My biggest concern about moving to Germany was my cats. They are like my children, and there was absolutely no way I was going to leave them behind. I had had them since they were born – in fact, we had four generations of their family. You know the story – a stray kitty cat shows up at your door one night, so you feed her but convince yourself she’s just a stray cat that doesn’t actually belong to you. And then one day she has kittens, and six months later they have kittens, and then you realize they’re all your cats. You know.
Azrael and Quizno are actually the third generation of that little stray cat. They were 11 years old when I moved to Germany, and they had been with me through so much. Leaving them behind would have felt like abandonment. But getting them to Germany was also scary as I worried about them being too old to handle the stress of such a big move.
One Year Before the Move
The very first thing I did was get them checked by their vet to make sure that they were, in fact, healthy enough to travel to Germany. They were.
So, I did a ton of research. I spent hours on the internet, scouring airline reviews, news stories, vet websites, pet advice forums, and trying desperately to make sense of the paperwork nightmare that it would take to move them internationally. I also reached out to a childhood friend who works in animal health care in England to get her advice on everything.
Basically, it boiled down to two options: plane or boat. Obviously, flying them to Germany would be way faster, but I had read so many horror stories about pets dying on airplanes that just the thought of my babies on a plane gave me mini panic attacks. The boat option sounded a little better as it would be less stressful in the sense that I would be able to visit them during the voyage. I had less fear of the boat workers killing them, but I wasn’t sure that the stress level would be any lower for them. Going by boat would mean first driving from Texas to New York, then spending one or two weeks on the ocean (I forget exactly how long it would have been, but it was definitely longer than one week), and then that would only get me to the UK. Then my husband would have to come get us and drive us halfway across Europe. I really wanted the boat option to work as you never hear about pets dying on ships, but the stress of the length of time and being confined for a couple of weeks was just too much. It had to be by plane.
So, I spent weeks doing even more research, trying to figure out which airlines had the best pet records. As it turned out, that seemed to be Lufthansa. Finding a Lufthansa flight to Germany? No problem. And there were always direct flights from DFW to Frankfurt, which was great because I absolutely did not want them having to switch planes. The thought of the airline forgetting them out on the tarmac or putting them on the wrong flight or accidentally letting them out of the carrier was too much for me to handle, so it had to be a direct flight. And on Lufthansa.
The other great thing about flying them to Germany was that the airport in Frankfurt has a world-class animal lounge. My husband, who was already in Germany, did research from his side and sent me all kinds of videos about the animal lounge and translated everything for me to try to help calm me down about things. He assured me that this lounge has an impeccable record, that it is world-renowned, and that Azrael and Quizno would be in very loving hands.
At that point, I was starting to feel a little bit better about things, although I was still completely terrified about it all. But the research wasn’t over yet. I still had to find out what all of the airline and legal requirements were. And this is when my hair started falling out.
Two issues. The first one was the flight itself. I was not going to fly them on anything but a direct Lufthansa flight. But, Lufthansa isn’t cheap, and I also had to have a ticket, plus I had to pay shipping costs for my belongings that were going to Germany and I was paying for a wedding – things all happening within five weeks of each other. So, I couldn’t afford to fly Lufthansa myself. That meant I would have to fly separately, on a cheaper airline. I wasn’t even going to be able to fly on the same plane with them! That scared me to death, but I told myself it was better that they fly on the best possible plane, and my husband reminded me that the Frankfurt animal lounge would take care of them until I could pick them up.
Okay, fine. So, I called Lufthansa and spoke with both their general customer service and their local office at DFW. I was completely honest with them and explained that I couldn’t afford to fly with them, but that I NEEDED my cats to fly with them on a direct flight to Germany. They said that would not be a problem at all, but that I had to go through a third party pet transporter.
Signal the hair loss.
“What does that even mean?!, ” I asked the guy. Well, basically they said that since I would not be on the same plane, I was, in a sense, “shipping cargo” on their plane. However, not just anyone can do this. It has to be someone affiliated with a cargo/shipping company that they work with.
I had read about these pet shipper people, and you know what they all had in common? They were outrageously expensive. You know, no matter how well-prepared you think you are for an international move, you’re not. You are never prepared for just how much money it all costs and how it just keeps growing.
Then the guy asked me when I would be flying. Well, our Texas wedding was scheduled for mid-July. My last day of work was July 31st, and the lease on my duplex was up at the end of August. So, I figured that we would have the wedding, I would get to spend some time with my husband before he had to fly back to Germany, and then I would finish up my last summer class, and have the first two weeks in August to tie up all of the loose ends (clean the house, have my last garage sale, say goodbye to everyone, etc.) because our German wedding was scheduled for the end of August.
So, I told the guy that I didn’t have exact dates but that it would be sometime around the middle of August. No, apparently I would not be flying in August because he then informed me that DFW has a strict policy that due to the dangers of heat exposure, they do not allow any pets to fly on any airline between July and September unless they’re going to be in the cabin.
Commence the hair pulling.
At this point, I was almost in tears on the phone with this man. The cost of this move just kept growing and growing and growing. Not to mention, I was simultaneously trying to plan a wedding with my fiance in Germany and my best friend six hours away at the other end of the state. All while freaking out about the fact that my cats were going to have to fly in cargo AND on a different plane than me. Not to mention emotionally coming to grips with the fact that I was getting ready to move to a foreign country.
Fighting back the tears, I asked him where I was supposed to fly out of. He said the only airport they would fly pets out of in Texas that time of year was Houston. Now, I ask you, how much sense does that make?! If it’s too hot in DFW, how the heck is Houston any better?!?! No, that was not going to work. The other option was Denver. At least that made sense as it definitely wouldn’t be 110 degrees in Colorado.
But how the crap was I supposed to get to Denver?! By that time, I wouldn’t have a truck anymore. Was I supposed to rent a car and drive myself and cats from West Texas to Denver? I mean, it’s not like I wasn’t spending enough money already. And, call me sentimental, but I didn’t really want to drive myself 11 hours to the airport all alone before making a life-changing international move.
But, whatever. What could I do? I would just have to figure it out later. So, we reserved the cats spots on a direct Lufthansa flight from Denver to Frankfurt, and I booked myself on an Icelandair flight out of Denver with a layover in Iceland. What was fairly lucky was that the pet transport company that they use most often at DFW also had a Denver representative. I called her to get everything setup, let her know about the flights and my situation coming from Texas, and, of course, had to pay the fees upfront.
Now, I said there were two issues. Besides the flight, there was the matter of the vet. See, the cats had to meet all kinds of requirements before the flight (and within very specific timeframes), and everything had to be meticulously detailed on the EU Health Certificate. But it couldn’t be filled out by just any vet. No, that would be too easy. They require that the vet who fills out and signs off on all of the paperwork has to be USDA accredited. Now, you probably think this is totally common and that most, if not all vets, have this accreditation. No, silly! That would take all the fun out of the process!
The city I lived in was a decent size – roughly 100,000 people. But there was only one vet who was USDA accredited. Luckily, (or so I thought at the time), that vet just happened to be my vet. Unfortunately, he had never actually been asked to invoke said accreditation. Abilene is not a city where many people make international moves from, and when they do, they’ve got the military to do everything for them. But, he knew me, and he had been taking care of Azrael and Quizno for the past five years, so he told me to drop off a copy of the paperwork so that he would have PLENTY of time to look over it and research anything he might need to know or do before it came time to actually fill it out.
In the meantime, I got the cats chipped (which was required for the international move) and began the task of researching pet carriers and the associated Lufthansa requirements. It was really just a matter of waiting at that time as I couldn’t do anything else until we got within that 21-day window.
What I didn’t know at that time was that everything would fall apart just days before our flights, and I would be left sitting on the asphalt in 110 degrees, sobbing my eyes out.