If you read Part One of my story, then you already know the relatively bumpy start I got off to in trying to get my cats from Texas to Germany. But it was those final few days when everything straight up fell apart.
So, I talked already about all the things I had to do roughly one year to six months in advance of my flight. Where things got really stressful was about 10 days before my flight. I was flying out of Denver on a Tuesday. So, my dad (who lives in Oklahoma) offered to come down to Texas the day before my flight, pick me and the cats up, and drive us to Denver. The drive from Abilene was about 11 hours. I wanted to give the cats some kind of break, so we made plans for my dad to pick us up that Monday morning. We would take the bulk of the day getting up to Denver, spend the night in a hotel (to let the cats out for a few hours, use the litter box, etc.), and then in the morning, he would drop us off at the airport and head back to Oklahoma.
Now, here is where the snag came in. The paperwork that has to be completed by a USDA accredited vet has to be filled out and signed by said vet no more than 10 days prior to the flight. Not only does this have to happen, but the paperwork also has to be approved and signed off on by an APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) office, which I believe is part of the USDA. Well, these offices are most often located in the state’s capital. For me, that meant Austin.
Let’s look at a visual of the timeframe I was working with here:
As you can see, I only had five weekdays to get all of this done. The absolute earliest I could have the vet fill out their paperwork was the Monday before my drive to Colorado. That also meant I would have to get the paperwork to Austin and receive it back by that Friday (as the office would be closed over the weekend, and I was driving out early Monday morning). Oh, and, did I mention the APHIS office in Austin is only open until 1:30pm Monday through Friday?
Nightmare #1: The Vet
I had spent months preparing for this tight 10 day window. I had researched everything you can imagine and read countless threads in various online forums. I knew the 10 day window would be stressful, but I also knew that it was possible because that’s how the system is set-up to work and other people do it all the time. Here’s the thing, though. This whole process is apparently meant for people who live in major cities, with APHIS offices within driving distance, and who are flying out of a local airport.
I had made an appointment with my vet for the earliest possible time that Tuesday. (I wasn’t able to get an appointment that Monday.) I did not have the cats with me as he had already re-checked them and re-cleared them for flying about a week earlier. I had dropped off a copy of the paperwork several months earlier so that he could be well-prepared and research anything he needed to. It should have been a piece of cake.
I get into the room and hand him the freshly printed paperwork, thinking I would be out of there and on my way in 10 minutes or so. Instead, he takes the paperwork, leaves the room for several minutes, comes back in, and says, “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to sign this for you.”
Excuse me, what?
I didn’t understand why, at the last minute, he suddenly couldn’t sign the paperwork. At this point, I was still relatively calm because I thought there must just be some small issue or miscommunication that would be cleared up momentarily.
He then proceeds to tell me that since he has never filled out paperwork for an international flight, and because he doesn’t want to do something wrong that will jeopardize his vet license, he just isn’t willing to be involved.
Remember, he is the ONLY vet in town with the USDA accreditation, and I’m booked to fly out in exactly 7 days at this point.
I kind of lost my mind here. I started to panic. I reminded him that I had left him a copy of the paperwork six months or so ago for this EXACT purpose, and I asked him why he didn’t tell me six months ago that he wasn’t confident about filling out the international paperwork. He told me that his staff never gave him the copy I left for him, so this was the first time he had even seen the paperwork. I reminded him that we had had NUMEROUS conversations about this situation and that I – and the cats – were supposed to be flying to Germany in a matter of days.
I was borderline yelling, and I was crying uncontrollably. You have no idea the amount of stress that hit me in that moment. You know, it just wasn’t enough to be picking up my whole life and moving to a foreign country, but now my cats – my babies – might actually not get to go with me because my vet had a last minute change of heart. Not to mention all the money I would be out for their flights and the pet handler – plus how the HECK was I supposed to get them to Germany FROM Germany? And who would keep them until then?
It’s also worth noting here that I was at the vet’s office alone. I didn’t have anyone there to calm me down or try to talk to the vet on my behalf. He saw that I was in complete hysterics and said he would be willing to call an old colleague of his who has a vet clinic in the DFW area to ask him about his experiences with this type of paperwork, but that would take him at least a day, and he still wasn’t making any promises.
HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO FIND A NEW VET IN THE NEXT 24 HOURS??!!
My mind was racing. What were my options? I would have to go to a bigger city. My closest options were Lubbock or Fort Worth. I would have a heck of a lot more luck in Fort Worth – in fact, I grew up in Fort Worth and went to an amazing vet there. But they wouldn’t sign the paperwork without checking the cats first, which meant I would have to get the cats in the car IMMEDIATELY, make the three hour drive to Fort Worth, pray to God I could actually get a same day appointment, drive the cats back, and then still figure out the whole Austin situation. Let’s be honest, here, though, what were the odds I could get a same day appointment? Plus how much more stress and travel could I pile on top of my 11 year old kitty cats at this point?
I went outside and called my mom. She could barely understand me on the phone, so she drove up to the vet’s office where I was. I was sitting in the parking lot on one of those little curb thingies that they sometimes put at the front of parking places, and I was crying hysterically. It was so freaking hot – remember, this is August in Texas – and I was sweating to death on the concrete. I couldn’t breathe.
I don’t know how silly or overly dramatic this might sound to someone who has never flown a pet internationally or even moved internationally, but it is looking back on that afternoon that I completely understand why doctors warn that stress can actually kill you.
My mom desperately tried to calm me down. The ladies from the front desk came outside and brought me a glass of water. Everyone tried to get me to go back inside, but I was basically paralyzed with stress. I called my husband – who was in Germany – and blubbered over the phone in completely nonsensical words that did nothing but panic him as he was totally helpless from where he was.
Finally, because I had absolutely no idea what else to do, I called the lady in Denver (the third party pet transporter). She was so sweet. She told me not to panic, that she had been through similar situations before, and that she would make sure that the paperwork got taken care of. She asked me for the phone number to my vet’s office and then told me to sit tight.
That woman was a Godsend.
Maybe 10 or so minutes later, she called me back and told me that she had spoken with my vet and assured him of her familiarity with the process (after all, this was her job) and convinced him to go ahead and sign the paperwork.
The ladies from the front desk came outside and told me that the vet would like to talk to me. He met me in one of the little examination rooms, told me about the conversation with the pet transporter lady, and confirmed that he would, in fact, sign the paperwork. But first, he would need to determine how much to charge me.
Somehow that sent me over the edge because I thought to myself, “You just put me through literal Hell, and now you want to decide how much to charge me??!!” I said a lot of really not-nice things to him, which I repeatedly apologized for later, and in the end, he charged me $20 to fill out the paperwork.
Nightmare #2: The APHIS Office
With the first major crisis narrowly averted, we moved on to the next one.
Because of everything that had happened at the vet’s office that morning, by the time we got everything filled out and signed, the office in Austin was just about to close. To try to avoid any kind of delays, the pet transporter lady suggested that I call the Austin APHIS office and ask them to look at the paperwork being faxed over to make sure it was correct before mailing it out. If the paperwork was wrong for any reason, they would mail it back without the approval – and that would cost me WAY TOO MUCH TIME. This way, at least while we waited for them to sign off on it and mail it back, we would know it was all correct. So, I did that.
But they kept telling me that they didn’t receive the fax. The ladies at the vet clinic faxed it at least two or three times, and then the APHIS office switched off their phones because it was past 1:30pm. As soon as they opened, at 7:30 the next morning, I called again. And again. And again. And again.
Nobody would answer the phone.
Finally, I got someone who checked the fax machine and said they still didn’t see it. I went up to the vet’s office and had them fax it again. The ladies kept showing me the fax confirmations, and there was no reason the APHIS office should not have been receiving it.
I called and called and called. I got the runaround from one person after the next, until somebody finally told me that they had received it and would look over it and call me back. This is Wednesday.
One hour went by. Two hours went by. I called again and again and again. No one would answer the phone, and then they switched off again.
It’s now Thursday morning, and I can’t eat or sleep. Finally, I get someone who actually seemed to be doing their job who tells me, “Oh, yeah, I see it. All of the faxes are on this one employee’s desk.” She says everything looks correct.
The next step would be to overnight the original paperwork to them because everything had to be original copies. This was Thursday morning, meaning if I sent it overnight, it would be in Austin Friday morning. I would need them to mail it back to me the same day at this point, so I asked how long it would take to get the paperwork back (which would now need to be sent overnight / Saturday delivery), and she said, “Hopefully, by Monday.”
Excuse me, what?
She said they were crazy busy and had to deal with walk-in situations as well, so it might take a few days, but she would definitely mail it out by Monday, Tuesday at the absolute latest. This after they took two days to check my fax.
Again, keep in mind that on Monday, I would be driving to Denver. Mailing it to me on Monday would be too late. Even if it could be overnighted to get to me on Tuesday, I wouldn’t even be in Texas at that point. Even if they overnighted it to the hotel or pet handler in Denver, I would probably already be in the air by the time it was delivered as I had a 9am flight.
So, I thought about jumping into my truck and driving to Austin. But, I would get there after 1:30pm at that point, meaning I would have to wait until the following day, Friday. So, I called back and asked about that situation, but she said she couldn’t promise me even then that I would get the paperwork back that day.
For the second time that day, I called the pet transporter in Denver in tears. I explained everything to her and asked her what in the world I could do at that point. She made some phone calls and then told me that the Colorado APHIS office was in Denver. She also said that she knew people there because she works with them all the time, and that even though my paperwork should be approved in Texas as that’s where the vet is and where my residence was, one of her contacts in the Denver office said that they would be willing to process the paperwork for me since the Austin office was being ridiculous.
So, I raced down to the FedEx office, but they said I had already missed the last truck that would have been able to get it there by the morning. So, I paid something like $40 to have the original copies of the paperwork (plus some extra things we might need just in case since we were doing an inter-state process now) to be overnighted to her for a Saturday morning delivery in Denver.
I was so scared that they would get lost in the mail.
She was going to have someone available to sign for my envelope, but she wouldn’t be there for some reason that I don’t remember now. So, I wouldn’t actually know for sure if she got my paperwork until Monday morning – after I was already on the road to Denver with my cats.
Breathing a Sigh of Relief
I can’t tell you how hard I prayed during those three days that the FedEx truck wouldn’t crash or the envelope get sent to the wrong processing center or the person signing for it wouldn’t miss the delivery for whatever reason.
That morning, as we drove through the panhandle, she called me and confirmed that she had the paperwork in her hands and would personally drop it off at the Denver APHIS office.
I cried again, but this time because the relief was so massive. It was literally like the world had lifted off of my shoulders.
We made it to Denver, and the cats actually handled the 11 hour car ride really well. Nobody peed in their carrier, and they were so happy to be able to walk around in the hotel room. I brought their litter box with me (we loaded it in the bed of my dad’s truck under my suitcases), so they were able to move around, use a real litter box, eat, and drink in a relatively low-stress environment. They cuddled with me in the bed and slept a real night’s sleep.
The next morning, we drove up to the Denver airport, to the Lufthansa cargo area, and I finally got to meet the lady who had basically talked me down from the proverbial ledge just a few days earlier. I hugged her and cried – yes, I cry a lot – and thanked her over and over and over again. My husband told me later that he wished we had sent her flowers or something.
She had the APHIS-approved paperwork in hand, did all of the talking with the Lufthansa people, and even told me to go ahead and leave. She said that it was already stressful for me and the cats, but that standing there and crying would stress everybody even more. So, I hugged her again and left her with my cats.
She texted me maybe 20 or so minutes later to let me know that everything was fine, everything was in order, and the cats were now being loaded onto their direct flight to Germany.
Reunited And it Felt So Good
As I said in Part One, I had a connecting flight to Germany, so the cats actually landed two or so hours before I did. I was actually sitting in Reykjavic, Iceland, waiting for my second flight, when the Denver lady texted me to say that Lufthansa had informed her that the cats arrived safely and in good health.
You know, just typing that and remembering what everything felt like at that moment, makes me want to cry with relief again.
I got to Frankfurt myself a few hours later. My father-in-law picked me up, drove me over to the Animal Lounge, and after a rather thorough introduction to German bureaucracy, they raised the door and carried out both carriers.
In the end, everything worked out, but it was a horrific experience at the time that I never ever ever want to go through again.
But, I will say this. As much as I was against using a third party pet transporter, the one I hired was worth every single penny (and then some), and I legit have no idea what I would have done without her.
Who/What I Used
Lufthansa Cargo (Pet Transport) – Click here for more info
Petsfly.com (Third Party Pet Transporter – Katie Tice is who I worked with) – Click here for more info
Pet Mate Sky Kennel (Carriers) – Click here for more info
DryFur Travel Dishes (Food/Water bowls that clipped to the carrier) – Click here for more info
DryFur Pee Pads (Along with bowls, pads were also required by Lufthansa) – Click here for more info
I have zero complaints whatsoever about the companies and products I used to get my cats from Texas to Germany. I would wholeheartedly recommend everyone/everything listed above.