Friday, January 15, 2016

I wish I could speak cat.......

If I could speak cat, I could tell Moses that everything will be fine and that he is "home" now for 7 months or so.  I could tell him that the last 48 hours of travel hell (for him) are over and that it will be a while before he has to do it again.  I could explain that he will have to be an indoor cat for awhile.
But.....I don't speak cat so he's going to have to come to all the above on his own.

Getting him ready and here was a real experience for all three of us.  Our preparations started in October when I started reading online about traveling with a pet overseas.  Let me tell you it's a little like reading about medical symptoms- it scared me half to death!  A lot of stories about nightmare customs officers and airline staff.  Many people told me the airlines would be very strict about his weight and the size of the carrier.  So I probably over prepared just to be safe.
I bought him a special TSA approved security harness and leash so I could safely carry him through the people X-Ray machine- his carrier has to go by itself on the belt with the carry on luggage.  I got him a flexible lightweight carrier with a removable base in case we were challenged on the size.  I also bought a bunch of absorbent carrier pads in case he had an accident on the flight.  It turned out all of these purchases were worth their weight in gold.
We started harness training at home in early November.  The first time he had it on he went stiff legged and fell over sideways.  I laughed so hard and felt so bad at the same time!  He looked a little like the dogs on You Tube wearing shoes for the first time.  After he finally figured out how to stand and walk he was a little like a drunk, using the walls to navigate and stay upright.  He never got comfortable in it, but he got to the point he could walk, sit and eat with it on.

Next step was his "Pet Passport".  You have to use a "qualified" vet to get one.  It entails about 9 pages of questions and a rabies certificate.  There has to be a 15 bit chip implanted and it all has to be completed in a certain amount of time before travel.  So now Moses has two chips- a US one and an EU one.  Ten days before you fly you have to have a wellness exam and at that time the paperwork gets overnighted to the USDA vet office, in our case Gainesville, Fl.
The vet there reviews the paperwork and checks it for errors.  They also make sure the questions are answered the way they know the airlines and customs officers will want it.  They then sign off on it (in blue, not black ink), stamp each page with a seal and then overnight it back.  The whole process took about three days.  The people in the USDA office were so nice- they even caught a date error the day before we left and called to have us change it.  Everything I read said you success in travel with your pet is all about this paperwork.
Once we got all of that squared away we got ready to actually do the thing.  The morning of our trip Jan 12, 2016 we made sure Moses could go outside and do his thing, fed him again and then it was time to roll!!
Now here is where things start to go off rail because I had not tried out his new carrier with the vest on.  The minute I put him in the harness he stiffened up and I could not get him into the carrier.  Robb had to come and hold the carrier up ended while I held Moseys legs together and shoved him in feet first.  That accomplished I had to change my clothes again due to the stress shedding he got all over me.
Now we are loaded up and heading to the airport.  Jacksonville was pretty easy.  It wasn't very busy and people (including TSA) were patient with us.  The ticket agent collected $125.00 for Moses and we headed to security, got Moses out of his crate and over my shoulder to go through the Xray machine.  On the other side it was tense for a minute while I waited for his carrier to get screened and we had to do the upending trick again to get him back inside it.
We were feeling pretty confident- it all went smooth other than the TSA agent who was scared of Moses (seriously!) and called him a cougar.
On board he didn't make a peep and we did the quick trip to Miami without incident.  Once in Miami we had to walk with all our luggage piled on a cart to the airport hotel.

We checked in and got to our room and let Moses out.  He spent the next three hours crammed between the platform base of the bed and the wall.  We hoped he might eat or drink- no dice. at 4 pm we headed out to the Air France desk to check him in.  It was another two terminals away so another luggage cart.  At this point we looked like everyone else in Miami airport except we didn't shrink wrap our bags.  At the ticket counter the agent went page by page through the passport and then made a copy.  That done she collected $200.00 for his ticket.  (Do you see where this is going yet?).  Back we go to the hotel for three more hours of Moses crammed next to the wall.  We get a take out dinner (with beer, thank God) and tried to relax.  No dice there either.  The biggest hurdle was coming.

Miami airport security is crazy and not really a fun or friendly atmosphere.  They also do not have TSA pre-check so we had to take everything out of our bags and take our shoes off.  The entire time the TSA agent was screaming at people to hurry up and get through.  Robb got stuck with managing all the hand luggage and our electronics and toiletries.  I had to get Moses out (again) and carry him through.  Each time I did this I said a little prayer that the beep would not sound and we would have to get pulled for extra screening.  As I went through to the other side I could see his carrier was way behind us on the belt.  The TSA agent running the screening machine was so nice when she saw us standing waiting.  I think she could see Moses face- he was petrified- so much noise and so many people.  She opened up the side of the belt, grabbed his carrier and helped me get him back in.  This time he didn't fight at all, just scooted in to safety.  We got our selves packed back up to his pitiful cries from inside his carrier.  He settled down once we got to the gate area and sat down.  The carrier has a small zippered hole at the top where I can get my hand in to pet him and he was calmed by the contact.
On board again he had a big space up in front of my seat.  He was quiet the whole trip and I tried hard to relax and let him be but that was almost impossible.  I kept having to check on him.  Finally I think we both slept some.  I couldn't recline my seat much without squishing him so I slept upright.  It was a blessedly short flight- just 7.5 hours from Miami to Paris.
We had booked a room at the Hilton Charles de Gaulle, which is right in the airport but three terminals away from our baggage claim.  We decide to try a taxi, even though it is a short ride.  We got the nicest taxi driver- most times they refuse to go short distances because they are missing out on a longer fare to the city.  You can be sure we tipped him well.
In the room, Moses of course went straight under the bed and stayed there for about 5 hours.  We got room service and took naps.  I threw cat treats under the bed at him and he ate some of them.  Finally he showed up and wanted to eat. This was good because we had another long day of travel ahead the next day.  He slept most of that night under the bed and eventually came out to sleep under the covers with me.
Next morning, he explored the room, ate some more and used the collapsible litter box- another great internet find.  Again- a huge relief (no pun intended).
Imagine his surprise when I grabbed him and stuck him back in the harness!  Horrors!  How can you do this to me!  We were running late as our alarm failed to go off so we were a bit stressed out.  The bellman from the hotel took pity on us and arranged for us to be dropped at our terminal instead of the train station where they are supposed to go.  We are now up to about $50.00 in tips for bellmen, maids, skycaps etc- all very well spent.  At the terminal we check in and find one of our bags is overweight (two guesses who's?  Not Moses).  And we have one bag too many.  Plus we have to pay- you guessed it- for Moses ticket.  Off we go to the ticket office (they don't take money at the ticket counter?!?).  In the office we are charged $55 for the extra bag, $55 for the extra weight and $55 for Moses ticket.  She can't charge the taxes so we have to get change for $50 to pay her cash.  Back to the entrance for security.  Here we get pretty lucky.  It's not too busy and although we have to take all our stuff out again we don't have to rush.  The security agent tries to put Moses on the conveyor belt until I explain he has to come out.  He has to verify and is told yes this is how it's done.  I carry Moses through and no beep, but guess what- I get "randomly" selected- cat in arms to get extra screening.  I have to carry him to the screening area to have my hand checked for bomb residue.  I wanted to tell him all I had was cat sweat on me but I didn't think he would appreciate the joke.  The women security agents all swarmed around Moses to pet his head and stare into his HUGE eyes.  Last leg I kept telling him- but of course I don't speak cat and about now he is not trusting me much anyway.  At least the security part is all over.  We get on the flight and unlike in the US luggage is everywhere.  They are not very strict about things being all the way under the seat, which is good because Moses carrier doesn't fit.  He sticks out between my feet.  It's only one hour to Rome so it's not too bad.
Until we get off the plane and remember we have to take a very crowded bus from the plane to the terminal.  Poor Moses is again surrounded by noisy squished people- most of whom don't realize he's in there.  Inside the terminal we have about 10 minutes to wolf down a sandwich and some coffee.  I couldn't eat breakfast, the adrenaline was too high.  Aboard the next (and gratefully last) flight we discover its a tiny plane but there is enough room for Moses under the seat!  It's more comfortable for all of us.
One more bus ride from the plane to the terminal, collect our mountain of bags and head out to be met by our wonderful friend Ivan.  He gets all our luggage into his relatively small car and off we go.  At "home" in our temporary lodging we let Moses out.  Amazingly enough he wants to eat!
After exploring he finds that his favorite place (wait for it!) is under the bed.
All together we traveled two full days through 6 time zones, five airports and on five flights.  I'd say he did very well for all that.  If only I spoke cat and could tell him so....


  1. International travel is tough enough with just humans and luggage to deal with. I can't imagine the hassle with a pet, especially a cat. You capture the experience well, though.

  2. Oh my goodness, you are amazing! When we moved from SF to NY (and back) it was super-stressful with two formerly-feral cats. Great job managing Moses!

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