On August 10th, I helped transport nine rescue dogs from Taiwan to their new homes in California on behalf of Asians for Humans, Animals, and Nature (AHAN). Suffice to say, it was one of the least lonely trans-Pacific trips I’ve taken in quite some time!
I really didn’t have to do much other than arrive at the airport a little earlier than scheduled, wait and watch as the local rescue crew prepared the dogs for flight, then claim the dogs on the other side.
Each dog traveled in a separate crate. Each crate was clearly labeled with the identity of the dog, a packet of their medical records for their adopters, and a spigot for a water bottle attachment. Each dog would also have their crates lined with absorbent pads and a crate mat.
The lids and bases of each crate were secured with zip ties.
China Airlines opened up a separate counter in a more convenient corner of the airport to facilitate check-in. They’re not usually my airline of choice when traveling to and from Taiwan, but since they are the most economic choice for rescues, I took one for the team.
Each dog had to be weighed and tagged separately, which was perhaps the most tedious part of the process, especially when there are many dogs to account for! Most of them were charged as one extra piece of luggage, but some of the larger dogs exceeded normal weight limits, so they had to pay a little more.
The two Labradors, Angie and Miso, fit in that category, as well as Hobbit, the three-legged hound. Apparently, hacking a limb off was not sufficient to dodge overage fees. Joking, joking… (The more serious version of how Hobbit lost his leg is forthcoming.)
Again, the rescues took care of all the fees. While all this was being sorted out, the volunteers bade farewell to their charges.
While most of the dogs were quite gregarious and had no problem expressing their friendly personalities, I was most drawn to Mio, the one lying on the floor in the picture above. Her size, her airplane ears, and her reserved demeanor reminded me a bit of Bowpi. There was a lot of stimulation at this busy airport, but she was taking it all in stride.
Finally, it was time to secure all the crates and send them along for X-ray and inspection. This is where everyone loses it as they watch the crates disappear through the machine and down a long conveyer belt to the loading corridor.
Because I’m an overly sympathetic dork, I couldn’t help but be touched by the tears of these volunteers who had invested so much time and obvious care into these pups. My help barely amounted to anything — I was just a name, an escort for all these canine passengers. Witnessing the genuine connection of these volunteers to their fosters, I was resolved to see the task through as conscientiously as I could.
Of course, during the flight, everything was out of my hands. I couldn’t even see when the dogs were loaded, and there was no sound that would have alerted any of the passengers that a whole pack of dogs was currently traveling along in the cargo hold.
But upon landing in San Francisco, they surged back to mind. After a 12 hour flight, the dogs were surely getting stir-crazy, and I was eager to get them through. I had to go through immigration myself, then to the baggage pick-up area where I looked for the appropriate signpost.
It took some time for all nine crates to come out. I paced the row and spoke to them calmly, though I doubt any of them connected me to the beginning of the trip. How I would have loved to glimpse their thoughts as they were unloaded one by one from the plane, descending into a new world of difference that they could surely feel down to every whisker, muscle, and nerve.
I have to admit, not everyone smelled like a dream. Some passersby had rather unflattering things to say about the stench emanating from some of the crates. Just as well that they not linger to close — the dogs surely had enough to take in without suffering the probing eyes of curious rubberneckers. Nevertheless, I was impressed that the majority of the dogs had not soiled their crates. In an effort to share in the dogs’ bodily experience, I had attempted to hold it for the entire duration of the trip, as well.
I couldn’t make it.
So I was sympathetic to the few pups that couldn’t, either.
I flagged over two porters to assist with the crates. This was the only part of the process that was “off the books,” as it were — the porters need to be tipped at least $10 a head, and since we’re talking about moving around live animals, we don’t want them irate! The rescuers back in Taiwan had already accounted for this, and a special hongbao, or red envelope with money, had been packed for this purpose.
Just the cost of doing “business” …
Everything went extremely smoothly. All the adopters were assembled in the greeting area, and there was a palpable shift in the atmosphere as the dogs rolled out to meet their new families. I stepped out of the way at this point and watched the AHAN coordinator sort things out. Faces lit up, voices keened, limbs gestured in excitement.
The families were eager to get their new pets home, as they were instructed not to release them until they were back in a secure area. So the crowd dispersed rather quickly and I barely got a chance to meet everyone! There wasn’t even time for a group shot, since I had touched down in the evening, and it was getting late by the time I made it through customs. Luckily, I was able to hitch a ride back to the East Bay with Mio’s new owners.
All in all, a smooth transport — just as easy as if I was getting in my own car and driving a dog across the state. Frankly, the only hitch occurred right at the customs gate, when the officer wanted to niggle my conscience for importing rescues when “PETA already has dogs for adoption.”
I’ve outlined my stance on such protectionist impulses against overseas dog adoption many times already on this blog (see here, here, and here, for example), so my resolve was unshaken by the officer’s pointed critique. However, it took incredible effort for me to maintain a cheery grin at his offensive suggestion that American adopters would be better off with PETA as a domestic option than an entire, global network of animal charities.
He was also mistaken if he assumed that the foreign is so easily separated from the domestic, as the same rescue groups that work with Taiwanese rescues also help domestic dogs.
The fact of the matter was that these dogs had already been chosen by their adoptive families, who were fully apprised of their circumstances. The motivations for what ultimately stirs an adopter’s heart and moves them to choose that dog as the one they want to help above all others are varied, emotionally complex, and often irrational. I didn’t have it in me to explain or argue all this with the officer who was surely not seeing this for the first time, and who was really just doing his job.
All I could say was, “The dogs are with me. They needed homes. I just want to get them home.”
He didn’t pester me too much more, and waved me through.
And that is how nine Taiwan tugou came home.
Hoping to see some of them at next year’s Taiwan dog reunion!