Monday, September 29, 2014

There And Back Again -- with a Hitchhiker! (part one)

Jordan, our dog, prior to departure for Cameroon. 2009.
Photo compliments of our talented pet photographer friend, Linda Phillips.

Author’s note:
This blog posting is perhaps not as story-ish as other postings. Mainly it is to share what we’ve learned and to encourage our friends who’ve asked that it is possible to bring your pets to and from Africa and here’s how we did it. We encourage all our compatriots with furry friends to keep them.


~o~

Most readers are aware of J.R.R. Tolkien’s popular children’s book, The Hobbit, also titled “There and Back Again”. The title reminds me of our recent travel experience with our pets - our dog, Jordan, and our cat, Milo. Although, on second examination, it might be more appropriate to label our experience as “There and Back Again — with a Hitchhiker”.

Part One: There

The story begins back in 2009 when Bill and I were relocating to Buea, Cameroon, to begin our five-year mission term at the health institution. We sat around the table discussing things we would miss, good byes that would be difficult and fraught with potential tears and heartache.

“But why not bring Jordan (our dog)?” our experienced missionary friends inquired. “We took our dog over with the family when we lived in X country. It was one of the best decisions we made.”

“You took your dog with you to Africa?” Bill and I chorused in unison. “Really?! Wasn’t it difficult? The logistics complicated and tedious?” Both of us had assumed that giving up our pets was just one of the sacrifices we’d have to make in order to be missionaries in Cameroon.

“No, no, it wasn’t complicated at all,” our friends assured us. They then proceeded to outline the process. It sounded rather simple actually. The seed was planted. The idea took root and grew to fruition. 

~o~

Veterinarian Certificate for International Travel
Certificate of Good Health and Microchip Confirmation Paperwork
“Now which country in Africa are you traveling to again?” The vet technician smiled sympathetically as she checked Jordan’s heart, teeth, and drew a blood sample to confirm the absence of heartworms. She scanned Jordan’s fur and wrote down the Avid microchip number on her paperwork certifying our dog’s general healthy status and identification.

Vaccination Record including the all important Rabies Vaccine
“Good luck,” the veterinarian and her assistant waved to us as we left their office, dog pulling ahead with her leash, and owners clutching the paperwork and a prescription of some kind of doggy Valium termed ACE. “Give it to her just before you put her in her crate and on the plane,” the vet had instructed.

Our check list was complete:
Air France ticket for dog - booked at the same time as our own tickets
Paperwork certifying the dog was in good health
Vaccination Record
Airline approved dog crate

Bill and I filled Jordan’s plastic dishes that attached to the crate’s wire bars with food and water. We walked her around the dog park at the airport complete with its faux green grass and plastic fire hydrants one last time — finally we administered her doggy sedative and headed for Air France’s check in counter. “I think that medicine is affecting her already,” I observed as Bill walked ahead with Jordan on her lead and myself trailing behind with the crate on a push kart.

Jordan gave a lopsided wag of her tail and staggered with a pronouncedly wide gait, swaying slightly with her happy panting. “She’s walking like she’s drunk.”

“At least she’s a happy drunk dog,” my husband remarked. She entered her crate and was wheeled away by the Air France attendant without any resistance. “You have a well behaved dog,” the check-in personnel commented. “Now remember, you will need to collect your luggage and the dog in Paris. You can walk her around in the pet area at Charles de Gaul before re-checking everything again for the flight from Paris to Douala.”


~o~

“Where’s the dog?” I asked Bill with a frown and worried whine. “We have our two suit cases that were checked but where is the dog’s crate?” Both of us scanned up and down the luggage collection area. Distracted passengers bustled around all around laden with their own luggage or pushing karts overflowing with suitcases. Push and shove. The typical airport chaos. Lugging around our carry-on bags and now two large suitcases, one of which had a very bad habit of tipping over at the slightest provocation, did not make for an ideal situation to search for where our pet might have been deposited.

“You stay with the luggage, I’ll look around,” I rushed off with just my shoulder bag leaving Bill to manage the suitcases. He wasn’t thrilled.

At last, in a corner of the large arena designated for luggage claims, I found a cluster of plastic pet crates — Two crates containing German shepherd puppies, another crate with a large canine of nondescript lineage and finally a familiar cage with a very familiar furry face inside. The last carrier went thump - thump and shook a little as I approached. The inhabitant, a relieved Jordan, recognized me. I snapped on her dog lead and waved to Bill to join.

It’s not exactly convenient to collect one’s luggage mid-way through a long journey from one continent to another. One has to haul their 20-kilogram suitcases and large dog carrier all the way across the airport to the airline check-in counter again. Since we only had four hours until our next leg of the journey, we immediately began the trek. As we struggled forward through the hustle and bustle of the busy international airport in France, searching for the appropriate signage that might indicate we were headed in the proper direction, I also scanned for a “pet rest area”, some designated spot for owners to let their pets relieve themselves and get a drink. While Bill waited at the check in counter, I strolled with Jordan on her leash outside. Concrete. Asphalt. More concrete. Not the faintest hint of a green blade of grass. Nothing organic to be seen in all directions. Poor Jordan. “Sorry, dog,” I shrugged to a very disappointed dog at my side. “I don’t see any grass anywhere for you to pee. If you really have to go, you’ll have to water the pavement.” Jordan was too much of a lady to condescend to such antics. She bravely lapped some water that I fetched her from the sink at a nearby loo but turned up her nose when I tried to feed her some treats and dog food.

Jordan was much more un-willing to enter her crate the second time around. We prayed we’d see her when we arrived in Douala as the airline attendant whisked crated canine away.

~o~

“Bill? Trixy?” our church Union officials approached us and inquired hesitantly.

“Yes, yes,” Bill and I shook hands with the officers who’d come to welcome us to Cameroon and assist with our luggage, translating the French of the airport personnel when necessary.

“We have a dog with us too,” Bill informed the church welcome committee.

“A dog?” they exchanged glances and bravely nodded their understanding. Dogs are generally feared in Cameroon. Appropriately so since almost all dogs are raised as guard dogs. Many a Cameroonian can testify to an accident with an escaped guard dog.

One by one our luggage appeared on the suitcase turnstile. “Yes, that’s all the bags,” we answered. “Now we just need to look for our dog.” Both Bill and I scanned the small luggage-collection room anxiously. Did Jordan make it to Africa? Was she ok? Did she survive the trip?

Suddenly, one of the church officers pointed to the far left corner of the room. “Look, over there, is that your dog?”

Glancing in the direction of his outstretched hand, we noticed a small cluster of dark-skinned, orange vested airport luggage personnel huddled in an animated discussion around a familiar large kennel. “It’s our dog!”

Bill and I strolled over to the huddle of confused and anxious personnel. “Our dog,” we smiled happily. The African airport baggage handlers seemed relieved. The church officials spoke in rapid French. Eventually, both luggage and dog crate were hauled out to the airport parking area and deposited next to the church’s SUV. I opened the barred front door of the crate, which by now was shaking dangerously with a very happy dog inside who recognized her owners. I placed her on her leash and led her out to a patch of grass while others figured out how to fit cage, luggage, and humans into one SUV. Jordan relieved her bladder for a very, very, very long time. I had no idea a dog could contain herself that much. Poor dog.

No one asked to see any paperwork on Jordan. No vet inspected her in the cage or looked at her certificates and vaccination records. The last officials to glance at her papers had been the Air France employees in Washington D.C. Bill, Trixy, and Jordan… we were a happy and thankful trio to exit the airport and complete our journey to Buea in the vehicle. Jordan quickly adapted to chasing lizards with long blue or orange tails instead of squirrels. She adapted to beans with rice and a complement of egg, meat, and vegetables/fruits instead of commercial variety dog food. Her yard was bigger than ever before. She was with her beloved humans. She guarded her new home faithfully. She trotted around Buea and introduced the concept of “pet dog” to many. She growled and snapped at the little children who dared throw rocks at her during her strolls with her humans. She pretended to be mean and vicious with her gentle-leader halter snug around her snout while everyone else thought it was a muzzle because she was such a wild dog. She didn’t even care when others joked, “Dash me your dog. I want to eat your dog. Your dog would make good pepper soup.”

Jordan hunting Lizard
In general, perhaps Jordan adapted to life in Africa even better than her humans. Certainly both she and them were glad she came along to share in the adventure. The only glitch came a few months into her life in Buea. One February her female human, Trixy, came home from the bakery with a box that went ‘meow’. “I didn’t find any peanut butter but I found this…” she called out cheerfully.

“Oh no, a cat,” Bill replied as he peered inside the box with a tiny fluffy grey kitten inside.

“Isn’t she cute!” I answered with joy. “Come, Jordan, come and meet your new friend.” 
Jordan checking out Milo as a kitten

Jordan tiptoed over to the box cautiously. “Hiss!” the fur ball inside suddenly fluffed and arched its back in a menacing stance. Ok, it wasn’t the best of first impressions but eventually the dog/cat duo came to a truce of sorts. Cat teases dog but dog remains champion over the food bowl.

~o~

“Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.”
― Dean Koontz, False Memory