On Tuesday at around 2am GMT we awoke to get the proverbial “show on the road”. The cats were all duly corralled and crated and the car was loaded with baggage and animals. Driving to Heathrow at that hour of the day is quite easy which is probably a good thing as we had a car full of cats! We get down to the Heathrow complex and the first one to get dropped-off is Malcolm. Since he is so big, he had to go cargo in a special custom crate. The paperwork to go back to the US was laughably easy compared to the ream of paper that I had to manage on the way into the UK. Anyway, Malcolm’s crate was waiting for us as was promised by the shipping company with everything set-up for him.
The funnels run to little hoses that go down into his 2 water dishes attached inside. Mal wasn’t happy about us leaving him like this and to tell the truth, I wasn’t all that in love with it myself as the lady at the desk seemed to have never shipped a live animal before and was very unsure of what was going on.
However, we still had 5 more to get checked-in so we kept on going. At this point, it is a little after 4 am GMT. We get over to the airport terminal and decide to park and load everyone’s crates onto trolleys and push them into the terminal. We get a primo parking spot and took a moment to run the 2 little dogs downstairs and let them pee on the grass before making a little caravan of trolleys and rolling suitcases into the airport. I’m glad that it was so early as it wasn’t nearly as busy as it could have been. Had it been busy, getting into the airport would have been hell. As it was, it was just a serious pain-in-the-butt. So we arrived as instructed by United at around 4:30am GMT only to find the desk where we had to check-in closed. Doh! So, we just sort of camped-out for a bit, trying to calm the animals as much as we could in an international airport.
Finally the guy that was running the desk shows-up and issues us all the stickers and paperwork that we need and instructs us to go to desk Y at 6:30 to check the pets in. I get my baggage, in all it’s duct-tapped glory, dropped-off and now it is time to wait.
I decided to get the security stuff going a little early, so I went over to Desk Y at 6:15. Mind you that my flight was leaving at 7:55am. So we get over there and I am glad that we started a little early as we had to take each pet out of their crates and they swabbed the inside of the crate with one of those wands that have a little bit of white fabric looking for explosives. The guy doing it was nice enough, but the room wasn’t secure at all and the pets could have easily gotten away from us into the main airport. However, no bombs were discovered (they clearly didn’t check Weezy’s butt!) and I left the pets there to go through security myself.
Once through security I discovered that the gate for my flight had already been called. I had just enough time to find a diet coke in a WHSmith and hustled my butt down to the gate (which was a loooooong ways away [are there any close gates at Heathrow? I swear that some fold in the time/space there makes every single gate at least a mile away from security]) where I barely sat down and they started boarding.
It was a pleasant surprise to find that the 747 that I was on was sparsely populated. I had the entire middle row of 4 seats to myself. This is probably a good thing as the cough that I had been fighting for the past several days was kicking my ass at this point, with me hacking helplessly every few minutes. Had the plane been full, I feel that they might have put me in a bubble or something.
The flight was uneventful, marked only by the random meals that they served us every few hours and the one truly horrid movie that they showed us (the rest were ok, there was just one humdinger of a bad one in the mix) which I didn’t catch the title of to warn you off. My voice was mostly a horse croak by the time I was on the airplane, so the flight attendants all had a hell of a time hearing me in the cabin.
The plane landed more or less on time and I toddled-off down to immigration to get my passport stamped and then to the luggage carousel where the bags were already circling. I then located the pets, all in a row of crates waiting for me in the over-sized luggage area. This was great, except for the fact that I couldn’t find a porter anywhere to help me move them! So I walk away from the 5 little pets to try to snag a porter and they all start yowling. Weezy was the worst with her high-pitched yips making it sound as though I am murdering her a little bit more with every single step I took away from her.
Finally a porter is located and we load-up all the pets onto the big carts that he had and we go over to the CDC “desk”. I say “desk” but really it was a door with a doorbell next to it which the porter kindly pushed for me. Out came a rangy woman with short hair who gave all the pets a cursory look and asked me where I had flown from. When I replied London, she waved me away stapling a slip of paper to my customs form. When I asked her if she wanted to see their rabies vaccination stamps in their pet passports, she said that since I was from a rabies free zone it wasn’t necessary. All of the work that I did to make sure that the dogs were all up to date on their rabies and I didn’t even have to pull-out a single piece of paperwork to get them into the US.
Retrieving my bags and pets in the luggage area took all of 20 minutes. Unfortunately, I had figured that it would take a couple of hours given the experience that I had on the way into the UK. Thus, when the porter rolled me through the rest of customs and out into the lovely Chicago morning I was early. I called my brother only to find out that he was running late. The porter kindly rolled me out to the dog relief area where there was another dog playing that had just flown from Korea. We parked my bags and all the carriers near the small fenced-in “relief” area and I got Meara and Weezy out. My brother had said that he was about 40 minutes out, which translated to more like an hour plus by the time he got there.
The two of us got the pets loaded into the cargo van and off we went to find the United cargo terminal which had already called the farm twice. I had been told that there would be an up to 4 hour processing time for the Malcolm cargo, but like the rest of the pets, he was through within minutes and waiting for me to come get him. When I got there, they brought him to the loading dock on a forklift with a pallet underneath. It was funny to see this dog being carried around on a forklift. I took Mal out of the crate before my brother and one of the cargo guys loaded it into the van so that I could let him pee on some grass nearby. A more grateful look has never been seen coming from Malcolm nor a longer pee. However, his time in the crate was only coming to a middle, as it was deemed unsafe to allow him to walk around the back of the van as he could easily have fallen when turning corners or coming to a stop.
The drive home was quiet, marred only by the increasingly frequent barks of my cough. Since it was pretty loud in the cargo van, and my voice was little more than a croak at that point and as my brother isn’t exactly loquacious at the best of times there wasn’t a lot of chatter. Meara and Weezy sat on my lap the entire time looking out at the countryside unfolding around us and eventually falling asleep. The cats pretty much kept quiet, too exhausted and freaked-out at this point to do much more than the occasional yowl.
We crossed the Mighty Mississippi in the afternoon. Some day I am going to have to explore the area around there some more as it looked quite interesting.
We made it home after nightfall where mom had dinner waiting. The dogs were happy to be out of the van and eventually the cats got settled into my brother’s basement with a full complement of cat food, water and liter to keep them happy. All three cats hid as soon as released from their kennels, which is totally normal. The dogs and I then went back out to the farm for the night.
One of the things that I was happy to see was the performance of the quickly improvised water dishes that we made for the pets. On the way to the UK the airline had only required 1 water dish per crate. United required 2, one with the water frozen in it and one that was empty for filling right before the flight. Unfortunately, we found out that pet travel dishes are not a common thing in UK pets stores for some reason. We were told, “order it on the internet” which didn’t help us at all as there was no time. So, off to B&Q (a home improvement store much like Home Depot) we went and finally came up with this:
On the right is the store-bought water dish and on the left is the improvised one out of a pasta sauce container.
We used cable ties to secure an adjustable hose clamp to the side. Our thinking was that if the clamp was too big for the container we could just adjust it down to fit. Alas, these clamps fit the sauce containers perfectly straight off the shelf so no adjustment was needed. If anything, I think that the rigged water bowls worked maybe a little bit better than the manufactured ones!
Things are going ok here. The dogs have been up quite early every morning. The first night they were up at 2am, the next 3. Last night they allowed me to sleep until 5am. One doesn’t think about animals having jet lag but mine have absolutely been dealing with it and thus so have I. Hopefully someday in the near future they will allow me to sleep until 7am once again. I think it will be heaven:-) The dogs are also adjusting to new rules and to other animals. There are farm cats roaming outside the house that Malcolm thinks have been sent to torment him. Standing on the back of the couch, he whined to get at those audacious cats for an entire day and a half. My dad isn’t terribly keen on having the dogs here, so we have to stay out of his way as much as is possible. Weezy is absolutely baffled by the fact that someone doesn’t love her and want her on their lap! She sort of looks at my dad with a cocked head as if to say, “What is wrong with you?! I am adorable! Love me! Love me! Love me NOW!” Meara rolled in stinkyness two days in a row which I then had to shower-off of her. Today was the first day that I’ve managed to not have to bathe her. I’ve been taking them on mini walks several times a day out into the grove and back. The fields all around us still have their corn and beans in them so there isn’t really a wide open space that I can let Malcolm really run yet. However, they started chopping corn in the field across the road so I think that by the weekend we will have a place for him to run.
I’m happy to be home, but it’s also been rough. I’m looking forward to a time when I have a job and a place of my own again. I know that transitions are always difficult and that I will get through this eventually, but it doesn’t make the here and now any more fun.