Contemplate a move to the other side of the world and suddenly your priorities become crystal clear. Before committing to our Auckland adventure I became obsessive about two things: finding the right school for our children (we love their school in London so the bar was set high), and taking Teddy halfway around the world without causing some possibly hideous (i.e. dead dog) fallout.
I started doing an awful lot of online research to help alleviate the sleepless nights. After weeding out various massive schools (too impersonal), boarding schools (we want to be there as a family) and religious schools (we’re not), I lit upon a non-selective, co-ed, progressive school in Auckland. It seemed most similar to our one back home. We had a Skype interview with the headmaster. I wondered whether there was any sort of entrance requirement. The Principal shook his head firmly. He said admission rested on the children’s answers to just one question. I heard the drumroll in my head….He looked at each child and paused. “Do you want to learn?” he piped up, a huge smile on his face. Brilliant. (Most especially since each of our children answered in the affirmative. Phew.)
Then there was Teddy to think about. Of course, during my research I managed to scare myself stupid reading all the horror stories: dogs freezing to death while flying in the equivalent of unheated ‘cargo’; dogs suffering heat exhaustion while left on the tarmac during a plane change or not having access to water in-flight and expiring on arrival. Hideous, hideous, hideous. I trawled the web for good outcomes and warily read testimonials. Finally I came across two options that I liked the sound of. I went for PetAir UK because the woman I spoke with on the telephone was efficient in the questions she asked me, and straightforward and understanding in the answers she gave to my bordering-on-the-neurotic grilling.
Please know this: if you want to ship a dog that hasn’t travelled before to New Zealand, then the process requires a good 6 month lead time. Thank heavens Teddy had previously had his rabies jabs for France and we’ve kept him up to date, so when I first enquired in March about taking him to Auckland in August, it all seemed do-able, though we still had to get on with it.
There followed a good few hours of form filling, contract signing and paperwork scanning (“Pour yourself a glass of wine and spend an evening on it,” suggested one PetAir UK rep.) Then we received a detailed schedule of exactly when each vet appointment should be made (three in all, at specific intervals once we knew that the rabies jab was still effective), what jabs were necessary and to which lab the blood samples should be sent. We had super-efficient Zasman Vet do all the necessaries because they are great: gentle, kind and they always come up trumps on the treat front.
We opted for PetAir UK to build him his wooden shipping crate, giving him the maximum amount of space allowed. We also opted to fly him to New Zealand via Los Angeles as, going on the same route as us via Hong Kong, although cheaper would require a longer stopover time. The thing with shipping a pet to New Zealand is that they are sealed in the crate for the entire journey – 26 hours. No getting out for rest stops unless you go for a different route and a longer stopover, in which case when the dogs do come out of their crate, they don’t all want to get back in again. Hardly surprising and an added stress. We thought it would be better getting it over and done with as soon as possible even though, like all dog owners, we’d spent time teaching Teddy not to mess in his living area, and now he had to do just that. I thought this might completely freak him out. Then again, there were any amount of things about it all that I thought might upset him – the noise, the smells, any other unhappy animals there with him – the list was endless.
PetAir UK did a good job at putting fears to rest. They told me how they spray the crates with pheromones to calm the animals and they take off any items (collar, big toys etc) that might cause a problem in transit. Dogs travel in a temperature-regulated compartment on the airplane, devoted to pet transport (absolutely not in the hold with the luggage). The idea is to keep things as calm as possible so they turn off the lights after take off. The dogs are allowed access to water and they have some Vetbed in the crate to help wick away any moisture but they are also not fed six hours before flying to eliminate any accidents. The icing on the cake was probably the young man who came to collect Ted the afternoon before he flew. He was calm and kind and Teddy went to him immediately. That had to be a good sign.
And that was that. I watched Teddy’s van pull out into the London traffic and didn’t see him again until two days later at Qualified Pet Services quarantine station in New Zealand. Even though my children called it ‘dog prison’ because unsurprisingly (it’s quarantine!), Ted was housed in a concrete run with a bed and a water bowl and a slot in the door to look through, these people care and they really know their animals. They were keen to find out all about Ted before he came to them and quick to let us know that Ted had, ‘come out of his crate easily’ when he arrived, which was apparently a good sign. We visited Ted the day after we touched down. We had to pull on special white clinical robes. He was a bit punch drunk and tired, as were we. He was miserable when we left. We were, too. Then, when we went back a couple of days later, it was a completely different story: he was cheery and bouncy and, although he wanted to leave with us, he settled quickly after we went. Of course, when we came to collect him he was ecstatic and promptly peed on the floor (“That’ll teach you,” I could hear him say).
I suppose if you are going to ship a dog – or your children – half way around the world, you are probably going to do your research. We seem to have lucked out with the school and for Teddy, I feel like the research paid dividends, too. He’s healthy, he’s happy and he’s here, walking the school run, getting fussed over at the gates and generally taking Auckland in his stride.