rants

A rant about the CDC’s new rule about importing pets…

If you are a regular reader of my blogs, you know that I have two adorable furry family members. At this writing, our dogs are Arran and Noyzi. Prior to our acquisition of Noyzi, we had another dog named Zane, who sadly died of lymphoma on August 31, 2019. The featured photo today is of Zane and Arran on August 2, 2014, when we flew from Houston, Texas to Frankfurt, Germany on a Lufthansa flight.

Bill and I have always had dogs. Next month, we will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. Our dogs have been our family members, because we were not able to have children. Although I don’t require an emotional support animal, I do rely on my dogs to keep my company when Bill travels. Prior to the pandemic and, more specifically, the new CDC restriction on bringing animals into the United States, it was a pain in the butt to move abroad with pets. Now, it’s become a real hassle for people who have to return home from living overseas. I fear that this new rule may cause a lot of pets to be abandoned. Here in Germany, that is bad news, since Americans already have a terrible reputation for abandoning their pets when it’s time to move. It really sucks for those of us who are dedicated pet owners.

This morning, The New York Times ran an article about the new rule and how it affects people who travel with their pets, or Americans who live abroad. I am a subscriber to The New York Times and have gifted this article, so you should be able to click the link and read it for free. I am a member of a Facebook group for people who are “PCSing” with pets, and there’s been a lot of worry about how to get dogs and cats safely to places abroad. Many of the people traveling with pets are young folks who don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on hiring pet shippers. And many of the people in Germany or other countries with pets brought their animals before this new rule suddenly went into effect. I have noticed that the government has, sort of, been trying to gradually phase in the most draconian parts of this new rule. But they still pose a huge problem for a lot of people who make their living abroad.

My dogs have always flown as “excess baggage”, which means they flew on our flights in the hold of the aircraft. That is the most economical way to transport pets. When Bill was still in the Army, our dogs flew on United Airlines and Delta Airlines respectively. Last time we flew with dogs, back in 2014, they flew on Lufthansa, which is a wonderful airline for pets. The luggage hold on Lufthansa is light and temperature controlled, and the animals are loaded at the last minute, so they don’t have to sit on the tarmac. But the United States government has a rule that makes using pet friendly airlines tricky for people who are flying on the government’s dime.

Because of the Fly America Act, people who are flying on taxpayer funds must use an American carrier for as far as possible. At this writing, only a handful of American carriers are still allowing pets to fly. Some people can get around that rule by booking their flights on a codeshared flight. Say you’re flying to Germany. To comply with the Fly America Act, you should be booking your flight on United or Delta. But you can book a Lufthansa flight through United and still be in compliance. Of course, thanks to COVID-19 and the new CDC rule, it’s gotten much harder to book flights. Some airlines won’t fly animals in the baggage hold anymore. Some will only fly small animals in the cabin, which can be problematic for those who have pets who are too big. Military servicemembers can sometimes use the rotator (Patriot Express) to fly their pets, but spots are limited and book up very quickly. I have read a lot of horror stories from stressed out servicemembers trying to figure out how to get their pets home.

Many people have used pet shippers to fly their pets. I suspect that if and when Bill and I have to move to the States with pets, we will have to use a shipper. Noyzi is a big dog, and he will probably need a special crate. He isn’t very heavy, but he’s tall and long bodied, and there are very specific rules on the sizes of the carriers that can be used. I have been saving money, because I’m sure he’s going to need to go cargo with a pet shipper, and that costs several thousand dollars, as opposed to the couple hundred per pet charged when flying them as excess baggage. Flying with a shipper is also a hassle, since it involves the dog going through a different part of the airport and possibly not coming on the same flight. We are currently fortunate enough to be able to afford a shipper, but not everyone is.

All of this is a real pain for anyone with pets and living abroad, but what is actually prompting me to write this morning are the negative, ignorant, and dismissive attitudes I’ve seen in some of the comment sections on the articles I’ve seen about this new CDC rule. I get that a lot of pet owners have done some “crazy” things, like bringing their emotional support kangaroos or peacocks on planes. I also understand that there’s been some very bad press about animals dying because they were transported in weather that was too hot or cold, or because someone put them in the overhead bin (which is just plain stupid). But there really must be a safe, affordable, and accessible way for people to travel with animals. Especially if we’re serious about not abandoning pets at shelters. This new rule is going to cause issues from negative troop morale to hostile host country relations. It will probably also result in a lot of wonderful pets dying or being abandoned.

So many comments on The New York Times article were from people who wrote things like, “It’s just an animal” or “Good! I hate flying with pets!” or “Americans who live overseas shouldn’t have pets.” This self-centered attitude is really distressing to me. I don’t have a problem with my dogs flying under the cabin, but it should be safe and affordable. And people should not be so narrow-minded and shitty about people who need to move their pets. A lot of these self-entitled twits are the same ones who condemn other people for needing to rehome their pets. It would be nice if people, in general, would have more empathy and understanding for those who aren’t like them. I get that some people have allergies or don’t like animals. I don’t like dealing with some people or their kids… some of them give me a rash or a pain in the ass. It is what it is. Flying is a hassle for everybody.

One lady kept writing about how when she was a “military kid living overseas”, her parents didn’t allow her to have pets. She implied that those of us in that situation should “suck it up” and live without pets. I finally had to offer her a cookie and a reminder that as a military “brat”, she should know that military families are diverse. To some military families, pets are beloved companions who make life easier and more worthwhile. And while it may not be practical to have pets when there’s a chance one could move overseas, life happens to everyone. Sometimes people in civilian jobs get the opportunity or find that they must move abroad. There should be a solution for those people, too.

In my case, I was not able to have children, and I’ve followed my husband to several different states and twice to Germany for his career. The career I planned for in public health and social work, back when I was single, has turned into blogging. I know a lot of people don’t think my blogs are worth anything, but they give me a reason to get up in the morning. My dogs help keep me sane and happy, especially when he travels. I don’t have a lot of human friends. We rescued Noyzi from Kosovo, where he lived outside with a bunch of other dogs. He wasn’t being abused in that environment, but he’s much happier having a family. Every day, we get to see him evolve and become more loving and trusting toward us. It’s very rewarding for us, and, I imagine, for him.

When we moved to Germany with Zane and Arran in 2014, the rules were already stricter than they had been in 2007 and 2009, when we flew with our previous dogs. Now, they have become downright oppressive. We made the choice to move here in 2014 because we wanted to live in Germany, but it was also the only place where Bill had a firm job offer after his Army retirement. It was either move to Germany, or be unemployed and soon land in dire financial straits. The move was a good one for us, but thanks to this new rule from the CDC, we’re going to have to do what we can to stay here for as long as possible. Abandoning our dogs isn’t an option, and it shouldn’t be something people are forced to do over well-intended, but impractical, rules imposed by the CDC.

At this point, Germany is not on the list of high risk rabies countries, nor are other countries in the European Union. But because of the CDC’s new rule, a lot of European airlines are not wanting to transport animals. They don’t want to deal with the hassle. And who can blame them for that? After January 2022, it’s going to be a lot harder to bring animals into the United States, because only three “ports” will allow them to enter– Atlanta, JFK in New York City, and Los Angeles. That will cause backups for sure. I truly hope this rule will be amended or abolished at some point soon. Otherwise, Bill and I will have to stay here until Noyzi crosses the Rainbow Bridge. At twelve years old, we may not have to worry about Arran for too many more years… although he’s proving to be a real scrapper in his old age.

Rant over for now… tomorrow, we go on vacation, and the boys go to the Hundepension. Hopefully, it will go off without a hitch, and I can write some new content about actual travel.

Edited to add: Here’s a link to a book review I wrote about a lady in Virginia who, along with her mom, adopted dogs from Turkey. Military and government employees aren’t the only ones affected by this ruling. She rants about the new rule in her book, too.

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advice, Germany, money

USAA inconveniences and disappoints me yet again. And PenFed is not much better.

Once again, I had to call USAA about my card. This time, it was my debit card, which I tried to use to purchase a couple of sweaters from Novica.com. Granted, it was more than I would usually spend on sweaters… about $350. Well, USAA immediately declined that charge, which led to my spending over an hour trying to find the right phone number to contact someone who could fix my issue.

When I finally did get someone on the phone, I was admittedly pretty annoyed. But to his credit, he did manage to correct the problem, even though now I don’t want to try to use my cards for fear of having to make another phone call. USAA used to send texts to my cell phone when a suspicious charge came up. That way, I could authorize charges without having to be inconvenienced. But I guess USAA doesn’t want to pay for international texts now… so that means a significant decline in their service level for their customers who are overseas. I tried to use USAA’s worthless bot on their site, which only directed me to general articles that weren’t very helpful at all.

I also noticed that they no longer call me Mrs. Instead, they use my given name, which always makes me cringe. It’s not that I want to be called Mrs., per se. It’s more that I think that if you don’t know what name a person normally goes by, you don’t know them well enough to address them by their first name. Using the honorific is also a sign of respect… although I imagine respect is becoming a foreign concept in some companies.

At least this time, I didn’t have to use my cell phone. Last week, I had to call on my cell, which will result in international roaming charges. I did call on the cell the first time I spoke to someone this morning– it was the number on the “urgent” email I got, which led to the credit card services office. I went through the whole security rigamarole, only to be told that the phone number I used– the one USAA put in their email to me– was for the wrong office. Since I was trying to use my debit card, they transferred me to checking. Of course, no one was working because it’s Saturday and, at the time of my call, it was very early in the morning in Texas.

Later on today, I will be calling PenFed, because I think they blocked my credit card last weekend as I was trying to book our upcoming trip. I managed to book two places before the block kicked in. I didn’t get an email from them, but they didn’t let me use the card at Novica, either, and it says in my account I have to call them for the “status” of my credit card… even though I’ve already almost paid off last week’s big charges for our trip. Unlike USAA, it appears that no one at PenFed works on Saturday until later. So that will be fun. I may be somewhat less pissed off by that time.

I really think these overzealous fraud protections are very bad for business. Now, I am reluctant to use my credit cards. Novica will miss out on a generous sale, until I am feeling more up to buying something… and that might not be anytime soon. I get that international calls are expensive, but if I don’t want to use my credit cards, that will cost USAA money, too. They should at least make it so people can take care of these issues online, without having to call across several time zones and sit in phone queues on the weekends.

It’s cold and cloudy today, and we have some things to take care of before we take our trip. I did manage to set up travel alerts, so MAYBE if I use the cards next week, they won’t get automatically declined. There is something to be said for using cash, even if a lot of businesses, even in Germany, are moving away from cash, thanks to COVID.

I don’t know if we’ll do anything today, besides some chores that need doing. Next week, there will be some action on the blog… I hope.

Just as I was about to close this post, I got an automated phone call from USAA to verify the transactions… if I had gotten that call before they shut off my card, this whole gripe could have been avoided. USAA really needs to step up its game. Their policies are inconvenient and annoying, especially for people overseas.

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