Fear of Flying is the name of a book, an anxiety, and a paroxysm that causes every dog breeder’s heart to quake.
The fear is not for ourselves (although some among us may be one of the clench-fisted flyers), but for our beloved pets. Shipping our animals seems to be a necessary evil in our quest for the elusive dream — puppies to new owners, females to be bred, and show dogs to their weekend destinations.
If I have my druthers, the dog is transported by car — although highway statistics are more grim than air disasters. When this isn’t possible, the next best thing is for the dog to be taken on board. In order to do this, he must fit in a crate or container (Sherpa® bags are ideal if the dog is small or a puppy) under the seat. The pup’s home-away-from-home must have absorbent material on the bottom in case of leaks. An extra-large diaper or piddle pad is ideal.
Your dog will need a veterinary health certificate within ten days prior to departure. Puppies must be at least 8 weeks old. Most veterinarians don’t recommend tranquilizing dogs before a flight. Statistics show dogs are safer travelers when not drugged.
When traveling with your dog, inform the flight attendant you have a dog on board. Ask to be notified before takeoff when your dog is loaded.
Most of the time, when traveling great distances, the dog must be shipped. Over the years, I have paced many a floor waiting for the call that the dog has arrived safely, thereby lowering my blood pressure. I’ve also learned a lot of helpful hints to make the experience less traumatic.
First thing on the agenda is a call to the airlines to inquire about schedules. Avoid times of high traffic: holidays or early evening, especially on Fridays. At the same time, ask about estimated cost and whether they have any particular requirements. These change from time to time, and various airlines may have different rules. Most regulations, however, cover all flights.
When temperatures are below 45 degrees, it’s necessary to have a note from your vet stating, “This dog is acclimated to temperatures below 45 degrees.” Dogs cannot and should not be shipped if the temperature at the place of departure or at the destination is above 85 degrees. This, of course, is for their safety, as both the loading area and the cargo’s interior heat to an inferno if a delay occurs on the runway. (Actually, some airlines won’t accept animals in summer.)
Don’t ship your dog if there are more than three animals on the flight. Each uses oxygen, and should a delay occur, you want your animal to have the lion’s share of available air.
Shipping during heat spells can prove problematic. Yet we have shows and do breedings during the summer. The solution can be to ship very early in the morning or late at night. If this isn’t feasible, it’s better to wait for a cooling spell whenever possible. Always keep your dog’s welfare in mind.
My preference is to ship “priority” or counter-to-counter. This means the dog is loaded last into the cargo area and is first off. This method is a bit more pricey, but well worth the extra money, in my opinion. Of course, insurance is a wise precaution — not that money can ever replace a pet.
Shipping out of our local municipal airport would mean a change of planes, which increases the risk of being “misplaced” and additional time spent on the tarmac and in the belly of a plane. So we drive three hours to the nearest major airport and ship to the largest city near the recipient. Non-stops are advised, but if not possible, at least attempt to avoid changing planes or, even more complicated, switching carriers.
When transporting a puppy, accidents happen. Therefore, I use one crate in the car and transfer the pup to a clean crate for the flight. Airlines require a closed crate, with openings on three sides (four for international), rather than open mesh crates. The crate must be large enough for the animal to stand and turn around.
Label the crate with the dog’s call name, your name, address and phone number, and the consignee’s, as well. Tape a bag of food to the top. Show off your dog to the staff. A dog that’s much loved and wags a greeting is more likely to evoke compassion than an unknown beastie who’s crying and yowling. Be friendly and complimentary. A tip won’t hurt. At least you can be sure the people on this end will remember you.
Regulations state that the dog must have eaten and had water within four hours of the flight time. I don’t like to feed my dogs before a trip (especially puppies who are likely to URP anything in their tummies), so when I hug the dog bon voyage and place him in his crate at the terminal, I put a biscuit in one of the required dishes. The other dish is filled with water and frozen, then transported to the airport in a cooler. This way the water doesn’t spill and the ice melts slowly along the way. A safe toy is tucked in for comfort.
The last thing I do is to bungee or duct tape the sides and ends together. Twist the leash through the door grate and vent and then knot. Then, if a bolt should slip, or a hinge loosen, something will hold the crate together.
Shipping to foreign countries is even more agonizing. If the flight’s a long one, the airline may arrange for a boarding kennel to pick up your dog for an overnight stay, a meal, fresh water and a chance to stretch his legs.
A wave goodbye, a tear or two on your part, and he’s off on an adventure that’s as safe as you can make it.
Part of my routine is a required phone call from the person on the other end when the dog safely deplanes. The wait seems interminable. At least we can be thankful there are no dog shows (so far) on the moon.
Chris Walkowicz is an award-winning dog writer. Among her many credits is the Cycle® Fido Woman of the Year Award from the Dog Fanciers Club.
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