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, airlines, coronavirus, Europe

Yankee– stay home!

Yesterday, I read a travel column on The New York Times‘ Web site. Someone had asked for advice about travel to Europe this summer. The article was entitled, “Help! I Want to go to Europe in August. Is This a Pipe Dream?” Below is the letter in question:

My husband and I are currently planning a trip to Ireland, Portugal and Italy for August and September. We are only reserving hotels with free cancellation policies and our airline tickets can be changed to a future date. Knowing that much of Europe is closed right now to United States citizens because of the virus, is there much hope that our plans will materialize, or are we wasting our time? What should I watch for? 

Kathy

The author of the column, Sarah Firsheim, wasn’t as discouraging to Kathy as she probably should have been. She pointed out that some destinations in Europe are opening up for tourists. Greece and Iceland, for example, are starting to welcome tourists again, as long as they’re vaccinated and/or have negative COVID-19 tests. She points out that a lot of hotels and airlines are becoming more flexible about stays, too.

What I would like to tell Kathy is that she needs her head examined. I don’t think flying to Europe is a good idea right now, especially for tourist purposes. But even if COVID-19 weren’t an issue, I would never recommend coming to Europe in August. Why? Because August is typically when Europeans go on vacation. Many businesses close while people take vacations or, if they happen to be expats from another country, they go “home” to see family. August is also uncomfortably hot in many parts of Europe, and not everywhere has climate control, although it is getting more common every year.

But especially this year, I think Americans coming to Europe is a dumb idea. I said so in the comment section, with this comment:

Everything is locked down in Europe. I live here now. Save your plane fare.

I got an “angry” reaction from some lady in Sweden, who says I’m wrong because things are not locked down in Sweden. This was my response to her. I will admit, I was a bit annoyed, because I’m tired of random yahoos on the Internet shooting people down and insulting them simply for expressing their opinions.

Happy for you in Sweden. Where I live, it’s been locked down since November. Same seems to be the case in all the neighboring nations. If I were living in America wanting to come thousands of miles to Europe, enduring an overnight flight on a plane, donning a mask while being poked in the back by my neighbor’s knees, and having the person in front of me reclined in my lap, I would want to be sure the trip was well worth it.

Right now, living in Europe and LOCKED DOWN for months, I would say it’s definitely not. Your mileage may vary in Sweden. *shrug*

And then the Swedish lady came back and wrote this:

We have never had locked down and I am happy for that. But we can’t do much anyhow can’t see friends. I would not have come here from US either.

Seems to me this would be obvious. I mean, technically, one could say that Germany never locked down like France or Spain did. It’s never been to the point at which one literally can’t go anywhere. But shops are closed; people aren’t supposed to visit (although my neighbors break this rule); some places have curfews; museums and attractions are closed; hotels are not allowed to accept bookings for anything but business travel… Why in the HELL would an American want to come to Europe under those conditions, except maybe to see family? So I responded thusly:

Yes, and that was my point. I am American and I live in Germany. I love Europe, but I wouldn’t want to come here from America now. Not until more people have been vaccinated and things are more the way they were before. I can count on one hand the number of times I have left my neighborhood since the fall. My car’s battery has died twice because there’s nowhere to drive, where I would go for a reason other than just to drive to keep the battery charged. It’s a lot of money and precious time off for most Americans to vacation in Europe. I think they should wait until they don’t have to make an appointment to shop.

Vaccination rollout here has been excruciatingly slow. Even the U.S. military, which was supposed to be getting us our vaccines sometime before the end of May, is now delayed because the shots they got were the Johnson & Johnson ones, which have caused clots in some women. And, at least in Germany, citizens can’t get vaccinated because there aren’t enough shots available yet. It’s going to take time before people are able to get the shots and things will be less weird.

I’m not sure if the Swedish lady realizes that many Americans– even those with good jobs– have a very limited amount of vacation time available to them. And that’s if they’re lucky enough to work full time and have benefits. Our culture doesn’t value leisure time like European culture does. A lot of people get two weeks– tops– per year for vacation purposes. Consequently, not only is it costly and uncomfortable to come to Europe from the United States, but those days off are very precious. And truly, I think Americans who are wanting to come to Europe this year are nuts, although I might consider visiting a place where things aren’t quite so restricted.

If I hadn’t decided against flying for the time being, maybe I would consider visiting Iceland, for instance. I have never been there and I would love to go. But, to be honest, the idea of flying is very unappealing to me right now. I think flying is unpleasant under the best of circumstances. People seem to turn into majorly selfish assholes when they’re on an airplane. Now, add in the fact that everyone is supposed to stay masked the whole time they’re flying… and not only is that uncomfortable and annoying, but now everyone on the plane is paying super close attention to what other people are doing, which I find weird and creepy.

The New York Times ran another article entitled “How Safe Are You From COVID When You Fly?” It was a pretty interesting article, complete with a cool interactive feature showing how air flow works. But just looking at the interactive feature creeped me out…

A creepy screenshot from the interactive simulator of everyone crowded together while wearing masks. It just looks really uncomfortable. Who wants to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for that experience, unless it’s absolutely necessary?
You can’t even eat a snack or drink something without everyone watching your every move, silently judging you and seeing how long it takes you to replace the mask. Creepy! Who wants to pay for that?

I do love to travel. I miss it, although I haven’t been as deprived as a lot of people have over the past year. But I don’t want to fly anywhere until the COVID-19 situation is more under control. I’ll fly if I MUST– like, if Germany kicks us out and we have to go back to the States. But I won’t be volunteering for the above experience anytime soon. I get the masks are important for now, but this whole coronavirus experience has made me dislike people even more than I ever did. And the idea of being mashed into a seat next to a bunch of cranky, hyper-vigilant people, right on the edge of making a scene over COVID-19 regulations, just makes me think flying is extremely unappealing right now. I would much rather drive, and not have to worry about fellow passengers and flight attendants observing my every move, fighting over armrests or seat recliners, getting through security, worrying about getting sick, using disgusting airplane lavatories, or any of the other many inconveniences and annoyances associated with flying.

And again… I think if you’re American and you’re looking for a vacation destination in Europe for this year, you need a reality check. Now is not the best time to be here. COVID-19 numbers are up, and things are very iffy in terms of border closures and lockdowns. I say, save your plane fare and go somewhere in North America.

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