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Moving to Portugal: packing, pet shipping, and the wrench in the works
If I thought we were in the thick of it two weeks ago, well, things have only gotten thicker. I’m assuming that’s just how it’s going to be from now until June when we board our flight to Lisbon.
Everything is accelerating. Packing. Planning. Paperwork. We met with our (US) realtor last week and as a result, we’re going to be moving out of our San Francisco home three weeks earlier than expected. Which means the arrival date for the shipping container has also moved up. Which means our packing has sped up, too.
This week alone I’ve packed photo albums, my wedding dress, all three bookshelves, every single piece of art we own, and 3/4 of my clothes. I feel a little bit all over the place. So does this post. Maybe I should back up a little.
From the beginning—back in October of 2020 when we decided to relocate to Portugal—the plan has always been to move in June of 2021. That’s when Filha is done with 4th grade, and that’s when we hoped the pandemic would be a bit more under control, making a transatlantic move a tad easier.
The target date of June hasn’t moved, just the pieces around it. We will be selling our home in San Francisco, but had thought we’d stay in the house until the day we left for the airport. However, because of a selling slump that typically happens each summer around July 4, our realtor has advised that the sooner we can put our house on the market, the better.
So we’ll now be vacating the premises in mid-May, to stay in a friend’s Airbnb for our remaining weeks in the States. Marido will be leaving for Portugal first, on June 1, followed immediately by the dog, with Filha and I boarding our flight a week later.
Why is the doggo flying by herself, you might wonder? That answer brings us to the topic of pet shipping.
First though, a quick update on a long-awaited yellow envelope! In my last post I wrote about how the USPS lost my FBI background check, and I had to wait a certain number of days (21, exactly) to request a replacement report from the FBI. When I wrote, I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of that yellow envelope, because I had a second appointment for my D7 visa application on Friday, March 26.
I’m delighted to report that the envelope in question did, indeed, arrive in time, and I successfully submitted my visa application—just two weeks behind Marido and Filha’s visas. Now, we wait.
The woman at VFS Global told me, “When you came in with your husband and daughter, things were slow. But now there are SO MANY applications for Portugal!”
This means that instead of the usual 4-6 weeks, my visa could take up to 8 weeks to process. I’m going to try not to worry about that now, though. Eight weeks is still enough time, and there is too much else to manage without worrying about things I can’t control. (I just have to remind myself of that when I lie awake at 3am with my brain doing loop-de-loops.)
So, let’s talk about pet shipping.
Fly Away With Me, Doggo
There are many different rules for flying with your dog. The rules depend on your dog’s size and breed, and also on the shape of their snoot. The key words, in our particular case, are “brachycephalic dog breeds.” Also known as “snub-nosed dogs.”
A snub-nosed dog has a short muzzle: think Pug, Shih Tzu, Pekingese, Boston Terrier, Bulldog, Boxer. Our sweet lady Vila Vie ticks two of those breed boxes—she’s a Boxer/Boston Terrier mix. Her snoot is very cute, and very snub.
Miz Vila also weighs in at 67 lbs. Not a lap dog by any stretch of the imagination. So she is too big, and her snout is too snub, to travel in the cabin with us. And because of all the rules surrounding brachycephalic dog breeds, she is also not allowed to fly in any cargo hold.
According to an article by the American Veterinary Medical Association, “Because of their anatomical abnormalities, short-nosed breeds seem to be more vulnerable to changes in air quality and temperature in the cargo hold of a plane.”
The bottom line is that Vila cannot fly with us—not in the cabin and not in the hold. (And no, she cannot travel as an emotional support animal, either.) We looked into other means of travel—by boat, by chartered private plane—but those are not feasible options right now, for a number of reasons. (Not the least of which is that chartered private planes are eye-poppingly pricey.)
The best way to get our girl across the Atlantic is to hire a pet shipping company. Professional pet shippers can move your pet safely and reunite them with you, anywhere in the world. They take care of a number of detail-intense steps along the way, like booking your pet’s flight, getting them boarded safely, and shepherding them through customs.
We did our due diligence with research and decided to hire Air Animal to get Vila safely to Portugal. She will be flying via Lufthansa freight, with a “comfort stop” in Munich to go pee, take a walk, and eat dinner. She’ll continue on to Lisbon, get her health certificate inspected by a Portuguese veterinarian at the airport, and then she’ll be delivered to our new home in Setúbal. As long as Vila has all her necessary vaccinations (she does) and a USDA certified health certificate (she will, 10 days before travel), there is no quarantine necessary for her to live in Portugal.
We’ve already purchased the SkyKennel required by Lufthansa for Vila’s comfort and safety. As you can see, the crate size specified for her breed is pretty gigantic. She thinks it’s great and takes lots of naps inside on a cozy fleece bed.
So that takes care of Vila.
But what about FeeBea the Green Cheek Conure? Yeah, she’s a whole ‘nother story.
Birb on Board
I made a serious mistake last fall, when googling “how to travel with your bird.” I didn’t ask the right question of the search engine. So I was seeing results that led me to believe it would be easy to take Feebs in the cabin with us, as long as she had the proper health certification. She’s small and fairly quiet, I figured, no big deal!
I wish it were that simple. As it turns out, taking a bird out of the country is a pretty serious undertaking. Especially when you have a wee parrot that is endangered in its native habitat—something I did not know, since Green Cheeks are fairly common pets that are easy/inexpensive to procure here in the States.
FeeBea is listed as a CITES II species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This means she must obtain an export permit from the US Department of Fish and Wildlife. Then she has to get an import permit from the Portuguese government equivalent. And then she has to be quarantined here at a vet hospital here in San Francisco for 10 days, after which she must take an avian flu test. THEN she can get her health certificate and hop on a plane. But she still won’t be able to fly in the cabin—she has to travel in the cargo hold. Sigh.
Based on all of these complications, we decided it would be best to hire an experienced bird shipper to help us out with the details for FeeBea, as well. A friend who has parrots recommended Sally at Airborne Animals, so we’ve hired her to help us make sure FeeBea’s paperwork is in order.
Here’s the real kicker in the saga of FeeBea’s relocation experience: because of COVID, the US Department of Fish and Wildlife is taking six months to process CITES permits! Six months. We didn’t find out any of this info until February—which is when we applied for FeeBea’s permit. This means that the earliest FeeBea can fly to Portugal is August.
When we leave in June, Feebs will not be with us. She’ll be boarded in San Francisco with a friend/bird person until her export and import permits are complete. I’m sure she and Filha will have many Facetime conversations—the separation will not be easy, for either of them. The two girls are a bonded pair.
The Wrench in the Works
What is the old adage? “Always expect the unexpected” or “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.”
As we’ve been bubble-wrapping our breakables and making plans for June, we didn’t consider what might happen if one of us got hurt along the way. So of course, that’s what happened.
Two weeks ago, whilst playing at the beach, our nearly 9-year-old Vila tore her cruciate ligament. This is not an uncommon injury in dogs—it’s similar to a human tearing their ACL. But the fix isn’t fun. In Vila’s case, it required a pretty intense surgery called a TPLO: Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy.
The surgery involves changing the angle of the top of the shin bone (the tibial plateau) by cutting the bone, rotating it, and stabilizing it in a new position with a plate and screws. Although it sounds extreme, it’s the standard in repairing a ruptured cruciate ligament in dogs now. Aftercare following TPLO surgery is very important, and rehabilitation can take several months. (Vila won’t be able to frolic leash-free on a beach until the end of July.)
This past Tuesday, March 30th, Vila had her surgery. She is home now, rocking a weirdly-shaped buzz cut on her butt, wearing a big blue donut, recovering in her fuzzy bed, and complaining a fair amount. (It’s mostly the opiates talking.)
Of course, we checked with Vila’s vet and her ortho surgeon before making any of these big medical decisions. They both believe she’ll be recovered enough in nine weeks that her journey across the ocean won’t be problematic. Which is good, because she’s family. We’re not leaving her behind.
But I do wish we could have bubble wrapped sweet Vee so none of this would have happened.
And so the adventure continues…
Copyright © 2021 LaDonna Witmer