Monday, March 24, 2014

Bringing a dog home from Honduras: Hard lessons learned

  Maybe one day you’re going to find yourself somewhere in Honduras thinking, hey, here I am in a country with way too many sick, underfed dogs, and I’d like to find at least one of them a great new home in Canada.
    And with that one little thought, the grand and costly adventure will have begun.
    I must admit, bringing White Dog home seemed destined. We've been feeding a variety of dogs during our two-plus years in Copan Ruinas, but White Dog appeared out of nowhere for the first time a couple of days before one of my daughters and her husband arrived for a visit in January, and the three of them instantly hit it off. Unlike a lot of the other street dogs here, who really love their wandering lives, White Dog seemed done with the entire business and eager to shift into a more domesticated life. Why not, we all said.
   So I went on-line and started looking for information on airline web sites. United is the airline we’ve used the most for flights back and forth to Canada since we came here, and information on the United site about the company’s PetSafe program seemed pretty thorough. It looked like the rate for a dog of White Dog’s size in the (giant) kennel required by the airline would be around $289 – pricey, I thought, but not impossible. United also got back to my email requests for more information, unlike Delta and American Airlines.
   United’s initial information was wrong, mind you, and I would eventually come to see that what was on their site wasn't even remotely thorough and in fact was downright misleading. But in those halcyon days of January when I did not yet know just how little I knew, choosing United seemed logical.
   I quickly learned that while there was quite a bit of information about PetSafe on the site, getting particulars for booking a specific dog on a specific plane was like pulling teeth. I didn’t really get why it was going so badly until I got in touch with a Facebook acquaintance who’d been through the experience of shipping a dog from Honduras to Canada, who told me Honduras requires the use of animal brokers. He sent me a contact for Rex Internacional, which United uses.
   In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to the teeny notice on the United PetSafe rate page that says “Note: Additional fees may apply in countries that require the use of animal brokers.” But isn’t that just always the way with hindsight? At any rate, never in my wildest imaginings would a passing aside about “additional fees” lead me to think that it would increase the rate quoted on the United site by 140%.
   But I’m getting ahead of myself. While waiting for more information on how to ship White Dog, I got started on the veterinary processes. We live in Copan Ruinas, which has no veterinarian, so the first step was an eight-hour return bus ride for me and White Dog to San Pedro Sula to visit a vet who knew all the steps to meet airline requirements. Canada’s requirements turned out to be surprisingly simple - a current rabies vaccination – but the airline needed things like a health certificate dated within 10 days of your flight and an export permit (really?) from the Honduran government.
   Price for vet services, export permit, and one month of antibiotic treatment for a tick disease we discovered White Dog had: $250. Add another $28 for the round trip bus ride to and from San Pedro, as I had to buy White Dog her own bus ticket. But hey, I was still thinking that the airfare was $289, so I remained calm.
   Now, the kennel. The airline wants the dog to be comfortable, so you need to pick a kennel according to a set of measurements based on the dog’s size. I thought we could save $200 for a new kennel by having my youngest daughter bring a used kennel with her when she came to visit us this month, not fully understanding just how big and awkward a Kennel 500 can be. We could have gotten away with the smaller Kennel 400, as it turned out, but at least White Dog now has a doggie condo to relax in for her flight.
   As things went, that too was a much more hassle-filled endeavor than I had anticipated, and Houston airport actually threatened my daughter with having to pay $200 to ship the kennel here because it was oversize (a kinder agent stepped in and resolved the crisis). I make a point of not saying “You would think” anymore, because that’s a very clear sign that a person is not adjusting to Honduran culture, but really, wouldn’t you think United might consider renting the damn kennels?
   Anyway. So early March comes and I'd now been in email correspondence for six weeks with the Rex Internacional and United folk, and had had the dog vaccinated, treated for her tick disease, organized the kennel journey and booked our own flights back to Canada. I send another email to Rex Internacional confirming that all is a go, and they finally tell me the total price: $805. It is not overly dramatic to say that I thought I was going to throw up. I mean, not only is that way, way higher than my daughter or I were planning for, it is a truly embarrassing amount for two volunteers to pay to bring a dog home from an impoverished country where $805 is many people’s annual income. It is almost $200 more than our own tickets cost us.
   Not only that, but they would only fly her to Vancouver, not Victoria. So we would now be arriving at midnight in Vancouver with a dog, unable to use our tickets to Victoria and with no transport to get the three of us to Victoria. 
   But by this time, almost 2 months had passed since White Dog started hanging around. We had moved into full-on domestication. This dog was a pet, pure and simple. I couldn't have lived with myself if we’d just abandoned her to her Copan fate at that point. We were totally over a barrel.
   I did my best, sending Rex Internacional a note that made it very clear that we were devastated and angry. I CC’d high-ups in United. It helped a little: Rex acknowledged they’d made an error of $110 by charging us for 2 dogs in the kennel (even though I’d filled out a form stating there was only one). But United didn’t budge. I sulked for a few days, but then confirmed with my daughter that we were all still committed, and booked the flight for $695. Which is still more than our own tickets.
   Add it all up and we’re basically at $1,000. The kennel ended up costing $40 for my daughter to bring as a second piece of baggage. Plus it got cracked somewhere along the way, so add in maybe another $30 to fix it. And then there will be the cost of private transport for getting the dog and her condo-kennel to San Pedro, as not even the most tender-hearted bus driver is going to let us lug that huge thing onto a crowded local bus. I’m not even sure it would fit through the door.
   Call me suspicious, but I have a strong feeling that the costs aren't fully tallied yet. I've been joking with my daughter that we should rename the new family member Golden Dog. Thanks to Facebook, though, we do now have transport to Victoria after a kind-hearted person who I don't even know that well said she was going to be in Vancouver on April 2 and would come pick us up. 
    But it’s all just money, isn’t it? White Dog only has to make that little extended-paw gesture of hers that always makes me smile, and all is forgiven. As for Rex Internacional and United Airlines – well, that might take a little longer.  


Barbara said...

You have a big heart, Jody! I love that you guys have made a little soul very happy.

Unknown said...

You are such a wonderful Soul Jody and Truly from a distance,seem to have tapped into your limitless potential as a human being,to give,love,help,serve,create and just Be a Joy and Blessing to All Peoples and Creatures Great and Small and simply in your way brighten Sooo many days and nights such a beautiful natural pure way!! I wish You as many blessings and thank you for constantly blowing my mind with just how much good you can put out there,without ever seeming tapped out or drained by it,quite the opposite! more fired up! Wow and Welcome back to Canada! <3

Anonymous said...

Ah, the joys of international travel with pets - we brought our dog and cat with us to Europe from Canada.

You may be interested to know you require an export permit when taking pets out of Canada too - from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, no less!

That reminds me, White Dog will have to be cleared by the CFIA for import when you arrive in Canada.

This is a wonderful thing you are doing and I wish you all the best of luck on your return home.


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A stand up comic could write an entire routine out of this story. Hope Whitey is enjoying his new climate.

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