Getting our dog to Okinawa was a big deal for our family. I am assuming that it is a BIG deal for any family who is making the effort, and I am here to share my experience. Some background (in case your interested). My husband and I never had children, and we did not get our dog until we had been married for 19 years. He has done nothing but bring us joy.
I had very few responsibilities aligned with the move to Okinawa; moving myself and the dog here was pretty much my only responsibility. Because getting him to Okinawa was my only responsibility, I took on that pressure in a big way. If you didn’t read last week’s blog, it shares our family’s over-all moving experience. This week, I am focusing on the dog.
A little about Gus. We adopted Gus from a shelter in Oceanside, CA in April 2017. At the time, we knew we wanted a dog, knew we were moving to Washington D.C., and we knew that we should find a dog in the 40 pound range. Well, I never had a pet. My family’s only dog entered into the family a couple of months before I left for college, so I know nothing about dogs. When I found Gus, I had no idea what 40 pounds really meant, I just knew that I loved him from the moment I laid eyes on him. When I brought my husband to the shelter to meet him, his first thought was “this dog weighs more than 40 pounds, but I not saying anything that may have Mona second guessing her decision.” He weighed in at 74 pounds, and by March 2019, he was weighing in at 87 pounds of pure muscle, and I would bet he is over 90 pounds now. When I say that I don’t know what a 40 pound dog looks like, I obviously had NO idea what a 40 pound dog looks like.
The three of us have traveled all over the United States together, but in the summer of 2018, I was expected to transport this precious cargo across a vast ocean, to another country, with rules and regulations set forth by the other country and by the military. To say that I was overwhelmed is an understatement. Sometimes my attention to detail is spot-on. Sometimes, I think that the details derail you from efficiency so I don’t worry about them. However, when “they” say forms need to be signed with a blue pen instead of a black pen, what seems like a silly detail can in fact keep your pet stateside. Every detail is important when trying to reunite my entire family, to include the dog. This site gives you the step-by-step instructions to prep your dog for a move from the US to Japan: USDA APHIS | Pet travel from the U.S. to Japan.
We began the process of getting Gus ready for the move before we even had official orders. We figured that he would need a rabies shot soon anyway, so we went ahead and made the initial vet appointment to get his rabies shot, and we made sure that the vet signed all the paperwork with a blue pen. Then, I found the closest military base in order to get his rabies titer test. I have no idea what this test is, but I know that Gus had to get it, and then we had to wait 180 days to close this loop. Once we knew when the 180 days would come to an end, we knew the earliest possible date that he could fly to Japan. From there, we counted back 90 days (90 days is the earliest that IPAC would allow us to book flights.) By this time, we had orders, and on the morning 90 days prior to our open-window-of-opportunity to move to Japan, we went to IPAC to get our flight spots. We were determined to get him on the Patriot (the military flight from Seattle to Okinawa). If you have orders prior to 90 days out, I recommend that you do what you need to do to get your Marine to IPAC on that date. The pet spots fill up fast, and there is even more uncertainty when you are dealing with commercial airlines – especially in the summer. Once we got these important steps done, Gus and I could resume normal fun life.
We left Washington D.C. in early June, went to Texas, and Gus played on ranches, got sprayed by 2 skunks, got a stick embedded into his arm, got stitches, played with family, played with other dogs, and had the BEST summer. About 8 weeks before our moving time, it was time to find a crate that would fit his big body but that would be small enough to meet our regulations. I can’t lie; this was one detail that I could not seem to work out in my brain. Either he wouldn’t be given the space he was “supposed” to have from the top of his head to the top of the crate, or I would have to get a bigger crate that did not seem to meet the standards set up by the paperwork I was reviewing. I opted for the smaller crate and begged him not to stand up tall when he was being observed at the airport. He did fine in his crate, but I DID see crates much bigger than his, so we could have gone with a bigger one.
After Gus played all summer, and I got to spend time with my father before he passed away, it was time to lay my father to rest, attend rosaries, pack our bags, and then we were ready to make our way to Seattle, where we would fly on the military flight to Okinawa. My mom, who was pretty much my saving grace during this time would drive me and Gus to Seattle, and she would drive my car back to Texas. She would make the 1800 mile trip each way with us, keep me calm, tell me stories about my dad, and would cover some of the drive time because I would need it.
The day before we left Texas, we visited the local vet to get his official health certificate. The problem was – this certificate would NOT be enough to get him on our plane. I was exhausted. My brain was fatigued. I became frantic, but the trip must go on, so we hit the road. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about this MAJOR detail, so every minute that I wasn’t driving, I was on my phone – trying to find a solution. I prayed. I cried, and then I found a military base south of Seattle. McChord AFB would save the day; they had a vet on base, and the receptionist was a soldier’s wife who had lived overseas with her dog; she understood my predicament, and she understood why I was in tears. She hooked me up and booked an appointment. My prayers had been answered. McChord AFB Vet Phone # (253) 982-3954.
We arrived to Seattle two days before we would fly to Japan. We relaxed, ate Olive Garden, enjoyed happy hour at the Embassy Suites, got our nails done, got the official health certificate, and did the last minute prep-work for our over-seas travels. I chose the Embassy because I wanted a little space in a hotel room so that I could catch my breath. I also chose it because they allow for dogs, and they have free breakfast in the morning and free drinks every evening.
In the very early hours of the morning, mom took Gus and I to the airport so we could begin a quicker-than-expected check in process. I had 5 copies of all of our paperwork for him, and even more copies set aside that would travel with me. His medical folder was in great shape. I had zip-ties for the crate. I had my “Live-Dog” stickers. Gus knew what he was supposed to do, got in his crate nicely for the check in, and then they told me where to leave the crate. They then let Gus and I have a couple of hours to spend with one another. It was so easy! Finally, something seemed easier than expected!!! We walked and we walked. I wanted him to get every last pee drop out, and I wanted him to be as tired as he could be. I just wanted him to sleep the 10 hours from Seattle to Yakota AFB, which would be our first stop and a time where he could get out of his crate. When I returned him to his crate, I realized that the water containers that came with the crate would not work. They are open-faced which means all the water would fly out and his blankets would be wet for the trip. I decided that he would have to travel with no water, and I felt terrible about it. The people who knew what they were doing had containers that you may see in a rabbit cage filled with ice. The ice would melt over time and would be nice and cold for their furry-friends. No such luck for Gus. When we got to Yakota, and I could get to Gus, I realized that I had packed his leash in my luggage – not the carry-on. Ugh, another mistake! Fortunately, I had a scarf, and it worked fine. We couldn’t do a lot of walking, and he wasn’t interested in peeing in the very small grassy spot, so we found him some water, and we walked laps around the little space that allowed for dogs. He drank out of my shaker cup, so next time, I will have his leash and a portable-dog-bowl in my carry-on. He seemed fine, and we had made it to Japan. We were almost “home.” He got back in the crate; we zip-tied it to lock it, and we headed for the next stop. We did not deplane in Iwakuni. It was a quick stop, and the next stop would be our new home.
When Nick found us, he said that we both looked good. Gus was immediately taken outside where he was given water and a bigger space to take care of his personal business. I grabbed our bags, checked in with the USO volunteers – who were tracking incoming pets, and we headed home. The next day, I called the vet on Kadena to schedule his first in-coming vet appointment. There is a time-stamp on this, so it’s very important to do it immediately.
Gus and I made it home. We arrived safely. I wish I could say, “looking back it was pretty easy,” but quite frankly, it was not. It was challenging, and I was overwhelmed. That being stated, it is possible, and dogs are resilient. They are more resilient than humans.
Gus is currently enjoying his best life. The effort was worth it for us.