When Dogs Fly

I’ve been asked a lot of questions since I decided to move to Hawaii. Do I have a job? Where will I live? Am I crazy? and my personal favorite: ‘What gives you the right?!’ Beyond the questions I’ve been asked about myself though, a surprising amount of questions revolve around the dogs. Can they fly on the plane? Was I scared? Don’t they have to be quarantined for months? The most surprising, and probably the most common, question I’ve been asked though, has to be ‘Would/Did the dogs come with you?’ If I’m being completely honest, the idea of not bringing the dogs never even occurred to me. From the beginning, this was an adventure for all four of us and I planned every step with the dogs in mind. Those two goofs are just as much my family as Trev. I wouldn’t adopt a child and leave them behind if I decided to move. To me, it’s the same principle.

We chose this, which makes us different from a lot of people who move here. Most people relocate to Oahu for a job – military or otherwise – and don’t have much notice. I can understand those people leaving their pets temporarily because of the rabies qualifications (I’ll explain this later). But for us, there would have been no excuse for leaving the dogs behind. In fact, there was a point when I thought we had missed one of their required shots when I told Trev we just weren’t going. To abandon two animals who have only known abandonment before joining our family would be cruel. As you can see, they also happen to be my best friends.

So to answer the question, YES the dogs came with us. The process wasn’t easy, though. Beyond the obvious fact that there’s a plane ride involved, Hawaii is completely rabies-free. You’re probably thinking ‘That’s great! No need to worry about some psycho opossum attacking your BFFLs!’ I agree, it is great that Hawaii is rabies-free (and the opossum thing too), but that also means the state has very specific laws regarding imported pets. Though the thought of importing my pets sounds very exotic and fancy, the real-life preparation was mostly just a pain. We were lucky we mentioned the idea of moving to our vet early and the team at Marlboro Animal Hospital are total rock stars. We genuinely couldn’t have done this without their help. To qualify the dogs for direct airport release, we had to complete a four page checklist, which they assembled for us. They made sure we were on track to meet all our deadlines while simultaneously keeping me sane about flying the dogs (turns out I was nervous).

In the simplest terms, your dog needs to be up-to-date with their rabies shots, take an expensive test to prove they’re rabies-free 120 days before departure, and be microchipped. Most of my planning was paperwork and scheduling. There were many lists and calendars and spreadsheets involved. I went step-by-step through the checklist calling the vet, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, and Hawaiian Airlines any time I was unsure if we had an item covered. By the time we left on March 14th, our paperwork was submitted and we were 90 percent done. We did have to schedule a couple vet visits while we were on the road because Hobbes’ annual vaccinations fall in March and each dog needed a health certificate from a vet within 14 days of departure. When we reached the vet in Phoenix for the pre-flight health check, they told us we had the most organized paperwork they’d ever seen. The truth is, I don’t think I could have kept track of everything we needed without being that organized.

I think this is a good place to chime in on the issue of flying dogs as cargo. A LOT of people asked me about this. They told me the statistics on dogs flying were scary and it was inhumane and they wouldn’t do it. One person begged me not to fly them because they were going to die. That’s an actual thing a person said to me. Anyone who knows me at all, knows I’m completely incapable of making any kind of decision without researching every possible angle. The first thing I did was ask my vet about it almost a year before we started making plans. His response was something I returned to many times over the months we planned this journey. He told me there was nothing to be afraid of and that dogs fly on planes all over the country every day. From there, I did my research. The truth is that pet incidents and fatalities on airlines account for less than .05 percent of the pets who fly as cargo. I made sure to select our air carrier bearing in mind who had the fewest incidents flying pets to Hawaii. It’s so important to remember what you say to people affects them in a very real way. That person who told me my dogs were going to die if I flew them? Yeah, I returned to that over and over in my head too. It sounds obvious, but people don’t think before they talk sometimes. That person wasn’t trying to hurt me, they thought they were saving my dogs lives! I wish they would have done the homework I did before they started saying things like that to people, though, because that one hurt.

Really, the biggest challenge leading up to our trip was crate training Hobbes. For those of you who don’t know Hobbes, he’s a black lab mixed with something strong. He’s 80 solid pounds of pure love. We call him “aggressively friendly” for a reason. He’s a rescue and when we first got him, it took us a full year to break his separation anxiety. The first day we left him at home while we were at work, he was outside his locked crate when we got home. The second day, the crate was scrap metal on the curb. This time around, we needed an airline approved crate that would hold our people-loving, separation-hating, block of love. My feeling was that the point of crate training is to get the dog to the point where they actually like being in the crate, so his strength shouldn’t be an issue. In a perfect world, maybe I would have been right. We tried to crate train him for three months before we left and all we had to show for it were two shredded dog beds and a destroyed plastic crate. In stark contrast, Buffy loved her crate from Day One. She went in there whenever she had the chance and I never had a doubt we’d see her chillin’ in there when we reached Oahu.

The Hobbes situation was absolutely what made me most anxious about the move. Living out of the car for near three weeks? No big deal. Moving to an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Meh. Scared dog loose in the cargo hold, tearing apart luggage? This was my anxiety-fueled nightmare. We ordered a new, stronger crate with just days to go before we left Shrewsbury. We added plexiglass and zip ties and anything we could think of to keep him safe inside. We gave him stuffed Kongs and toys to occupy his time, but he didn’t touch any of them. We used the new crate for the first time in Virginia and he broke out. By the time we left the mainland, we’d only had two successful trials using a combination of dramamine and a modified crate, but neither trial had been as long as the flight. I think the morning we dropped the dogs off in San Diego may have been scarier for me than them. To my utter relief, Hobbes arrived safely in Honolulu with his crate completely unscathed.

There was about an hour between the time we landed in Honolulu and the time we saw the dogs. The crew has to unload the dogs and get them over to the Quarantine Station. In that time, we got our luggage and rental car. I had asked for an SUV or other large car for the first day because I knew we had a lot of luggage. What I didn’t anticipate was that we had to leave the dogs in their crates until we left the airport grounds, which was very near impossible. I hope I never say these words again but, thank god we had a minivan! We were just able to fit both dogs in their crates and all our luggage in back before we set off on our Hawaiian adventure.


3 thoughts on “When Dogs Fly

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