Monday, June 20, 2011

How to (not) ship a Fat Cat abroad and the sale of a beloved Saab

Believe it or not, one of the major headaches for us so far has been trying to organize the shipping of Fat Cat. Now, the good folks of FSI who have seen probably thousands of irritated FSOs trying to ship their beloved pets, have a nifty 2hr lecture on the subject of how to do that. The guest lecturer is none other than the owner of the most popular pet shipping company among the Foreign Service nomads, called Club Pet International. He makes it sound so easy....for a certain premium, the company will take your beloved animal and ship it without care to you, even taking care of the maze of documents needed to export the hapless quadruped. Except that it isn't that simple.

The most important information for those insane enough to even begin thinking of shipping a pet is that the Department of State will pay you a Foreign Transfer Allowance, which is provided for "extraordinary but necessary and reasonable expenses not otherwise compensated for, but incurred by an employee incidental to leaving the United States and getting established at a post overseas." (see here for more details on specific amounts but I think those are outdated a bit--http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/22184.pdf). Among those expenses allowed are expenses incurred "transporting of pets to the foreign area (Note: This is only what the airline is charging to transport the pet – no other auxiliary costs. Due to budgetary constraints, State Department is not reimbursing for quarantine costs at this time)."
So, the good news is that your pet's ticket will be paid for. The bad news is that ONLY your pet's ticket will be paid for. And as I am about to show you, there are many more interesting expenses associated with the pet shipping exercise. There are two ways one can do that:
1. Take a lump sum of money, which currently is around $1300 for a family and do not submit itemized receipts.
2. Collect your receipts and receive an amount up to 2 weeks salary for a family (one week for an individual without family with a certain maximum).

So, now you know you can reimbursed for the ticket, and having happily decided to give business to Club Pet just like I did, are suffering from the delusion that the pet shipping problem is not a problem any more. Wrong.
1. After 7 phone calls, you finally locate the person responsible for shipping pets overseas. You are overjoyed. You think you are awesome. You rattle off your situation and she gives you (rather grumpily, as if you are truly bothering her by giving her business) the ticket price, her fees and kennel size particulars as well as some documentary requirements. You tell her it all sounds great and you will call in a week to give her the final travel date.
2. You then spend the next 3 weeks desperately calling and emailing the blasted woman (called Nan, I think). Club Pet rarely picks up the phone, and if the perky receptionist does pick up, then Nan is never there. Emailing is also not an option (even though she told me that is the BEST option)--every time I send her an email, it falls into an empty void at the end of the Universe.
3. With three weeks left before departure, I became rather angry. You have to understand something about me--I am a planner. I plan everything. I LIKE planning everything. It makes life SO. MUCH. EASIER! Club Pet shook my planner nature to the core.
4. So, I decided to take matters in my own hands. I emailed Qatar Air Cargo services and within less than 12 hours three different agents from the company contacted me, gave me price quotes and asked me to call them back to book. I did. The blasted cat's ticket was issued 2 hours later. I will go and drop off Fat Cat at 5 pm on Friday at their cargo terminal at Dulles. The end. In your face, Club Pet!!!
5. The benefits: (a) I ended up paying only the plane ticket, which is completely reimbursable by State. If I had gone with the shipping company, I would have incurred additional service fees which are not covered as itemized receipts (granted, could have been covered as part of the lump sum payment). (b) I did not depend on a middle man, and the shipping company was more than ecstatic to work with me. (c) In the process I learned that Qatar Air does NOT transport falcons and pigs as cabin luggage. Very good to know in case you are in the market for either!

Now, there are a few documentary details that I'd like you to be aware of. Pretty much every country has some specific requirement in order to import your cat/dog/horse/falcon/what have you domestic joy. Typically, that will include a Health Certificate and Vaccination Certificate, which your local vet can do. For Bangladesh, the only vaccine we got was Rabies. I hear Europe has a whole soup list of vaccines required. So check. Most importantly for the travel portion though is that airlines require a Health Certificate (to be filled in by your vet after a physical, and will include your ), which MUST be certified by a USDA agent 10 or less days before the animal travels. You can accomplish this two ways:

1. Mail the certificate to USDA in Richmond overnight; include an overnight envelope with return address. You can have your certified document 3 days later. Takes minimal effort and much money.
2. Make an appointment and drive to Annapolis (or Richmond, should you want to see the sights), have your document stamped and drive back. Takes 3 hours. Requires that you HAVE 3 free hours to do it.

Pricing: the vet will charge you around $60 for the certificate, plus about $50 for the physical and possibly another $50 for the vaccines. No, these are NOT reimbursable. I highly recommend the Capital Cat Clinic at 923 N. Kenmore Street. I also recommend the Ballston Animal Hospital on 5232 Wilson Blvd--they will do the job but will be a bit pricey.

Finally, I recently stumbled upon this site http://www.actionpetexpress.com/index.html and they really seem like they know what they are doing. Read some of their info, especially on kennel sizes and country requirements.

In other interesting cat news, Fat Cat currently has a visiting lady friend. This past Friday, our Dhaka co-adventurers, the Hawaiians, left Arlington for Dhaka. Since they will not go straight to Dhaka, their cat was supposed to board with Club Pet and then subsequently be shipped to match their arrival in Bangladesh. Similarly disillusioned with the shipper, Mrs. Hawaiian asked me to briefly shelter her cat and then ship both cats together on Friday. No problem, her cat is adorable. The interesting part was that she dropped off the cat at 5 pm on Friday, and at 5.30pm, the Diplomat and I left the house for a weekend in NYC. After a brief introduction of the cats, we left the apartment to the sight of Fat Cat chasing the lady friend all over the apartment in vain attempts to sniff her dainty butt. Few years younger and quite sprightly, she would have none of that. So, we wished them good luck and left them alone for two days to get acquainted. I admit that coming home at 1 am on Sunday night, when I put the key into the door lock, I said a silent prayer that both cats were still alive and mostly intact. They were just fine. Overjoyed at seeing me, they ran over the furniture for about an hour.
In the meantime, the Diplomat stayed back in NYC to supervise our packouts. I would be VERY curious to see what he managed to do and what will show up in Dhaka as our HHE.

Also, in other VERY sad news, on the way to NYC, we sold my beloved Saab convertible. I am not ashamed to say that I hugged the car and watched it drive away with misty eyes. There goes the end of an era. It might be curious for you to know how the sale went down--I will tell you only that it involved an online priest, 4,000 handed over to us in pure trust, a pregnant wife and a 11.30 pm handover in a Wallmart parking lot next to the highway. Stay tuned for more to come in the next post.

16 comments:

  1. Club Pet is the worst!!!! I urge you to contact Maureen Johnston and register a complaint. They shouldn't be endorsed by the FS.

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  2. Wow! Very happy I'm doing it myself! I don't remember Club Pet being around as an option the last time we transferred. It must be a new thing, but if you want something done right...

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  3. We have used Jerry at Action Pet Express with every move we've done and he is really, really good. He always gets back to me immediately (by e-mail or phone, whichever I request), knows his stuff, takes the time to talk to me (and, sometimes, talk me down when I'm stressed about transporting the cats) and is very accommodating. Also, his fee is extremely reasonable (he does not charge by animal so he is especially great if you're nuts enough to have more than one, like us). I believe he's retired from the military so he understands the lifestyle needs of the nomad. I highly recommend him.

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  4. Club Pet drove me crazy too. They were so unhelpful when I was trying to ask questions on the phone. They would just ignore me and keep talking about something different. I literally had to tell them to "Please stop talking now, I need you to answer my question." And now it's been nearly a month since they promised to finalize my quote. Like you, I decided to just do it myself. Hard to believe dealing with airlines would be easier than Club Pet.

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  5. Thank you for this! I'm on the roster, and my fiancee has been worrying about our own Fat Cat.

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  6. You should write an Admin Manual of Instructions for State Dept covering all such relocation challenges and desirable solutions. History repeats, i was often told; now I find the relocation woes undergone by me in my very transferable career are again revisiting my son, the Great DIPLOMAT.Incidentally, my pets were only my Kids. Sad to hear about Saab Sale, which we enjoyed to ride during our visits. All the best for Dhaka adventure!

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  7. I'm a graduate fellow with the State Dept. on my way to FSO myself. Thanks so much for all the great information! You are awesome.

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  8. Oh Club Pet - try calling them at 11:45 PM for days on end, because you know you are calling from India and there is that pesky 12.5 hour time difference, which Club Pet stubbornly refused to understand - only to find out that the ONE person in charge of international shipping has gone on vacation - our cat's arrival was only delayed by a FEW days by that point. The delay was due to proper paperwork never being forwarded to the GSO in India by our favorite lady in charge of international shipping. Club Pet booked our kitty on the first flight to Amman, Jordan instead to our post in India - the two places conveniently located in the same region, in fact right next to each other right? We got Club Pet to fix the ticket, as far as the kitty's final destination was concerned, while my husband's work address was still listed as being in Jordan. Joy of joys, I think we will NEVER EVER use Club Pet again.

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  9. I feel a bit queasy after reading this but my boy and I have navigated world travel many times so...But are there countries that flat out do not allow pets in? I heard England does not? And what are the options in a situation like that since you really cannot say no to an assignment? I would rather leave my son behind than my kitty boo! :)~

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  10. I enjoyed reading your blog since I am a great pet lover and I love to travel with my pets.I have lot of fun when I am with them.

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  11. Thank you for the info. How was the move with Fat Cat to Brazil? We will soon start our Portuguese training and the children keep asking for a cat. Would it be better to ship or get a cat when we arrive in Brasilia?
    Thanks from another Dip mom

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  12. Oh, SO much better NOT to ship a cat to Brazil. It is a an expensive nightmare at the cargo terminal to retrieve the animal.

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  13. Hi, love reading your blog. I will be posted to Dhaka on first week of August 2014 and will bring my cat, Tara. Need to know where we can get Health and Quarantine for endorsement before entering Bangladesh? Thank you.

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    1. Hey there, future Dhaka expat. All the necessary docs will be supplied by your vet. All the vets in the Arlington area have dealt with FS cats more or less and know the spiel. I personally would recommend the NOVA Cat CLinic in Ballston.

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  14. this is hilarious nice working.. nice article you have published so far. Lost and found

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