloading the dishwasher that the kids forgot to unload this morning and cleaning up dog poo because the kids forgot to do a poop sweep yesterday.” Whatever it is he’s hoping to hear, I already know what I’m going to hear – I’ll need to stop what ever I’m in the middle of and take care of something now. It seems that some paperwork that was required to have our car put in storage was not submitted – could I fax the information IMMEDIATELY to the POV (Personal Owned Vehicle) office in Norfolk? Otherwise our car would not be able to be put in storage for the three years we’ll be in Japan. You’re kidding me right? Let me take care of that just as soon as I evacuate my parents home because of a fire …

Gee that siren seems awfully close

Mom and I arrive back at their home, while my sister is picking up my three kids to get them out of my way so I can continue the pack out. My room looks like it imploded. There are piles everywhere. Clean clothes folded and stacked on the bed – organized by child. Boyscout packbacks in the hall, crammed with the boys gear from scout camp. A very large dog crate, with stickers/flight information/documents taped to 4 sides, sitting in their dining room. 4 carry on bags line a wall. 8 suitcases sit open waiting for me to continue to stuff belongings into. Laptop is open and sitting on the floor and that’s where the story picks up – I’m attempting to send off the info to the POV office and Jeff but it’s not working - my parents have been having problems with their internet server ever since I arrived. I am sitting there basically swearing at the computer while I’m trying yet again to get connected when I hear sirens, and then loud knocking, and then Kenda is going nuts barking and then my mom yells to me “Jane, we have to get out - there’s a fire in the units next door!”

They say fires move very quickly, but I’d never actually been near one, up close and personal. It was astounding just how quickly the three units next to my parents went up in flames. They live in a small community with the units attached in groups of three – they were lucky, it was the next grouping over from them but there’s not much space separating the units and as a safety precaution the fire department had us evacuate. My mom and I are standing with Kenda watching as three fire engines, an ambulance, an emergency vehicle all pull into their small complex with a news helicopter circling overhead. As the flames are leaping from the roof in the unit next door (no I’m not being dramatic – they really were) I looked at my mom and said I’m getting all my bags. Mostly I just wanted to make sure I had my paperwork for Kenda, our tickets and our passports. I ran in pulling all our bags out onto the lawn and then there was not much we could do except sit and watch and hope that the firemen would be able to contain the fire which thankfully for my parents they did. And the folk living in those units – they were very fortunate they all got out safely but sadly their units were destroyed.

Signed and sealed

My dad returns from a marathon day of driving around the perimeter of Atlanta with the critical piece of paper the U.S. Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals in hand. Signed and sealed. It was a beautiful thing. Kenda is coming with us but she has no idea what’s headed her way, a 17-hour flight trapped inside a crate. That’s the thing about dogs, they are faithful and love their families unconditionally. They trust us to do the right thing for them, even if it means forcing them to go inside basically a box with air holes. I had a great sense of responsibility for her – I’d called United Airlines three separate times to make sure all was squared away. I’d gotten some drugs for her to make sure she slept for most of the flight and wouldn’t be scared. There were only two hurdles left – for safety reasons the airlines will not fly the dogs when the temperature is over 85 degrees so I was praying for cool weather in Atlanta at the end of July. The second hurdle would be once we arrived in Japan – all paperwork needed to be in perfect order or they would not accept her into the country. As you may have gathered so far … nothing about this move went smoothly. So stay tuned – does Kenda make the flight? How fast can mom run in heels? Did the car make it to storage? Check in for the next blog entry as I try to wrap up the Cleary Moving Odyssey.

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