advice, airlines, dog rescue, dogs, pets, 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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Germany, money, restaurant reviews, trip planning

Trip planning and “lunner” at La Fonte…

Well, it’s finally all settled. Bill and I are going on vacation in about ten days. I wasted most of today planning our upcoming adventure to Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia. But it wasn’t without significant ass pain. Sorry, I know this is a first world problem. It’s just that sometimes it’s a pain in the butt to have American credit cards when you live in Europe.

The ass pain started when Bill let me know that the dogs are confirmed at the dog pension. In the past, we have taken our dogs with us on longer trips, but that was when we had Zane, who was a beagle. Noyzi is a big guy and needs a lot of room. Also, it’s just a lot easier traveling with one species. So, once we got the boys’ lodging confirmed, I went to work.

I knew I wanted to go to Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. That’s about eleven hours’ drive from Wiesbaden. I’ve been wanting to go there for ages, and it’s about the end of the vacation season. After November 1, things kind of go to sleep. I knew it would be a stretch to try to go to Plitvice without breaking up the trip. Bill had noticed Austria’s fair city of Graz, which does look really appealing. But that’s at least eight hours away without any traffic or stops, and we have to drop off the dogs before we set off, which we can’t do until about 9:00am. I knew we would get in super late, and Bill would be weird and tired if we tried to make Graz in one day.

So, I ended up booking up at a hotel in Wels, Austria. Or, at least I tried. I found a well regarded and highly rated place in Wels. I tried to book directly from the hotel’s Web site. It had a rather aggressive pop up system. But, as I was booking, I got sent to a site called Saferpay, which was supposed to make my card transaction “safer” somehow. It timed out or something. My reservation didn’t go through properly, and Bill had to book with his card.

Then, I went on Booking.com and booked a beautiful house in a village near Plitvice Lakes. I tried to use my USAA card for that booking and was immediately declined. PenFed let me book that place, and the next place, near Lake Bohinj in Slovenia. But when I tried to book our last place, in Salzburg, Austria, PenFed declined my charges, too.

In fairness, I don’t use my credit cards much. I once had a lot of credit card debt and paid it all off. I don’t want to get back into credit card debt again, so I usually use my debit card for everything. I use my credit cards mostly for big purchases and trips. Consequently, I often get these problems when I actually use credit, but USAA usually sends an alert to my phone, which allows me to accept or decline charges. This time, I got an email letting me know I had to call USAA… and it came about an hour after everything was settled. Bill and I were having a very late lunch, which I badly needed, because I was hungry and in a FOUL mood.

La Fonte is our neighborhood Italian restaurant, affiliated with the Sportsplatz. We’ve only eaten there a few times, mainly due to COVID. Today, we dined in, and we had to prove we were vaccinated. I still got a dirty look from another patron. He probably wondered why Americans were there, even though there are a number of Americans living in Breckenheim.

I ordered Montepulciano and Tortellini al Forno, which is with cream sauce, ham, and cheese. Bill ordered fettuccini with cream sauce and shrimp. The dish brought out to me was baked rigatoni with Bolognese sauce. We told the waitress, who apologized and brought out my correct order after about twenty minutes. I did taste Bill’s dish. Next time, I’m having what he had… not because mine wasn’t good, but because I liked what he had better.

I might have enjoyed dessert, but we were sitting in the outdoor area, which is next to the smoking section. They left the door to the smoking section open, so the smoke wafted into where we were sitting and clogged up my nose. Plus, as we were eating, I got that email from USAA, which really annoyed me. We paid about 43 euros for lunch, and I think we should come back to La Fonte more often. It really is a nice place, and they were doing a brisk business today. They don’t take a pause, either. We need to enjoy lunch there when I’m not preoccupied with my credit cards. Next time, we’ll sit inside the restaurant, away from the smokers.

When we got home, I took a quick shower and then Skyped USAA. I spent 40 worthless minutes waiting until the representative said I needed to call back on my cell phone. The whole time, I kept hearing the same insanity inducing hold “song”, which if you’re a musical person, like I am, is MADDENING.

After the woman told me she couldn’t help, I hung up with her and called on my cell phone. Supposedly, you can call collect if you’re overseas, but only if you’re on a landline. We don’t have a landline.

So I called… and this time, after about 8 minutes of waiting, I got someone much more competent. I explained what happened, and she removed the block. We don’t know why USAA reacted the way it did, and why they didn’t send me a text to allow me to confirm or deny the charges. But now that card, at least, is unblocked. As for PenFed, I’m not sure if that card is blocked. But it did allow me to book the bulk of our stay in the Balkans, so I’m happy enough with that.

I’m not calling them today, though. Now, I need a drink and some good music… And it’s time to plan all of the things we’re going to do, because I have a feeling we’re going to have a blast.

Lake Bohinj was suggested to us in May 2016 by several Slovenians, when we visited Lake Bled. I was overwhelmed by how many vacation homes there are there. It took forever to choose one, but I think I chose one that will make us happy for four nights.

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