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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Traveling with Dogs to Japan

It’s been almost a year since the dogs received their ISO approved microchips and the first of two rabies vaccines.  My goodness how time flies. I prepared the dogs for travel to Japan last year with the hope that we would move in October of 2010. The entire procedure took about 8 or 9 months. First, the USDA was contacted in order to find a local qualified veterinarian to do the work. Dr. Orlan at Sacajawea Animal Hospital was one of the choices. Her office was about 5 miles away. After making initial contact and confirming that she was qualified in exporting animals overseas, I made an appointment. I was relieved to hear that she had experience in exporting dogs to Japan. However, that relief was soon tarnished after I found that Lucky had a microchip implanted previously before he was adopted. Dr. Morlan was confident that the microchip was acceptable. I could not take any risks, so I insisted that the microchip be read by an approved ISO reader. My doubts proved to be correct. The microchip was not ISO approved. Dr. Morlan inserted the correct microchips in Lucky and Kiley. I witnessed that the ISO reader read the microchips properly. If you ever have this procedure done, be forwarned. The needle to inject the microchip was huge! Once the microchip was implanted, Dr. Morlan  administered the USDA approved rabies vaccination.
It was important that the microchip number, vaccination specs., date, address, names, even the color of the ink (blue), be correct. I must have checked the information a dozen times. Once the dogs are at the quarantine office in Japan, it would be too late to correct a mistake. Having the dogs spend 6 months locked up in quarantine because I did not pay enough attention to all the details, would be more than I could live with. Do your homework! Make sure you have the most updated information you can get. I emailed the quarantine office in Osaka to confirm my paperwork was up to date. I also kept in touch with the USDA in Olympia to make sure I was following procedures correctly. I learned my lesson about doing government paperwork myself when I was trying to bring Erika to America. I hired an immigration attorney and found that he missed many details when he filed the paperwork. Don’t rely on them! His mistakes delayed Erika’s arrival and cost me a lot of money.
After a minimum of 30 days had passed, the dogs were given a second USDA approved rabies vaccine. Again, I made sure all of the paperwork was in order. Ten days after the booster shot was given, blood samples were taken. This time, it was important that the samples were properly marked and matched with the correct microchip and to the correct dog. The samples were shipped to the only testing facility in North America, located at Kansas State University. Fortunately, Dr. Morlan had worked or attended school at the university and was familiar with their stringent protocols. After two or three weeks, the reports came back. The dogs were free of rabies to the standards required by the USDA and Japan.
"Crate! Come and get it!" 
The next step required that the dogs remained in the U.S. for a minimum of 6 months. During this period, I researched the best flights to get the dogs to Japan. It was out of the question to have Kiley and Lucky fly in the cargo hold for 10 hours. That fact eliminated ANA and Japan Airlines. Delta and United became our choices. During our last trip to Japan, we were able to fly on both airlines. Delta flew 767’s to Japan. I noticed that the room under the seats was cramped in economy class. I found that United’s 777 offered more room under the seats. If we flew Economy Plus, then I believed that the dogs would have enough room. We were considering purchasing an extra seat to allow for more room. There are many things to consider when flying internationally with your dog. Only a few dogs are allowed in the cabin per flight. Arrive early as the airlines have a first come, first served policy. Some types of dogs are not allowed to fly during certain times of the year. Some dogs can’t be sedated. It’s important to call reservations in advance to make sure the pet policies haven’t changed. I planned to take the most direct route to Tsukahara, which meant landing in Osaka. I had to consider how long the dogs would be required to stay cooped up in the crates. I figured a few hours before the flight, during the flight, and a couple of hours after the flight. That’s a total of 15 hours! I needed a crate that was airline approved, would fit under the seat, be large enough for the dogs to move around in, and could be carried by us. I researched all kinds of dog carriers and came up with one that a friend of ours had been using. The carrier was made by Sturdi Products. The carrier was soft, flexible, and light. It was just a matter of getting the dogs used to going inside of it. We had made it a habit of feeding the dogs in the crates for the past year. If I said, “Crate”, they immediately associated the crate with something good. Whether or not they can withstand being in the carrier for 15 hours is still undetermined. I asked Dr. Morlan if we could give Lucky and Kiley a sedative to get them through this ordeal. She prescribed an anti-anxiety pill, Alprazolam 2mg, that has proven to be effective for both dogs during recent fireworks and thunderstorms. The real test will be figuring out how much to give to calm them for such a long journey. Honestly, I think I’ll need the sedatives more than the dogs. I’ll be a nervous wreck!
Lucky and Kiley - no hesitation to claim their own favorite toy that was sent as a X'mas present
If we had moved to Japan last October, I would have contacted the Osaka Quarantine office a minimum of 45 days in advance. They would have sent proof of confirmation that is required ahead of time in order for the dogs to be seen at the quarantine office. In other words, early notification prepares them for the arrival of our dogs. Next, I would have contacted the airlines, confirmed their pet travel policies, and reserved seats. Ten days before departure, I would have visited the Dr. Morlan to get a health certificate for the dogs. I would have also made an appointment with the USDA to bring the health certificates and have the paperwork certified. A day or two before traveling, I would have confirmed with the airlines that we would be traveling with two dogs in the cabin. I would also confirm that I had all the proper paperwork to get the dogs safely on board and to Japan.  

Good Girl!
Even with all this planning, there is no guarantee that the dogs won’t have to spend any time in quarantine in Japan. If everything goes well, the dogs would only have to be at the quarantine office for a couple of hours. The clock is ticking. I have two years from when the rabies vaccinations were given to get the dogs to Japan. The process so far has cost $1000 for both dogs. I don’t want to wait much longer for two reasons. Repeating this process would be a huge and expensive pain.  Kiley is almost 7 which means she’s reaching the point to where she’ll be too old to endure the stress of such a journey. This fact is weighing heavy on my conscience. The daunting task of getting the dogs to Japan and through customs overshadows what happens after we arrive. It’s just too much to think about.

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