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For the Fourth of July, and as a belated nod to Canada Day, I thought I’d share the details of how Bowdu became a US citizen.

Now, I can’t say that we did our research before we brought Bowdu into our lives. The one thing that we were responsible enough to check in advance was how to bring him along when we moved back to the States, not knowing exactly when that would be but knowing that it would happen sometime within his lifetime. As I confirmed by briefly scanning government websites, importing Bowdu would not be a problem, so long as we were on top of his paperwork. Thus appeased, we vowed to deal with the details when the time came.

Pile of paperwork to make sure Bowdu could get out of the country

And there were, indeed, a lot of details.

First, we had to choose an appropriate airline. We originally had one-way tickets booked through an American airline to get from Taipei to Detroit, Michigan. About three weeks before departure, when I called to confirm that it would be okay to bring Bowdu, I found out that the airline in question had a total embargo on shipping pets during summer months. The concern was not with the temperature on board, as pets are held in a temperature and pressure-controlled cargo area during the duration of the flight. Rather, the timing and exposure to heat while on the tarmac would be an issue if it happened to be 75 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter at the time of take-off.

This was something I hadn’t thought about at all, and our travel agent, who had no experience exporting pets, hadn’t checked. It was a good thing we hadn’t paid for the tickets yet. But then there was a mad scramble trying to find an airline that would permit us safe passage.

I spent a couple days making calls, mapping out and calculating the costs of numerous possible routes (even through Europe!) before I ended up selecting a route with EVA Air from Taipei to Vancouver, then with Air Canada. At the time, Air Canada only had pet embargoes in winter months (I’m not sure if their policies have since changed). I also made sure to have us boarding either early in the morning or late at night to avoid the afternoon heat. It was such an atypical route, our travel agent couldn’t even book the complete trip through her system, so I had to purchase the final leg of the trip from Toronto to Detroit myself.

Bowdu had to be inspected by an agent at the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine no more than 10 days before departure. This was to document that he had been vaccinated against rabies, microchipped (as required to legally own a dog in Taipei), and appeared in good health. They signed off on an inspection form that noted:

It is certified that there has been no outbreak of Rinderpest, Anthrax and Rabies in Taiwan since 1951, 1953 and 1961, respectively. In addition, African Horse Sickness, African Swine Fever, Blackleg, Bluetongue, Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, Glanders, Lumpy Skin Disease, Sheep Pox and Teschen’s Disease have not been known to occur in Taiwan, Republic of China.

Taiwan may have certain sanitation problems owing to its dense population and urban grime, but at least we ain’t got no lumpy skin! That makes it easier to export a pet out of the country, anyway.

2 August 2006. Taken hours before departure, Bowdu’s knows something’s up because he’s got a worried look on his face.

However, the flight itself was a bit worrying. We had to get to the airport early so the airport vet could confirm our paperwork and give us the final stamp of approval. We had to call in advance so they knew to expect us, since we were leaving at about 11 PM at night — not typical office hours.

We were running behind, so we were among the last to wheel in to the check-in area. One of the stewardesses cheerily greeted us, “I’ve been waiting for you for a long time!” Apparently she had a Shiba Inu of her own, so she was excited to meet our special passenger. That helped diffuse some of the tension for a few minutes, until they handed us a Consent and Release form that promised we wouldn’t hold them accountable for any “injury, loss, sickness or death to/of pets as agreed carriage by any means of baggage.” The scary legal language kind of tipped the Doggy Daddy over the edge during what was already an emotional departure. He personally delivered Bowdu onto a special conveyer belt for fragile and live cargo, and when he came back to the check-in counter, he was visibly holding back tears. Perhaps that’s why the stewardess saw fit to bump us up to business class — a nice gesture for us on the longest, 14-hour leg of the trip, though Bowdu would not get to share the luxury of extra legroom.

When we landed in Vancouver, we had no trouble picking him up and getting past quarantine and inspections. The officers barely examined his paperwork or his crate, and just waved us through. That effortless step was counterbalanced by the discovery that they had canceled our next flight due to thunderstorms over Toronto. We were rescheduled to depart 12 hours later.

In the meantime, we were eager to get an extremely dazed, bleary-eyed, but very subdued Bowdu out of his crate (which he had not soiled at all!) and find some peace and quiet, if just for the night. The most convenient pet-friendly hotel we could find cost $180 Canadian dollars. At this point, it seemed our only option since sleeping at the airport with a dog was out of the question.

in a Vancouver hotel, keeping eyes on his peoples trying to figure out what's next

We hadn’t packed any dog food, since we were already over weight limits (the consequences of moving home after several years abroad), and we had expected to go straight through to the States where there would be kibble waiting for him on the other side. We had also been advised not to feed him in the hours before his flight so that he would have nothing to vomit or to poop out, though water was kept available. For similar reasons, we were also advised not to sedate him just in case he had a bad reaction to the drug, or a combination of the drug and physiological disturbances due to the flight itself. I think this is worth noting because I and so many others just assumed that sedation would make the dog less stressed, so it’s somehow “cruel” to deny him drugs in this case. In actuality, a sedative would probably only serve to dull his senses and make him more confused because he’d be robbed of the capacity to process what was happening. Truth is, we had no way of knowing exactly how Bowdu was going to respond to the flight — though it was safe to guess that he would NOT enjoy it. But that risk would have been compounded by throwing in another pharmaceutical wildcard.

At any rate, with the unexpected layover, what did seem cruel was denying him something to eat. The Doggy Daddy and I grabbed a quick meal at the hotel bar, and they kindly grilled up a chicken breast for Bowdu when we explained what we needed.

It made for a lovely poop in the grass outside the Vancouver airport the very next morning, right before we got back on a plane to finish the trip.

Bowdu defiles Canada.

There was one more complication at immigrations in Toronto before we finally made it home. They have you complete the US immigrations process while you’re still on Canadian soil, so that when you land in Detroit, you can exit directly. Well, part of procedure, as we were instructed, was to pick up and re-check our luggage, including our dog.

So we answered all our questions and got our passports stamped. When we got to the little room where we were supposed to find our luggage, there was only one dog crate to be found, and the dog inside was not Bowdu. Cue panic.

This was probably the most screwed up part of the trip. For the next 10 minutes or so, we were caught in the crossfire of two really cranky airport employees who apparently had an ongoing feud that long predated our arrival on the scene. We first approached a uniformed woman standing at a very official-looking podium about where to find Bowdu. She waved us over to another guy on the other side of the room, who was busy loading re-checked luggage onto a conveyer belt. He did his best to ignore us for a bit, then as soon as I started to talk he interrupted to say that he was BUSY, so talk to the woman at the podium. They punted us back and forth for a couple more exchanges, forcing us to serve as their messenger in a childish “Tell him/her I said…” schtick, even though the two were standing barely eight feet apart. Meanwhile, at least three other passers-through overheard our dilemma and pointed out the other dog waiting patiently in the crate, and we kept having to say that wasn’t our dog. We were basically tracing triangles around a narrow corridor in a trial that was quickly assuming Kafkaesque levels of absurdity.

I don’t remember what happened to make the woman at the podium suddenly have a change of heart, but she finally picked up her receiver to radio in a request for more information. Meanwhile, she kept shouting passive-aggressive comments about how SOME people just didn’t UNDERSTAND that DOGS are like your CHILDREN, so of course we were worried and wanted to know where he was. She made it seem like she was now going out of her way to demonstrate her helpfulness just to spite the luggage guy. All the while, I had to bite my tongue to refrain from reminding her that we had been instructed to meet Bowdu right where we were standing, like the other dog in the crate. We weren’t doing this just to sabotage their pretense of operating a well-oiled, efficient system.

They finally found out that Bowdu had been shuttled directly to our next flight, and he’d be waiting for us there. It still took a little bit more wrangling before we could confirm that he was at the same departure gate. Perhaps because we had pestered so many people along the way, the loading crew even made sure to flag us down and hold up Bowdu’s crate and show us that he was inside before we got on board for the final jaunt to the US.

Bowdu in White Lake, Michigan.
4 August 2006. Things look different on the other shore.

Getting out at Detroit was no problem — an uneventful, anticlimactic end to a rather intense 40 hours.

Itemized breakdown:

  • Airline approved crate: 3000NT (approx. $97USD – these seemed overpriced in Taiwan!)
  • One-way tickets from Taipei to Toronto: 31,400NT x 2 (approx. $1015 x 2 = $2030)
  • One-way tickets from Toronto to Detroit: $227.98USD x 2 = $455.96
  • Excess baggage fee for Bowdu’s carrier: 3452NT x 2 (approx. $111 x 2 = $222)
  • One night hotel stay in Vancouver: $180CD (approx. $190USD)

TOTAL PAID to send two people and a dog overseas: approx. $2995

Considering the tickets we had originally booked, going straight through the US with an airline that only counted pets as one extra piece of luggage, was quoted at 26,000NT per person (approx. $838USD), well… we might have had better luck just buying an extra seat for Bowdu on that original flight.

And this doesn’t count the cross-country road trip from Michigan to California, which is yet another set of memories for another time. Total miles traveled: over 10,000!

Altogether, this is how we drained our savings to move across the world with our dog. As Woody Guthrie sings,

If you ain’t got the do re mi, folks, you ain’t got the do re mi,
Why, you better go back to beautiful [Taiwan], Oklahoma, [Michigan] or Tennessee.
California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see;
But believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot
If you ain’t got the do re mi.

(“Do Re Mi,” This Land is Your Land: Asch Recordings vol. 1)

That’s America for you, folks!

21 August 2006